Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 49 / 7 December 2017
 

Bar owner's death shocks Castro

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

Bar owner Doug Murphy. Photo: Courtesy Shawn Vergara
Print this Page
Send to a Friend
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on MySpace!
ADVERTISMENT

The death of a Castro bar owner who was diagnosed with having the H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu, has shocked the city's LGBT community and raised new concerns about the virulent strain of influenza.

Doug Murphy, a former Castro bartender who went on to not only co-own Moby Dick, 440 Castro and the recently opened Blackbird bars but also helped several colleagues open their own establishments, died August 21 at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. He had just celebrated his 41st birthday August 3.

The official cause of death was cardio pulmonary arrest, said longtime friend Michael Johnson. Also called a cardiac arrest, the condition leads one's heart to stop beating and impairs the flow of oxygen to the blood, leading to irreversible brain damage and death within minutes.

Friends said that Mr. Murphy had flu-like symptoms at the time of his birthday and went to see a doctor in San Francisco who gave him cold medicine with codeine. Still not feeling well, he decided to fly down to his home in the Coachella Valley to escape San Francisco's foggy climate and recuperate.

But Johnson said within days of his arrival Mr. Murphy's health declined to such a point that he went to the emergency room Saturday, August 8. He was diagnosed with pneumonia, and a week later, tests showed that he had contracted the H1N1 virus, said Johnson.

"He wasn't being treated for any HIV symptoms in the hospital, just pneumonia. It was very strange, because being a gay man it is the first thing we would consider," said Johnson. "His HIV status had nothing to do with it."

Suffering from kidney failure and put on a respirator to help him breathe, Mr. Murphy's doctors determined last Friday that he had little chance of recovery, said Johnson, who was at his bedside along with three of Mr. Murphy's other close friends.

"He didn't have a high percentage opportunity for meaningful recovery at that point," said Johnson, who first met Mr. Murphy in the 1990s when he bartended at the Midnight Sun up the street from Moby Dick where Mr. Murphy was a bartender.

 The news of Mr. Murphy's death has shocked his coworkers and friends in San Francisco, who expected that his time in the desert climate would help him make a full recovery.

"With any death it is a shock but especially when you think it is someone who got a cold or flu. You are just waiting for him to come back to get his ass back to work. We wanted him to get better and enjoy his baby," said Shawn Vergara, who spent the last year remodeling the former Expansion bar space at 2124 Market Street into the Blackbird bar as a co-owner with Mr. Murphy.

Twice before Vergara had turned down offers from Mr. Murphy to go into business together, but he finally agreed to do so last September. The two – who share the same birthday – had just opened the doors to Blackbird in late July only to have Mr. Murphy become sick with the flu a week later.

"He was not feeling well, even on his birthday. He was sick for three or four days leading up to that. It wasn't until he got down to Palm Springs that they realized the severity of the flu," said Vergara, who had planned to fly down to Palm Springs Friday night to visit with Mr. Murphy in the hospital. "All I wanted to do was see him get better and pat him on his back. For everybody here, we are all devastated. We love him and his personality is just going to be so dearly missed."

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who once briefly worked for Mr. Murphy as a bar back at Moby Dick, also said he was shocked to receive the news. Prior to his leaving for vacation two weeks ago, Dufty said he had been e-mailing with Mr. Murphy about his wanting to install a bike rack in front of his new bar.

"Most of us had only just learned about him being sick and he was gone. It was unbelievable," said Dufty. "I think it is such a shock."

Dufty said he intends to meet with local health officials next week to learn more about the H1N1 virus and what risks there may be for people who are HIV-positive. He said he has already sought advice from the wife of one of his aides who is a physician.

"The number of H1N1cases and the severity of them is greater now than it was during the whole media focus earlier this year," said Dufty. "I do plan to talk to people about what the implications are for people who have HIV and are there things we need to be mindful of."

Dr. Susan Fernyak, the health department's director of communicable disease control and prevention, said she could not disclose how many patients with the H1N1 virus in San Francisco also have been HIV-positive. But she did say there is no evidence to suggest people who are HIV-positive are more susceptible to the swine flu.

"I would know if there was an unusual number of HIV-positive people who have been hospitalized and diagnosed with the H1N1 virus in San Francisco and we haven't been seeing that," said Fernyak. "We are not seeing people with HIV being harder hit with this disease than other people who don't have HIV."

A beloved bar owner

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Mr. Murphy attended Oklahoma State University but did not graduate. He moved to San Francisco in his mid-20s and landed jobs with Hornblower Cruises and The Palomino restaurant on the Embarcadero.

Eventually he found work as a bartender at Moby Dick, and in 2002, he bought the bar with co-owner Joe Cappelletti. In 2005 Mr. Murphy, with business partners Gordon Boe and Mark Wilson, purchased 440 Castro, formerly known as Daddy's.

He was a beloved presence in the Castro bar scene, said friends and patrons. Local DJ Steve Fabus recalled that Mr. Murphy offered him the use of Moby Dick to hold a memorial service after the death of fellow DJ Michael Garrett. The two were frequent patrons of the bar, said Fabus.

"He was always a congenial, warm person. He was always very giving," said Fabus. "This is just really sudden, shocking and also scary."

Tony Huerta, a bartender at 440, considered Mr. Murphy one of his best friends. He said Mr. Murphy had a "very charismatic and huge personality" that will be dearly missed by those who knew him.

"Often in bars you get this very eclectic group of people who form a family. It is like an island of lost boys and he is our leader," said Huerta, who first met Mr. Murphy while working at the Midnight Sun. "He is definitely going to be missed. I learned so much from him. He taught me that the only person who can limit you is yourself. He believed in me even when I didn't believe in me."

Vergara said under the gruff demeanor Mr. Murphy would often present was a kind individual who would make people laugh with his unusual sayings and sharp wit.

"Doug, he would try to act like he was a cold-hearted bastard, but to those of us he let in, he had a heart of gold. He puts a tough exterior on but he was a big old rough lion," said Vergara. "We would sit at lunch and even when he would piss me off he would crack me up. You just had to love him. It is a very, very rare personality or charm you don't find in people."

Mr. Murphy is survived by his parents, Margrett and Larry Murphy; his sister Cathy Lutz; and his aunt and uncle Marian and Bud Sinnet. The family is planning a private memorial service in Kansas City this Monday, August 31.

His friends and business partners are planning a public memorial in San Francisco Sunday, September 13. It will begin at Moby Dick on 18th Street at 11 a.m., progress to 440 Castro at 12:30 p.m., and move on to Blackbird at 2 p.m.

Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the Desert AIDS Project in Palm Springs.






Follow The Bay Area Reporter
facebook logo
facebook logo
Newsletter logo
Newsletter logo
ISSUU logo