AILSA CHANG, HOST:
A San Francisco institution is calling it quits. The Stud, the city's oldest LGBT community bar, could not survive the financial blow from the COVID-19 shutdown. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Holly J. McDede reports.
HOLLY J MCDEDE, BYLINE: For 55 years, The Stud bar has been a safe haven where radicals and outsiders could perform, sing karaoke and pack dance floors, like in this footage on YouTube from 1982.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: A lot of times, the beginning of a song will have a real pop where it'll make people scream on the dance floor.
MCDEDE: The Stud opened in 1966, when San Francisco's LGBT nightlife was booming. Drag queen and activist Honey Mahogany is one of the bar's co-owners. She says that at a time when women, gender-nonconforming people and drag queens weren't allowed in most gay bars, The Stud stood out.
HONEY MAHOGANY: It was a place where, really, everyone was welcome. Hair fairies, leather daddies - everyone was there on the dance floor.
MCDEDE: It became known as a space to experiment, and that anything-goes attitude helped shape the city's drag culture. Stars like disco queen Sylvester, electronic music pioneer Patrick Cowley and Lady Gaga all found their way to the scrappy bar. But Mahogany simply knew The Stud as home.
MAHOGANY: It really has been a place where I have felt an incredible amount of community.
MCDEDE: The Stud bar and the community it built had been operating on razor-thin margins for years. In 2016, Mahogany and over a dozen other supporters bought it collectively in an effort to save the bar. But then in March, the pandemic forced all bars in California to close. The numbers just didn't add up, and so drag queen Vivyanne ForeverMore and other co-owners broke the news over Zoom. The Stud was closing down.
VIVYANNE FOREVERMORE: Beautiful things have happened there. It has survived - it survived the AIDS epidemic, and now it's the COVID pandemic that's forcing us to close.
MCDEDE: The Stud Collective plans to host a virtual drag funeral to honor what the owners call an end of the era for the city's LGBT nightlife. Owners say they'll try to keep the idea of The Stud alive through virtual parties even after it ceases to exist as a physical space. It's had many incarnations over its 50-plus year history, so owners and patrons alike are hoping someday after the pandemic passes, The Stud may be able to come back to life. For NPR News, I'm Holly J. McDede in San Francisco.
(SOUNDBITE OF PATRICK COWLEY SONG, "DO YOU WANNA FUNK?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.