SF Badlands reopening Wednesday afternoon

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday October 4, 2023
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People gathered at Badlands bar in the LGBTQ Castro district for its reopening October 4. Photo: John Ferrannini
People gathered at Badlands bar in the LGBTQ Castro district for its reopening October 4. Photo: John Ferrannini

At long last, Badlands is reopening this afternoon for the first time since the COVID pandemic, the new co-manager confirmed to the Bay Area Reporter on October 4. The long popular LGBTQ nightclub in San Francisco's Castro district has been closed for more than three years.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, TJ Bruce, a gay man who owns a number of nightclubs on the West Coast, such as Splash San Jose and Badlands Sacramento, was brought on this year as a co-manager of the nightclub at 4121 18th Street alongside longtime owner Les Natali.

Bruce had told the B.A.R. August 21 that it would be open within two months. On October 4, he said it'd be open at 5 p.m.

Hopes it would be open in time for the October 1 Castro Street Fair were dispelled by Bruce two weeks ago, as the B.A.R. reported September 21.

Bruce gave the B.A.R. a statement Wednesday on behalf of "the Badlands Team."

"It is with immense excitement to announce the reopening today of Badlands San Francisco after seven weeks of non-stop preparations," it reads. "We can't wait to welcome the Castro community back on this very special Wednesday. We want to express our sincere gratitude to our entire crew for their hard work and dedication. We hope to see you all soon. Cheers!"

Natali, an 81-year-old longtime Castro neighborhood property owner, told the B.A.R. that it will be "a very happy night."

"It's finally happening after a long time," Natali said. "It's finally happening after a long time. I'm happy, TJ's happy. I hope everything goes well."

Natali demurred when asked why Badlands, which Natali and Bruce touted as opening within weeks back in February, did not open at that time. Natali told the B.A.R. that he was going to call his attorney February 9 to finalize a deal with Bruce. However, after that, Natali wouldn't pick up the phone, and Bruce said he couldn't speak to the matter.

"I really don't have a specific item — there wasn't a specific item — but when lawyers get involved in things it can get complicated and take longer than expected," Natali said. "It was just longer than expected but we're here, it's over, finally."

It was only three years ago Natali announced the club would be closing permanently.

"Badlands bar is closed. Later this fall a new bar, under new ownership, will open in the Badlands location," a July 30, 2020 Facebook post stated. "The name of the new bar and other details will be announced later, closer to the opening date."

In the heady summer of 2020 during protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police that led to demonstrations across the country, Natali and Badlands came under renewed criticism due to past allegations of racial discrimination.

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

In an email June 6, 2020, after the past allegations were brought up at a Black Lives Matter protest in the Castro's 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 added.

Badlands originally opened as a country western bar in 1974. Natali acquired it in 1999, when it became a video bar.

In a statement Wednesday, Terry Asten Bennett, a straight ally who's the president of the Castro Merchants Association and co-owns Cliff's Variety on Castro Street, said she is "very excited to see Badlands reopen."

"We appreciate the work and effort TJ Bruce has put into making this happen and we wish him success," she said.

Q Bar

As for the nearby Q Bar at 456 Castro Street, its co-owner Cip Cipriano had told the B.A.R. in July that it would be open in September. When asked September 21 if he had an updated estimated date for the opening, Cipriano only responded "soon."

He did not return a request for comment for this report by press time.

Updated, 10/4/23: This article has been updated with comments from the Castro Merchants Association.

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