Badlands likely reopening within 2 months, new co-manager says

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday August 21, 2023
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The Badlands LGBTQ nightclub in the Castro could reopen within two months, the new co-manager said. Photo: Scott Wazlowski
The Badlands LGBTQ nightclub in the Castro could reopen within two months, the new co-manager said. Photo: Scott Wazlowski

The Badlands nightclub in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood is expected to open soon, the Bay Area Reporter has learned. It is one of three dance venues that are readying their doors within a block of each other in the heart of the iconic LGBTQ district.

TJ Bruce, the co-manager of Badlands, which closed permanently amid the COVID pandemic in 2020, told the B.A.R. the nightclub at 4121 18th Street could "be open within 60 days." Under that timeline, it could welcome patrons back to its dance floor in time for the weekend prior to Halloween, expected to draw large crowds to the Castro this year.

Bruce, a gay man, owns a number of nightclubs on the West Coast, such as Splash San Jose and Badlands Sacramento. As the B.A.R. previously reported, he had been in discussions with Les Natali, a gay man who had owned Badlands since 1999 and also owns the building that housed it, to reopen a nightclub in the space.

While both men had indicated to the B.A.R. in early February that a deal was imminent, nothing was ever finalized between them. Bruce had referred further questions about a deal to Natali, who never returned the B.A.R.'s inquiries after that point.

However, on August 21, Bruce said that the two had come to an agreement whereby he'd slowly take over for Natali, with the two of them working together managing the nightclub in the interim.

"We've worked together 24 years, only now is the first time it'll be formal," Bruce said. "I will be managing the day-to-day business."

Bruce also confirmed the nightclub will still be called Badlands. The 2020 Facebook post announcing Badlands' closure had said, "The name of the new bar and other details will be announced later, closer to the opening date."

Bruce also said that the nightclub will be hiring, including for the position of bar manager.

Badlands originally opened as a country western bar in 1974. After Natali acquired it 24 years ago, it became a video dance bar.

Badlands and Natali had been under renewed criticism in the months prior to the announcement of its closure due to allegations of racial discrimination that surfaced in the 2000s.

A 2004 report by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission found that Badlands was discriminating against African Americans, but the findings were never official because Virginia Harmon, the HRC executive director at the time, did not sign off on the staff report. Natali and the complainants eventually reached a confidential settlement. Natali has always denied the accusations.

Natali later opened Toad Hall on the site of what had been the Pendulum, a bar that catered to Black LGBTQs.

In an email to the B.A.R. after this was brought up at a June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Jane Warner Plaza, Natali wrote that the allegations "were found without merit and were dropped."

"We welcome people of all races and all colors and we probably have the largest, most diverse clientele of any bar in the Castro," he stated at the time.

Natali did not return multiple requests for comment for this report by press time.

Badlands' possible reopening comes just as plans for another LGBTQ nightclub were in the news. The ownership group for a new club at the site of the old Harvey's restaurant and bar at 500 Castro Street announced last week the venue would be called BRUT Bar, Bites, and Nightclub. But less than a week later, the new owners walked back the name, after realizing it was too similar to BRÜT, an LGBTQ circuit party that takes place in several cities, including San Francisco, as the B.A.R. reported.

Meanwhile, Q Bar at 456 Castro Street is eyeing a September reopening, as the B.A.R. reported last month. It has been closed since a fire damaged its building in 2019.

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