SF LGBTQ club fights to stay alive amid downtown woes

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday May 14, 2024
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Club OMG is holding an in-person fundraiser May 18 amid its financial troubles. Photo: Courtesy Club OMG
Club OMG is holding an in-person fundraiser May 18 amid its financial troubles. Photo: Courtesy Club OMG

A South of Market LGBTQ nightclub that caters to the Latino community and is one of the few local queer bars owned by a person of color, is turning to the public to keep its doors open.

Rakesh Modi, a gay man who owns Club OMG at 43 Sixth Street, started a GoFundMe to raise $100,000 for his business, which is in debt and at risk of closing, he said. There will also be an in-person fundraiser Saturday, May 18, at 10 p.m.

The GoFundMe has only raised $2,246 as of press time, despite being up for over a month.

Modi said in a phone interview that the trouble began due to the COVID pandemic and was exacerbated by the decline in foot traffic in downtown San Francisco.

"The Castro came back [from COVID], and some areas were not fortunate enough to come back, so we're in that situation," Modi said. "We're hoping things planned for downtown, the revitalization, turn around, but meanwhile we have to pay off the debt. There's big credit card debt and if you know, fees, the interest rate is so high and that keeps increasing. If we get out of debt, that will help us survive."

Modi said that during the COVID lockdowns he received a small paycheck protection program loan, which was forgiven, and took out other U.S. Small Business Administration loans to pay operating expenses. Though the bar was closed, the beer tap and dispensing system had to be kept on, leading to large Pacific Gas and Electric bills, he said.

"We had to keep paying PG&E because the machines that run the beer systems and such needed to be on so we couldn't turn off everything, to keep them alive," he said. "That takes up a lot of energy."

When COVID business restrictions tapered down in 2021, the bar did see more crowds, Modi said. But COVID helped precipitate a longer-term downturn for downtown San Francisco, as people keep working from home, businesses continue an exodus, and national media focuses on property crime and the fentanyl epidemic. According to a report from the Institute of Governmental Studies released last year, downtown San Francisco ranked last among 62 North American cities in recovering from the COVID pandemic.

"The first few months were great," Modi said. "Everyone was ready to get back to the bars. However, things had changed. A lot of people stopped going to work downtown, a lot of retail started closing one by one, and so people who worked at those stores who went to OMG, or people that worked downtown who had a drink after work — we had a happy hour that was really good before COVID — all of that dried out. Being on Sixth Street, we felt the effects more than other places."

While the city has been working on revitalization efforts — such as Mayor London Breed's push for an outdoor entertainment zone on Front Street between California and Sacramento streets and the new monthly Chinatown night market and First Thursdays street festival in SOMA — Modi said that isn't really hitting Sixth Street south of Market Street, which is impacted by open-air drug use and sales.

Club OMG first opened its doors 12 years ago, Modi said. After the closure of Esta Noche in 2014, it became "sort of the home bar for the Latino community, especially the first-generation Latino community that don't necessarily speak English, or that's not their first language."

"They like to have community events and fundraisers, birthdays, and fundraisers for those who've passed, especially the trans community," Modi said.

Indeed, Club OMG — open five days a week now, instead of six — hosts a Latin drag show at 10 p.m. on Sunday nights and "two or three" Latin nights a month, Modi said. In addition there's a comedy night at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and an underwear night at 10 p.m. Wednesdays. The club is closed Mondays and Thursdays.

Christian Palominos is a gay man who promotes the club's events that cater to the Latino community.

"OMG has been a very strong supporter of the Latin LGBTQ community for many years," Palominos stated to the B.A.R. "We want to give back and support the club in their time of need."

Palominos asked people to come to the fundraiser this Saturday; all the performers will be donating their tips to the club. It will be co-hosted by drag performer Vicky Jimenez, who did not return a request for comment for this report.

"We hope a lot of people can join us to donate to OMG," Palominos stated.

Modi said that venues like Club OMG help "communities that are marginalized" feel free to be their authentic selves, and promote the "arts and culture that keep San Francisco alive."

District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, a gay man who represents the district including Club OMG, did not return a request for comment.

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