Port Bar's closing party: Oakland nightclub will be missed

  • by Stephen LeBlanc
  • Monday February 26, 2024
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Port Bar's security guard Chantal, Bartender Bernard and 'Wednesday's a Drag' host <br>Camille Tow at Port Bar's closing day February 25. (photos: Stephen LeBlanc)
Port Bar's security guard Chantal, Bartender Bernard and 'Wednesday's a Drag' host
Camille Tow at Port Bar's closing day February 25. (photos: Stephen LeBlanc)

After serving as a central gathering place for Oakland's diverse queer community for almost nine years, the Port Bar served its last drag brunch and poured its last cocktails on February 25.

The bar opened in July 2016, after several years of planning and construction by longtime Oakland residents and life and business partners Richard Fuentes and Sean Sullivan. It was the first downtown queer bar in Oakland to be open seven days a week and served as a neighborhood bar, a casual gay bar, a DJ dance club, and became a hub of the Oakland trans community.

The Port Bar, busy to its last day
(photo: Stephen LeBlanc)  

More than 100 people dropped by to celebrate the Port and its owners for their years of providing a safe, fun, solid space. They're determined to continue the community spirit at their newer club, Fluid 510 (1544 Broadway) which opened in May 2023.

Said co-owner Richard Fuentes in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, "I feel overjoyed about the amount of people who have come out today to support the last day at The Port Bar.

"The bar is a community hub and we will to continue to be so as we are moving our queer programming down the street to Fluid 510. Everybody who came to the Port Bar is welcomed and encouraged to come to our new club for drag shows, trivia night, brunch and to hang out with the community they made at The Port Bar."

The bar proved its resilience by staying open during much of the COVID pandemic, and it endured vandalism to its front glass window in October 2023.

"I started 'Wednesday's a Drag' here during COVID," explained Camille Tow, who was in attendance at the closing party. "Originally, we were outside and everyone had to have a mask. We would have over 100 people sometimes. It was fucking wild."

Camille is moving her talents to a Wizards and Wands-themed drag brunch at Rendezvous on Lombard Street in San Francisco.

In recent years, Port Bar's drag brunch became very popular, adding to its trivia, karaoke, dance, and drag show weekly events.

Militia Scunt, a contestant on season 2 of "RuPaul's Drag Queen of the Universe," and a drag artist for 10 years, spoke highly of her times at The Port.

Militia Scunt and Jax at Port Bar's closing day  

"This has been a very cute and very supportive venue for us over the years," she said. "I won the very first talent show here. Since I've come back to the Bay Area, Sean and Richard have always been super-welcoming, so it's been a home away from home for me."

As to where she will perform next in Oakland, "Off to Fluid!" she said.
Her friend Jax, another drag artist, concurred.

"I recently moved to the Bay Area, and when I'm in the city, the Port Bar has always felt the most diverse and inclusive space in the Bay Area. I feel really appreciated here."

Safe space
Younger queers also found a welcoming space at Port.

Juan, a patron on the closing day, said, "I used to work here. I love the Port Bar. I worked here for six months and I'm sad it's over. But we're a big community and I'm glad I was a part of it."

His friend, Nathanial, agreed.

"I came here on my 21st birthday and have been coming here ever since. I'm looking forward to doing my first drag performing down the street."

The Port Bar was also very popular with Oakland's gay male community in addition to providing a real and cherished haven for East Bay lesbians, drag performers and trans and non-binary people, especially those of color.

Patrons enjoy the sidewalk parklet on Port Bar's last day
(photo: Stephen LeBlanc)  

With its steel shipping container décor, the Port Bar's initial vibe was a variation on several popular Castro or SoMa gay venues.

"I still remember my first night here," remembered a longtime gay patron. "I was returning from a Christmas party in Berkeley and driving home. I really wanted to go out, but not to cross the Bay Bridge and was wishing there was a gay bar in Oakland with some good music and drinks, maybe a couple of hot shirtless bartenders and a gogo boy, with an age and racially diverse crowd. I walked into Port, and there it all was."

Landlord problems
As has been reported in local and business press, despite nearly nine years of business success, resilience, and community engagement, the Port Bar was closed by the whims of an investment property owner. Phil Leong of Alameda Bayfarm Investment had long hounded the owners about providing entertainment not in keeping with their lease for "a bar that serves liquor."

The owners pointed out that all their activities were in keeping with other bars in the area, as allowed by their lease, and all were permitted by the City of Oakland. After Leong refused to renegotiate their lease despite months of effort, Sullivan, and Fuentes had no choice but to close the bar.

While closing of the Port Bar is a huge loss to the East Bay LGBTQ community, Fluid 510 remains. Another recently opened option is Que Rico Nightclub, which serves fans of Latin music, drag acts and gogo dancers, at 381 15th Street.

An additional new queer space, Town Bar & Lounge, opened in spring 2023, at 2001 Broadway, is only one block away from the Port Bar.

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