No deal yet for Badlands space, liquor license in process of being surrendered

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday February 21, 2023
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Negotiations have not been completed between Badlands owner Les Natali and TJ Bruce, who wants to open a new club in the 18th Street space. Photo: Scott Wazlowski
Negotiations have not been completed between Badlands owner Les Natali and TJ Bruce, who wants to open a new club in the 18th Street space. Photo: Scott Wazlowski

The location of the former Badlands in the Castro is in the process of losing its liquor license just as its landlord and prospective new operator have stopped providing updates on the space's future.

The Bay Area Reporter published a story February 9 based on interviews with Les Natali, a gay man who owns the Badlands property. He said that Badlands, located at 4121 18th Street, could be open again in as little as eight weeks pending an agreement with TJ Bruce, a gay man who owns a number of nightclubs on the West Coast, such as Splash San Jose and Badlands Sacramento. The San Francisco LGBTQ nightclub closed permanently in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.

Natali also put the B.A.R. in touch with Cheryl Maloney of Vanguard Properties, who said that several would-be tenants are vying for the former Hamburger Mary's space at 541 Castro Street, which he also owns.

While Natali and Bruce had said a deal was imminent February 9, Bruce confirmed February 10 that a deal had not been signed, and neither returned follow-up calls the next week. Then, on February 21, Bruce stated in a text that "I cannot speak for Les or the business at this time."

"Please reach out to him directly," Bruce added.

Natali did not return a call Tuesday from the B.A.R. requesting comment for this article.

In the meantime, Hoodline reported that Badlands was forced to surrender its liquor license last week due to inactivity, and that Hamburger Mary's liquor license had been surrendered on October 31, 2022.

Bryce Avalos, a communications analyst with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, confirmed to the B.A.R. that the Hamburger Mary's license had been surrendered that date.

As for Badlands, Avalos stated, "ABC confirmed [to Hoodline] on Thursday that the surrender request was being processed and the Badlands license would be in surrender status soon. The paperwork has completed processing and the surrender is backdated to October 22, 2022."

That said, the surrendering of the liquor license does not mean a bar could not reopen at the location.

"If the location is able to immediately begin operations, re-activating the license could be immediate," Avalos continued. "ABC looks into the circumstances of the request before reactivating."

Neither Natali nor Bruce returned Hoodline's requests for comment last week.

Badlands, which had been open since 1974 and was a nightclub under Natali's ownership since 1999, closed three years ago, as the B.A.R. previously reported. A Facebook post at the time stated, "Later this fall a new bar, under new ownership, will open in the Badlands location."

That didn't happen, but Bruce told the B.A.R. the following year that the space was being renovated.

"Basically the space is just being remodeled. It should be open by the end of the year or early, maybe, shortly after the year ends," Bruce told the B.A.R. in summer 2021. "That's basically all there is to say at the moment."

Natali told the B.A.R. earlier this month that renovations on the Badlands space are "pretty close to being done right now." Natali said that Bruce is "going to buy it. He's [Bruce] going to take over. His attorney and my attorney are going to work it out. He's going to be the boss and have all the control." When asked if that means Bruce will own the property at 4121 18th Street, Natali was not clear.

"I don't want to get into detail about this," Natali said. "We've been negotiating [for] some time and it's between his attorney and my attorney and this is what we're working out — that he's going to be in charge. People want to know who's going to be running the place and it looks like it's going to be TJ."

Natali also told the B.A.R. that Bruce would be in charge of renaming the establishment. When asked what he'd name it, Bruce stated, "if it is up to me, it will always be Badlands."

Controversial past

Badlands and Natali had been under renewed criticism in the months prior to the announcement of its 2020 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 held 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 stated at the time.

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