Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Harvey's marks 10 years


Harvey's bar in the Castro. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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Five hundred Castro Street, in its third decade as an LGBT-owned space, with a dramatic place in gay history, is celebrating 10 years in its latest incarnation as Harvey's.

To start its next decade, Harvey's, the mellow neighborhood bar and restaurant, strategically located at 18th and Castro streets, has repainted interior walls periwinkle blue, which patrons eyeing the mounted TV tuned to CNN on a weekday afternoon recently remarked "opens the place up."

In the past year, general manager Fabian Santos, 31, has updated the drink menu and simplified the food menu, which he called "a work in progress" of burgers, quesadillas, jalapeno poppers, and nachos.

Santos began discussions two weeks ago with former Harvey Milk camera store employee Dan Nicoletta to display historical material honoring both the neighborhood and the bar's history.

Since 2002, when water damage after a small kitchen fire destroyed historic memorabilia displays, including Olympic diver Greg Louganis's Speedo, only two mountings remain – a framed Milk news and photo collage with a biographical timeline, and an autographed photo of Sylvester, recalling the late 1970s when the disco diva and Two Tons 'O Fun performed "Mighty Real," on Sunday afternoons.

The walls currently serve as a revolving art gallery for local artists.

Although longtime bartender Jack Muehlenthaler estimates 40 percent of Harvey's patrons are regulars, he also likes the weekend "influx of new faces from outside the city," including tourists from Japan, Australia, and Europe who seek his advice on what nightclubs to attend.

They visit, "to acclimate themselves to the city, pick up a paper, and map out their strategy for the weekend," said Muehlenthaler, 45, who invented the whimsical cocktail names like the Bloody Mary Wilson with extra lemon juice and classic Bloody Mary Martin.

An abbreviated history of 500 Castro Street goes like this, according to the Web site Uncle Donald's Castro Street ( Fred Rogers opened the Elephant Walk, named after the Liz Taylor film, in 1974. On May 21, 1979 during the "White Night" riots, gays attacked City Hall with a battering ram and 12 squad cars were set ablaze, after Dan White's conviction of manslaughter for assassinating Milk, the city's first openly gay supervisor, and Mayor George Moscone.

After midnight a police tactical squad, whose members did not wear nametags or badges, ransacked the bar and attacked patrons.

Then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein convened a civil grand jury to find out who ordered the attack, but with no photographic record, investigations ended inconclusively. In 1984, the city settled for $139,500, which covered personal injury claims and damages.

In 1985, Rogers sold the bar to Michael Verdone.

Verdone said that in December 1988, a fire occurred next door in the gift shop and that the bar closed for one year for repairs. When it reopened, "business was great," said Verdone. "We had great community support."

Building owner Paul Langley later raised the rent from $6,500 to $12,000 per month according to Verdone, which he paid.

Several years later, Langley told him his 10-year lease had expired and asked him to vacate, Verdone said. The Elephant Walk closed in 1995.

"I still have the elephant head in my wine cellar," said Verdone. "But, the famous Elephant Walk movie poster 'walked out' on moving day."

Langley opened Harvey's in 1996 as a tribute to Milk. He did not return calls seeking comment.

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, Harvey's will hold a "nice little neighborhood get-together," Saturday, March 11 to thank supportive merchants, said Santos.

"I want to make them feel special."

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