Lawsuit escalates bitter barroom brawl over Gold Dust Lounge 

click to enlarge The owners of the Gold Dust Lounge took their landlords to court Thursday. - SF EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • SF Examiner file photo
  • The owners of the Gold Dust Lounge took their landlords to court Thursday.

The owners of the Gold Dust Lounge are suing their landlord, charging Handlery Hotels with deception, breach of contract and elder abuse after the company evicted the storied Union Square drinking establishment.

In a civil complaint, filed in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday, Gold Dust’s lawyers reject the typically staid style of legal paperwork. Using florid and emotional prose, the Burlingame-based attorneys of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy detail alleged injustices perpetrated against the elderly Bovis brothers, who have owned the bar since 1966.

“This case can be summarized in two words — greed and deceit,” the complaint begins.

James and Tasios Bovis have been fighting to save the Gold Dust Lounge since their landlord, Handlery Hotels, notified them of their pending eviction in December.

In the notification, provided with the court documents, Handlery CEO Arthur Pekrul said that the company had signed a new lease with a larger tenant, who would be assuming the space at 247 Powell Street along with some adjoining property.

But according to the lawsuit, the Bovises believed their lease required 18 months notice of an eviction, rather than the 90 days they were given. They also believed that Handlery could only evict them if it planned to demolish or remodel the building. The brothers allege that Pekrul “gradually snuck in a shorter and shorter termination clause” each time they renewed their lease.

“Handlery was able to get away with these changes because the Bovises were of advanced age, and because they trusted that Handlery still operated with the same integrity as it had for decades,” the complain maintains.

The brothers are 80 and 82 years old, and their lawyers argue that the landlord’s alleged deception constituted elder abuse. The brothers also allege that they were threatened over the phone by Handlery employees.

The suit seeks a restraining order stopping the eviction, a new lease, reimbursement of rent, and punitive damages.

In a statement, Handlery spokesman Sam Singer called the lawsuit “malarkey.”

“The lawsuit is straight from ‘The Twilight Zone’ and is an irresponsible abuse of the judicial system,” Singer said, adding that the suit’s claims were “beyond fiction and simply weird.”

“The Gold Dust knows their lease is up — the tenant signed and agreed to a lease with a 90-day early termination clause,” Singer said.

The ongoing saga of the Gold Dust Lounge has focused on the history of the space, which has been occupied by a saloon since 1918. The Bovises say that a previous owner may have been Bing Crosby — a claim Handlery’s spokesman called “fabricated.” Several former mayors were allegedly regulars, and the Bovises say that Janis Joplin and other legendary musicians performed there.  

That storied past might offer the Bovises another lifeline. Earlier this month historical preservationists attempted to have the Gold Dust designated a landmark by the Historic Preservation Commission, on the grounds that it was “an excellent and representative example of a traditional American cocktail lounge” and “a bastion of the old San Francisco.”

At a February 15 meeting packed with Gold Dust allies, commissioners voted to delay a decision until March 21, to give Handlery a chance to weigh in.

But that may be too late for the Gold Dust. Its lease expires March 10.

Highlights from the complaint:

“Mayor Willie Brown and Mayor George Moscone were regulars in later years. … Many important deals were struck on cocktail napkins over drinks at the Gold Dust.”

“In 1961, Tony Bennett first sang, ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” at the Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel. He would occasionally show up at the Gold Dust, where some say on different occasions he left his heart.”

“To this day one never knows who will be found in the Gold Dust — actors, celebrities, politicians, athletes, journalists, has-beens, and those hoping to be all of the above.”

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Amy Crawford

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