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San Francisco bar's loss of lease strikes vein of outrage

The Gold Dust Lounge, nearly a century old, is slated to be replaced by a fashion chain store. Support has poured in for the brothers who have long run the bar. They refused to go and have filed suit.

March 25, 2012|By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times

"Part of San Francisco is disappearing right before your eyes, but behind the backs of fans who love it all around the world," Australian Scott Clarke wrote on Facebook. "On behalf of all those who …keep coming back and all those yet to experience the true soul of your city, please keep fighting the good fight."

When the lease expired March 10, the brothers refused to budge. Handlery moved to evict. As Jim Bovis sat at a table in the back of the bar recently, recounting his sleepless nights, a man in a Yankees cap emerged from the restroom and served him with eviction papers.

While customers at the Gold Dust commiserated over its fate one night last week, Johnny Z and the Camaros prepared to play rock 'n' roll staples — as they've done seven nights a week for about a dozen years. There is no cover charge.

Sara McGee, 24, and Laura Macy, 28, had just befriended a couple visiting from Orlando, Fla. On McGee's first visit, she said, she chose a vacant stool at the Art Deco mahogany bar between a man from Spain and a San Francisco native. The three talked for hours.

"It would be such a shame to lose it," she said.

At a hearing Wednesday of San Francisco's Historic Preservation Commission, consultant Chris VerPlanck pressed for landmark status based on the Gold Dust's place in the city's bar culture and in residents' hearts.

City planners have recommended against the designation, saying it does not appear to be justified and would do little to solve the problem: If the Bovis brothers lose in court, they'll be booted regardless. Representatives of other Union Square building owners said landmark status should not be used as a bargaining chip in a landlord-tenant dispute.

With one member absent, the commission deadlocked. It will vote again April 4.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Christina Olague is exploring legislation that could subject Union Square property owners to greater scrutiny when they seek to convert their buildings into chain stores.

"This has rallied people around the idea of wanting to preserve some of San Francisco's character," said Olague, who hopes to meet with Jon Handlery to explore a compromise. "Folks are just really disappointed. We see these businesses drift away one at a time."

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