When bars like the Gangway close, it’s easy to dive into conversations about nostalgia. As San Francisco’s oldest continuously operating gay bar, the Gangway opened in 1910 and served primarily gay customers since the 1960s. Its shuttering earlier this year rippled through the LGBT community. Known as a humble yet familiar locale, it served as a safe haven and a rock of the gay community even before the days of Harvey Milk.
Over the past few weeks, my friends and I have spent a lot of time discussing the Gangway’s legacy, realizing that none of us had been to the nautical-themed Tenderloin destination more than a handful of times but always took comfort in the fact that it was there. Off the beaten path from our usual haunts in the Castro and SOMA, the Gangway had an aura of historical fortitude. It was a novel to visit, as if you were peeking into a window of time when gay bars weren’t dominated by house music and go-go boys in Andrew Christian jock straps. Covered in kitch, the decor was always louder than the crowds.
Given all this recent discussion, I got to thinking about how San Francisco’s gay-bar scene has evolved over the years when one of my friends noted that the city’s original gay neighborhood was actually Polk Gulch. I’d heard that fun fact before and always accepted it without much care for its accuracy. “It wasn’t until Harvey Milk got elected that the gay community found its home in the Castro,” the friend went on. The story felt sufficient to whet my historical appetites, but much like Carrie Bradshaw often contemplated if her friends were, in fact, correct about everything they said, I needed to do my own research.
Photo Courtesy of Kevin Y. (Yelp)