Harvey’s on Castro, the restaurant and venue at the corner of 18th and Castro streets, closed suddenly over the weekend. Open since 1996 and named in honor of assassinated San Francisco supervisor and world-famous LGBTQ+ rights icon Harvey Milk, it had long been a neighborhood fixture, a brunch-and-dinner spot known as much for people-watching as for eggs Benedict and bloody marys.
As a tourist-friendly bar and grill with a heavily gay-identified clientele, Harvey’s interior embraced the neighborhood’s queer history almost as tenaciously as a Hard Rock Cafe doubles down on guitar-filled Americana. It’s on the same intersection as the neighborhood’s rainbow crosswalks, directly opposite the Bank of America that has long served as a memorial to queer residents who have died.
The closure appeared sudden: The last post on Harvey’s Facebook page, dated Jan. 5, previews a new Thursday night drag show. On Sunday, the venue posted a brief announcement on Instagram that seems to suggest financial difficulties of the kind afflicting many San Francisco restaurants: “The writing is now on the wall. We will always love you!”
The accompanying picture showed a sidewalk sandwich board, with the message, “This is our last day being open. What is next? We don’t know, but we will miss all of you.”
The Standard has reached out to Harvey’s to confirm the closure and ascertain the circumstances behind it.
The 500 Castro St. address had originally been a pharmacy. In the 1970s, it became the Elephant Walk, a well-known gay venue where Sylvester and others performed. On the bar’s fourth anniversary, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by former Supervisor Dan White, who was given what many perceived as a light sentence for the crimes. In May 1979, the White Night Riots saw numerous gay men and allies storm police cars and smash windows at City Hall, and the San Francisco Police Department retaliated in part by raiding the Elephant Walk, beating the patrons and severely damaging its interior.
The anniversary of that date is now officially Harvey Milk Day. Milk’s place in American history has gained wider recognition in the wake of a 2008 biopic starring Sean Penn, and as schools incorporate LGBTQ+ culture into social studies curricula. San Francisco International Airport renamed Terminal 1 after Milk in 2019.
Peter-Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]