Mike Talley said his family back home in Tulsa, Okla., disowned him, and it wasn’t just because he was gay. He was also into leather. “Leather was over the line,” he recalled. “Thirty days later, I was living in San Francisco, and I had found home.”
And like many gay men who sought refuge in The City in the ’80s, he wound up at the Eagle Tavern, a quintessential leather bar that shut its doors — at least for now — on Saturday night, after 30 years as an institution.
Out on the back porch Saturday afternoon, the final-day crowd was in a nostalgic mood. Final pictures and videos were being captured and chalked messages on the walls said things like, “I broke my jaw here in 1993,” and “I left my heart at the Eagle.”
“If we hadn’t seen our friends in a while, they would always end up here on Sundays,” said patron Scott Van Hyde. “You didn’t have to be anything, or wear anything special. Just show up. Just easy.”
Sundays were when the bar held its famous beer bust fundraisers benefiting all kinds of charities, including those for AIDS research.
The disease was the bane of the gay community in the ’80s, which was the heyday of SoMa leather bars that have since — and now perhaps officially — faded into history.
There was a time when many American cities had “Eagle” bars, a sort of label for gay-friendly. A few remain, including one in Dallas, where owner Mark Frazier contemplated buying the San Francisco outpost from its two owners, John Gardiner and Joe Banks.
But negotiations with the building’s landlord faltered after rent was increased by 20 percent, and Frazier backed out. Bar manager Ron Hennis also expressed interest in ownership but declined requests for an interview and said in a Facebook message that he won’t discuss ongoing negotiations.
San Francisco Supervisors Jane Kim, Scott Wiener, and David Campos sent a letter to San Francisco police in mid-April that highlights the cultural importance of the Eagle and calls for the department to “closely scrutinize” any liquor license transfer that changes the business.
Wiener, who along with Campos is openly gay, said he has been to the Eagle many times as a patron.
“It would be a big loss to The City,” Wiener said. “It looked like it was completely dead, but at least the landlord might be negotiating again.”
Patron Richard Olivia said the bar, at its core, represents all that is “San Fransexual.”
“You don’t feel like you’re in the Castro with the clones, or in the Tenderloin with the trannies,” Olivia said. “You can come here, and it’s everyone.”