Matt Dalton

San Francisco’s Oldest Gay Bar Closes After 108 Years

"Just shaking my head and finger today as many parts of our history end up in the dumpsters in back alleys again."

The Gangway, believed to be San Francisco’s oldest operating gay bar, poured its last drink on Sunday. After a wage-related lawsuit, a failed sale attempt, and the death of a longtime manager in 2016, the bar floundered and never recovered.

Some type of bar has been operating at the Gangway’s Tenderloin address, 841 Larkin Street, since 1910. (According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the first anti-gay raid happened a year later.) It began marketing as a gay bar at least since the early 1960s, and was popular with a diverse crowd, including older working-class men.

Filings for new owner Sam Young list the replacement venue Young’s Kung Fu Action Theater & Laundry, though that may change.

The Gangway had has a long history of LGBT activism was a member of the Tavern Guild, an association of local gay bars and wholesalers formed in 1962 in the wake of police raids and harassment from outsiders. In the following decades, it held also fundraisers for the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and San Francisco General Hospital’s Ward 5B, the first inpatient AIDS unit in the United States.

Staffers at the Gangway were reportedly only given 24-hours notice via text message that they were being laid off.

“Just shaking my head and finger today as many parts of our history end up in the dumpsters in back alleys again,” wrote former employee Cory Meza on Facebook. “Just not feeling your Pride, San Francisco.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery