Fate of SF Eagle is uncertain
by Seth Hemmelgarn
After weeks of others trying to buy San Francisco's iconic Eagle Tavern, the bar's future remains uncertain.
Mark Frazier, who owns the Dallas Eagle, had been working with Eagle manager Ron Hennis for days to try to buy the bar. But Frazier announced this week that he's dropping out.
He expressed frustration in trying to deal with the bar's landlord, John Nikitopoulos, who he said wants to raise the rent, among other issues. He also said Nikitopoulos hasn't returned his calls.
On top of that, Nikitopoulos apparently filed a lawsuit last week to evict the current owners. That effort had been on hold while negotiations involving Frazier were under way, according to one of the owners.
It wasn't clear Wednesday morning, April 27, what Frazier's decision would mean for the bar's future. Current owner John Gardiner said Wednesday that he couldn't talk about what's happening.
"I'm in the middle of this," said Gardiner. "We're working on a deal. ... This is a very crucial time. When this is over, I'll let you know."
Asked how much longer the bar could stay open, Gardiner said, "What did I just say?"
Out Supervisor Scott Wiener, who's been supportive of efforts to keep the bar LGBT-oriented, said last week that his understanding was what had been filed was an unlawful detainer suit. The eviction complaint hasn't yet been publicly available, and Gardiner has declined to provide the Bay Area Reporter with a copy. Richard Romano, the attorney representing Gardiner, also wouldn't provide a copy.
The home to well-loved Sunday beer busts, which raise money for numerous LGBT groups, Gardiner and co-owner Joe Banks have been trying to sell the bar, at 398 12th Street, for more than a year.
Gardiner recently said that the bar's lease expired more than a year ago, so "I guess it goes month to month."
Community members have been working to keep the bar LGBT-oriented throughout the month, after it looked like it might be sold to the owner of a different bar, raising fears the business could go straight. That deal didn't happen. There had been some hope, including on a Facebook page devoted to the bar, that Frazier entering the picture would help.
But Frazier said this week that Nikitopoulos had been "uncompromising."
"There's only so much that a business can do to break even," he said. Frazier said the Eagle's lost money in the last couple years. He said the bar could turn around, "but a business can only turn around if you have control over your expenditures." He said that with Nikitopoulos "jumping up the rent to the point where it's not feasible, that hinders your bottom line."
Even trying to communicate with the landlord was hard, according to Frazier.
"He still chooses to communicate through his attorney," said Frazier. He couldn't immediately recall the attorney's name. Nikitopoulos hasn't responded to the B.A.R.'s interview requests.
Frazier said he's heard different details about what Nikitopoulos wanted for rent, but he said the landlord wanted to raise the rent to "in excess of $10,000 per month," which he said would mean a rent increase of about 25 percent.
But Frazier said Nikitopoulos hasn't returned his calls and he's had to negotiate based on secondhand information.
The Dallas bar owner said he thinks the Eagle can stay open without him.
"I think the community in San Francisco is so strong, I would hope I'm not the only viable option." He said he didn't know of others interested in buying the Eagle.
He also said that even though he's withdrawn himself from negotiations, "should the landlord get serious and really wants to negotiate, then I would encourage him to call me, because right now I don't think he's really, really interested in making this work."
Besides the rent, there were other factors that frustrated Frazier.
He said there are issues with the bar inside and out, including the roof needing to be replaced and the building not being completely compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said the repairs would cost about $70,000.
"All those things have to be up to code to make the business feasible," said Frazier. "É Where I come from, the renter is always responsible for the interior of the building, not the exterior," and he said Nikitopoulos wants the renter to be responsible for both.
Frazier, who had planned to buy the liquor license, said he wanted to keep the Eagle Tavern where it is.
One suggestion's been to "just open another Eagle," said Frazier. "You could do that, but you lose so much of the historical value that the current location has."
Also, he said, "The property is not going to be for sale. Even as a business person, I would question somebody's sanity if they actually sold the property, because it is a prime piece of real estate."
But Nikitopoulos would still need to be included in the discussions, said Frazier, since it wouldn't do any good "to negotiate to buy the business if you don't have a lease on the place where you can conduct the business."
Frazier said he's "open to other business opportunities" in San Francisco but he didn't have specific ideas to share.
Hennis, the Eagle's manager, didn't respond to interview requests for this story.