Eagle Tavern faces likely closure
by Matt Baume
Over the last three decades, the Eagle Tavern at 12th and Harrison streets has provided a welcoming home for countless community fundraisers, musicians, drag acts, beer busts, and LGBT patrons. But there's one person who has seldom put in an appearance: property owner John Nikitopoulos.
"He doesn't stop in," said Eagle co-owner John Gardiner, whose business rents the space from Nikitopoulos. "I've seen him twice. Maybe three times."
That disconnect may have contributed to the air of outrage felt in the LGBT community this week when news emerged that the Eagle is likely to close at the end of the month. A crowd of around 250 packed the patio Monday night to hear speakers discuss the closure and plan a potential response.
Many in the crowd talked about how diverse the bar is. While long known as a mainstay in San Francisco's leather community, the only mention of leather was when someone asked Gardiner of the new owner was gay or leather.
"I don't know," Gardiner replied.
Numerous unconfirmed rumors about the bar have circulated this week, but this much is known: owners Gardiner and Joe Banks have been trying to sell the Eagle for at least a year.
"I can't afford the place," Gardiner said at the Monday night meeting. "It doesn't work for me to run the place."
For nearly a year, Gardiner and Banks negotiated the bar's sale to Lexington Club owner Lila Thirkield and Eagle manager Ron Hennis. After entering escrow, the deal was abruptly ended by Nikitopoulos, multiple sources have confirmed.
According to Gardiner, Nikitopoulos is unwilling to allow the Eagle to stay under new ownership.
Nikitopoulos has not commented publicly on the deal. There was no answer this week at a phone number associated with his residence in Santa Rosa.
Now, the bar is about to enter escrow with Steve Englebrecht, Gardiner said. Englebrecht, who is buying the liquor license, is the owner of the Skylark Bar near 16th and Mission streets. Although Gardiner declined to state the sale price, he indicated that it is "considerably less" than what Thirkield and Hennis were to pay.
Englebrecht did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite rumors, there is no evidence that Nikitopoulos and Englebrecht are motivated by homophobia.
"I don't think it's homophobic," Gardiner said. Barry Synoground, manager of the DNA Lounge and a friend of Englebrecht's, said that the Skylark owner is "absolutely" not homophobic.
Both Thirkield and Gardiner suggested that money was the real motivation. Nikitopoulos "saw an opportunity to start his own business here," Thirkield said.
Although there is little that could stop the sale, local activist Glendon Hyde, also known by his drag persona Anna Conda, is leading efforts to preserve the bar, along with artist Kyle DeVries.
"There is a systematic de-queering of San Francisco," said Hyde.
Hyde and DeVries staged a march and "surprise leather night" at Skylark after Monday's meeting. They are also considering erecting pink tents around the Eagle for a "pink sleepout."
They will also ask the Historic Preservation Commission to declare the 1906 building a historic landmark. At a City Hall rally on Tuesday, mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty observed that such a declaration may require several thousand dollars' worth of research. Dufty said that the Eagle's next beer bust should be a fundraiser for that research.
Historic Preservation Commissioner Alan Martinez agreed that the bar should be saved, but added, "my commission cannot dictate tenancy. It cannot protect a business."
District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes the Eagle, told the Bay Area Reporter Tuesday that her office is "looking at other options."
Kim had a scheduling conflict and was not at Monday's meeting, but she sent staff. She did point out, however, that it's a business transaction.
Kim also issued a commendation for the Eagle at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.