Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Edge bar ends 15 years of hosting benefits


AIDS Emergency Fund/Breast Cancer Emergency Fundfundraising manager and volunteer coordinator Chris Morris, at an Edge basketcontest with AEF/BCEF board member Phil Siegel. Photo: Gary Virginia
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Host to numerous fundraisers and benefits for local nonprofits and AIDS charities over the years, the Edge bar announced this month it no longer will be able to provide a venue for the events. Citing financial concerns, owner Don McMartin notified event organizers of his decision, effective January 10, shortly after the New Year.

In an e-mail message, McMartin specified the change was precipitated by the creation of the city's Entertainment Commission in 2003 and the requirement that any bar or venue that provides live entertainment, DJs, or amplified music must apply for an entertainment license.

"Unfortunately the possible cost to acquire the license, in addition to the increased operating expense the new regulations require, would have a strong financial impact on the Edge," wrote McMartin, who did not return a call seeking comment. "We will continue to support the community and these important organizations in other ways. The Edge thanks you for your great contribution to the community and wishes you great success in your fundraising endeavors in the future."

The news hit like a bombshell, with one event hostess calling it "a disaster." For 15 years the bar, at the corner of 18th Street and Collingwood, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for such beneficiaries as the AIDS Emergency Fund and Under One Roof. The bar's monthly basket contests, held the first Thursday of the month, were one of the city's longest running, consecutive monthly AIDS fundraisers, and last year alone, reportedly raised more than $6,000 for AEF.

"It really was a model of how people pulled together to make something happen and kept the issue of AIDS out there through the rollercoaster of giving empathy and support to people dying in the days when going to the ER was a death sentence to people being survivors," said Gary Virginia, who since 1996 has helped organize countless events at the Edge. "The Edge and those people never stopped raising the money and keeping alive the message that AIDS is not going away. We are in ground zero in the Castro with that bar. It is a real testament to how this community really takes care of its own."

Virginia alerted the community last week to the Edge's decision and has offered to help community groups with events planned at the bar find other locations. In an e-mail, he criticized the onus the city's entertainment laws have put on neighborhood bars such as the Edge.

"I regret that the city's laws have the potential to negatively impact small businesses which have been the cornerstone of fundraising for those in need over the years," wrote Virginia.

Others have written to Entertainment Commission members, seeking a solution. But Commission Vice Chair Audrey Joseph, in an e-mail response, lashed out at McMartin and others for blaming the commission for ending the charity events.

"Our city ordinances are not about stopping important fundraising. This makes me furious and is slanted in such a way as to appear to be the fault of the commission and it certainly is not," wrote Joseph.

Joseph stressed that the Entertainment Commission did not set up a policy that bars doing fundraising events need an entertainment permit. Instead, she noted that the city requires "any and all venues having entertainment and that includes DJs need an entertainment permit."

Far from being obstructionist, Joseph noted that the commission worked with Supervisor Bevan Dufty last year to make the permitting process easier after it became known that many Castro bars were in noncompliance with the laws. Most Castro bars have either received or applied for the necessary licenses with the commission. Tuesday the commission granted permits to Mecca, the Mix, the Pendulum, and the Metro.

In her e-mail, Joseph speculated it might not be the price of the permit but other issues that led McMartin to withdraw his application and end the fundraisers.

"When you apply for the permit you must pass inspection by several city agencies – Building, to make sure the building is safe; Fire for the same reason; Health also for safety; etc. Obviously, the Edge does not want to go through the process because something must not be right with the building or they think they might have to make upgrades or they have done work without permits. If they would rather not get the entertainment permit they will not be able to do entertainment for any reason," she wrote.

Dufty, after learning about the Edge's decision, said he called McMartin to offer his help and is waiting to hear back from the bar owner.

"This really relates to my legislation, which responded to the fact a number of establishments over many years had developed entertainment uses but weren't aware they needed permits," said Dufty. "If I were to look at what the issues are, I do think some of the establishments are worried that in getting any entertainment license all of a sudden everything in your bar is going to be gone over with a fine tooth comb, as to electrical, fire, and ADA access."

But Dufty said he does not believe McMartin would face many problems from the permitting process. To date, Dufty said other bars have not had problems when they applied for the permits.

"I don't believe that the approval process for an entertainment license would be so onerous as to kick up a number of problems for the Edge. My goal is to try to work with them to kind of resolve this," said Dufty. "Part of the charm and attraction of the Edge has been it is so much of a gathering place for people who want to support AEF and Under One Roof and so many great causes in the city. I would hate to lose it."

The Edge reportedly still plans to offer beer/soda benefits and donate to charity through sponsorships, program ads, and ticket purchases at other charity events. But unless it reverses course and renews its application with the Entertainment Commission, it will no longer be able to do other events.

The decision impacts myriad groups. The gay track and field team, an Empress candidate, and the Imperial Court all had planned to hold events at the bar in upcoming months. The annual Mr. Edge Leather contest must now be held off-site, if it is to continue.

"We had events booked through March at the Edge and are working with each to find them other venues," Virginia said.

Both Marlena's in Hayes Valley and Esta Noche in the Mission have offered their spaces, said Virginia. The Krewe de Kinque moved its monthly Full Moon event at the Edge last Thursday to Café Flore, which has an entertainment license from the city. Owner JD Petras has offered use of his restaurant to groups in need of a space.

The fate of other events remains unknown. As of now, the Spurs-n-Fur benefit for Under One Roof, which raised $8,500 last year, is discontinued. Virginia said the organizer, Deana Dawn, is in talks with the store's management on what to do. The last basket contest was held January 5 and organizers said they are unlikely to be revived at another bar. The event began over 14 years ago and was created by the bar's staff, which had lost several colleagues to AIDS.

"I almost feel – in respect for the people who pioneered it – it is a trademarked event at the Edge. It wouldn't be the same to host it somewhere else," said Virginia. "I think more importantly we hope more people step in to raise money for AEF no matter how they come up with the angle for the event."

Virginia said he has talked to McMartin about having an annual fundraising event at a different site than the Edge to honor Eric Weinmann, a longtime Edge employee who helped create the basket contests. Weinmann died of AIDS in September 2002.

In his e-mail, Virginia wrote, "I salute Don McMartin and the Edge staff over the last 15 years for their remarkable support in many ways for people and organizations in need, especially those with HIV/AIDS. Thank you for your support over the years and I hope you will continue to make the Edge your favorite watering hole."

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