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Long live The Stud! SF’s oldest LGBTQ+ bar reopens with massive, drag-filled blowout

a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence nun in a flowery had, pink sunglasses and whiteface makeup
Sister Ginger Neutral of the famed drag troupe the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence helped bless The Stud, a historic queer dive that reopened Saturday in SoMa. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Long live The Stud! The oldest operating LGBTQ+ bar in San Francisco reopened on Saturday night at a new location—at least its fourth since 1966—some four years after it shuttered during the early days of the pandemic. 

Lines wrapped around the block from Folsom Street in the city’s South of Market neighborhood as a who’s who of queer San Francisco gathered to celebrate, watch performances that chronicled various eras of the city’s underground nightlife and congratulate the 17-member collective that runs the historic venue.

a smiling, mustachioed person in a red hat flicks a red suspender, their tattooed arm exposed
Mudd the Two Spirit was among the jubilant crowd at the grand reopening of The Stud, which saw crowds lining up before 5 p.m. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

The evening began with a glitter-filled blessing on the sidewalk from that famed troupe of drag nuns, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a benediction concluding in a cheeky yet inclusive “A-men, a-women, a-ll the rest of us.”

As befits a bar with a Western-sounding name rooted in leather culture, cowboy hats, harnesses and suspenders were plentiful throughout the night. 

a closeup of a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence with black lips, red nails, white makeup and red contact lenses
Sister Bubbles Bathory led the sidewalk benediction that officially opened the bar. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Beyond the dozen or so Sisters, nightlife regulars, party promoters and local luminaries were everywhere, from street photographer Darwin Bell and author K.M. Soehnlein to journalist and straight ally Broke-Ass Stuart. Aaron Peskin, the president of the Board of Supervisors and a candidate for mayor, was seen on the sidewalk in a shirt honoring drag activist Juanita MORE!, not far from former Supervisor Jane Kim, who represented the neighborhood.

And there was drag. 

two white drag performers open their mouths wide in mock gasps, one with a mustache and glasses, the other with huge eye makeup and a curly blond wig
Rubyblue Genderbender, left, and Fauxnique, right, scream in mock horror. Fauxnique later performed the moody 1986 song "Don't Dream It's Over." | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Gina LaDivina performed Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” to cap off the 1960s “cowboy era,” while Fauxnique, perhaps the city's original "faux-queen," vamped to Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” to wrap up the new wave 1980s. Later in the evening, Rahni Nothingmore, Glamamore and Honey Mahogany—a trans woman and member of the Stud collective who recently stepped down as chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party—would take the stage as well. Donna Personna, a trans activist and former member of the pioneering 1960s troupe the Cockettes, was also present.

a group of friends smile in front of The Stud sign
The Stud's Western typeface has become a well-known visual trope around San Francisco as the LGBTQ+ community awaited its long-promised return. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

The atmosphere was carnivalesque, almost bordering on relief. The Stud’s 2020 closure sent shock waves through LGBTQ+ San Francisco, and now—amid prolonged chatter about doom loops and enduring grief over the April 2023 death of drag performer Heklina—the community’s reaction to the reopening was nothing short of delight.

“I’ve been waiting for years for this,” said patron Matt Wisniewski, who had been a regular at the former location for most of the 22 years he’s lived in San Francisco. “I was there almost every Friday night. It was my religion.”

a drag performer in a silver sequin top and bare shoulders smolders on a dance floor
Evian was among the many people who brought it to the dance floor, where DJs spun different styles of music every hour. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

However beloved the old Stud may have been, the previous location on Ninth and Harrison streets in SoMa was an awkwardly shaped space with uneven floors. The new, multi-room Stud is considerably bigger, with two bars, an outdoor patio and a separate area in the back that will become a stage for performances.

The renovation isn’t quite finished, however, and a $500,000 fundraising campaign is ongoing. A commercial kitchen left over from the space’s days as Julie’s Supper Club, which closed well over a decade ago, will be ripped out to enlarge the stage and provide a green room. A mural on the patio is another holdover and is likely to be repainted soon.

a bearded man in a white shirt and blue cap holds a drink on a crowded patio
The Leather Pride flag hanging on the patio's far wall was donated by a longtime Stud patron. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

But there was no mistaking the blue-, white- and black-striped Leather Pride flag draped across one wall. According to Neven Samara, a member of the Stud collective, it was donated by an older patron whose ex-partner created it for public display. 

“There’s handles all around it,” he said. “It marched in the Pride parade, and during the [AIDS] epidemic, people would throw flowers into it as they marched in the street.”

a crowd of people on a dancefloor sing enthusiastically with their hands aloft
The sense of anticipation among the LGBTQ+ community was intense, and Saturday's opening was tinged with relief. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

As DJ Steve Fabus filled the side room with sleazy, glamorous disco, Stud collective member Marke Bieschke found a moment to relax after having put in weeks of physical and mental labor. 

“I was worried the space would feel a little McMansion-y,” he said. “It was a sports bar. But it actually feels as trashy and as cozy as the Stud.”