Today in bar casualties from the pandemic we have Thieves Tavern and Blind Cat, the last two dive-y spots in what was once a four-bar empire owned and operated by local barkeep Paul Bavaro.
Hoodline broke the news late Thursday that the pair of bars, both opened within months of each other about 14 years ago, have now closed permanently. As Bavaro says, "I just don’t see how I can battle the next 12 months of rolling closures and capacity restrictions."
Back in March right after closing the two bars along with every other bar in the city, Bavaro told Hoodline it was a "financial nightmare" for everyone, and "The true disaster financially will be in the recovery."
Bavaro began his career bartending at North Beach's long gone Crowbar, and in late 2004 he debuted his first dive-style drinking establishment, Whiskey Thieves on Geary Street in the Tenderloin. That was followed quickly by Thieves Tavern on 14th Street in late 2005, and Dirty Thieves on 24th Street in February 2006, which was later rebranded as Blind Cat. As Eater narrates, Bavaro went on to open Dear Mom with a couple of partners in 2012, attempting to launch his first gastropub concept in an off-the-beaten-path location at 16th and Harrison. That later was rebranded as Darger Bar in 2017 before closing in March 2018, and Whiskey Thieves also shuttered the following year.
At the time of the Whiskey Thieves closure, Bavaro told Eater, "A dive-y bar might not be what people want anymore."
Alas many of San Francisco's beloved dives have either gotten tragic makeovers in the last decade (Owl Tree, Murio's Trophy Room, Mr. Bing's), or they've disappeared altogether (The Gangway, Dave's, RJ's Sports Bar, Hi Tide Lounge). Though woven through the fabric of many neighborhoods are still plenty of well-worn, well loved spots where people still drink for sport or for no good reason, and where no one's dusted the back bar or the bottle of creme-de-menthe in a decade or two. The Dovre Club, Aunt Charlie's Lounge, Li-Po Lounge, and the Phone Booth all come to mind.
But any number of these places may disappear in the coming months unless they have extremely forgiving landlords.
Bavaro said he was forgive two months rent by his landlord, but still he couldn't see his way through the next six months, and the story is likely to be repeated many times over.
Just this week we learned that San Francisco's oldest operating gay bar, The Stud, is closing its doors for good in its current location because it can't pay anymore rent. There is hope that it may be revived again, maybe next year or the year after, in a different location in SoMa — much like the bar moved once before from 11th and Folsom to its present digs. But that closing, for sure, marks the end of an era and sparks a wave of nostalgia for much of the current and past LGBTQ communities of SF.
Hopefully there will still be a few dusty dives left, when all of this is through.