Badlands ownership shuffle OK'd by SF commission

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 5, 2024
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TJ Bruce, now an official co-owner of SF Badlands, spoke to the entertainment commission Tuesday. Photo: Screengrab via SFGovTV<br>
TJ Bruce, now an official co-owner of SF Badlands, spoke to the entertainment commission Tuesday. Photo: Screengrab via SFGovTV

In less than two minutes, the San Francisco Entertainment Commission unanimously approved a change of ownership for San Francisco Badlands in the Castro at its June 4 meeting.

TJ Bruce, who was brought on as co-manager of the nightclub at 4121 18th Street last year alongside gay longtime owner Les Natali, told the Bay Area Reporter the move is "more of a formality."

Natali, 81, the owner of the Castro neighborhood property, had brought on Bruce — a gay man who owns a number of nightclubs on the West Coast, such as Splash San Jose and Badlands Sacramento, and who is working on opening a Badlands Portland — last year to reopen the space he'd shuttered amid the COVID pandemic.

"Les and I formed a new corporation," Bruce said. "The city is requiring us to go through this process."

The company running the bar, technically, has now shifted from Natali's corporation, San Francisco Badlands Inc., to BLSF2 Inc.

The reason a new corporation is needed is because Natali is the sole owner of San Francisco Badlands Inc.

"To separate one of the DBA's [fictitious business names] into new owners, we needed a new entity," Bruce said.

The move means Bruce is a co-owner of the business, alongside Natali.

Bruce told the commissioners that "I'm very excited to be part of this effort."

"Just this last October we reopened after being closed a number of years due to COVID," he said. "I just wanted to say hello to all of you. Thank you."

Entertainment Commission President Ben Bleiman commented that he had "been to Badlands a couple times. It's cool." An unidentified commissioner chimed in "same" before the panel unanimously voted in favor of the ownership change.

Natali himself acquired Badlands, which had been a country western gay bar since 1974, in 1999, when it became one of the neighborhood's most popular video dance bars.

The bar's closure in 2020 came during the heady summer protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. At the time, with the pandemic raging, Natali also came under renewed criticism due to past allegations of racial discrimination at Badlands.

Those complaints were back in the early 2000s. After a lengthy investigation, a 2004 report by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission found that Badlands was discriminating against Blacks, 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 at 4146 18th Street, at the site of what had been the Pendulum, a bar that catered to Black LGBTQs.

In a June 6, 2020 email after those past allegations were brought up at a Black Lives Matter protest in Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro LGBTQ neighborhood, 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.

Natali had originally teased a spring 2023 reopening for Badlands, but a deal between he and Bruce needed more time to be worked out.

"When lawyers get involved in things it can get complicated and take longer than expected," Natali told the B.A.R. when Badlands reopened in October 2023. "It was just longer than expected but we're here, it's over, finally."

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