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

Cafe Flore is for sale


Cafe Flore is for sale. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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The Castro's iconic Cafe Flore, a popular LGBT hangout for the past four decades, is for sale.

On July 11, the business, including use of its liquor license, was offered for sale for $495,000.

The funky dining and drinking spot, which was awarded best place for lunch and best outdoor patio in the Bay Area Reporter 's Besties readers' poll this year, has hosted many charity fundraisers and community events, including last year's 25th anniversary party for ACT UP.

Steven "Stu" Gerry, one of the owners, told the B.A.R. in a phone interview that the current partners would also be open to selling an interest in the business to people who could provide the capital to make some necessary improvements.

"Our hope is that Cafe Flore will continue," said Gerry, who said he was showing the business to three prospective buyers just one day after it was listed. The property itself, owned by J.D. Petras, is not for sale.

"We're willing to stay on in some capacity" to keep the business operating, said Gerry. "There are all kinds of possibilities" in structuring the deal, he said.

The decision to sell "was a tough call," he said.

Gerry and two other partners invested in the business two years ago, when Petras put it on the market. Gerry, who had the listing for the property and has a background in the restaurant business, decided to "make some improvements" and then determine whether to keep it or put it back on the market.

After two years, "and many, many improvements," Gerry said the partners had exhausted their capital.

"I'm not sure any of us really realized all we were getting into when" they invested, he said.

Unlike the sale of many other local businesses, the owners were not prompted to act by a rent increase, said Gerry. But, he added, "doing business in San Francisco has become increasingly difficult," citing both the recent increase in the minimum wage and Healthy San Francisco universal health care, which increases costs for businesses with 20 or more employees.

"Old buildings need a lot of love," said Gerry. "We reached our capacity and could not invest any more money."

Cafe Flore has had ongoing issues with is prep kitchen, which is located across the street from the restaurant ( That facility is now "within inches" of being in compliance with city codes, he said.

Gerry said other improvements needed would be a new fence, patio heaters, and renovations in the bar area. He said that under the partners' ownership, the restaurant was given a 94 health code rating, up from 73 two years ago, when they purchased it.

He estimates that the business needs approximately $100,000 to make the improvements he thinks are necessary.


Long history

Cafe Flore is mentioned in the "Citywide Historic Context Statement for LGBTQ History in San Francisco" adopted late last year by the Historic Preservation Commission, noted historian Gerard Koskovich in an email to the B.A.R.

According to the San Francisco Heritage website, the building that Cafe Flore occupies dates back to the early 20th century when the Castro was then known as "Little Scandinavia" or "Fin Town" due to the large numbers of Nordic immigrants who called the district home. The plot of land that would eventually become Cafe Flore originally contained a Swedish bathhouse.

Constructed in 1932, the bathhouse was owned and operated by the Finnila family. A pharmacy was also opened in the section of the building that faced the corner of Market and Noe streets. The designer of the building, Alfred Finnila, later contributed to the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, where he oversaw the iron and roadway installation. Finnila also built the famous Bridge Roundhouse Restaurant.

In 1973, the pharmacy closed its doors, and Cafe Flore was established in the vacant storefront. The Finnila family continued to run the bathhouse section of the building until 1986, when that section of the building was demolished.

Said longtime disk jockey and nightlife writer Marke Bieschke, "For me, Cafe Flore has always been the perfect spot to grab a huge vermouth on the rocks, flirt with a waitress in drag, pick up a temporary European boyfriend, or pop in for a tasty cinnamon roll. As one of the few outdoor spaces in the Castro it's a real destination. And with its charitable drag shows and events, Cafe Flore's brought some scrappy creativity to the neighborhood's often polished nightlife scene."

Gay filmmaker Marc Huestis said he has "many fond memories" of time spent at Cafe Flore.

"I shot a whole scene in my film Whatever Happened to Susan Jane there," he said in an email. "I just hope they keep it Cafe Flore."

Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, recalled he worked at the cafe as an "angry busboy/barista" in 1986 when it was owned by Mahmood and Ahmad Ghazi.

"I was also beginning work as a street activist with Citizens with Medical Justice and had meetings there," he wrote in a Facebook message. "Those were different times, and it was a different place, but for me it will always represent one of the centers of gravity in the Castro."

District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener said in an email, "Cafe Flore is a true anchor for the Castro community, and I have confidence it will be around for many years to come."


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