Badlands, a nightclub whose dancefloor was a last stop for many partiers in the Castro going back decades, is closing for good according to a Facebook post published Thursday morning.
"Badlands bar is closed," the brief post reads. "Later this fall a new bar, under new ownership, will open in the Badlands location. The name of the new bar and other details will be announced later, closer to the opening date."
The post further explains that the opening of the new bar will be contingent on "COVID-19 mandates."
Badlands, along with Toad Hall across the street and Hamburger Mary's around the corner, was owned for many years by neighborhood businessman Les Natali, and Natali has not offered any comment on the closure.
Natali has been dogged by accusations of racism that go back to 2004, when he owned the bar Pendulum that was in the Toad Hall space, which catered to Black gay men. Badlands became the center of protests when patrons of color claimed that they were turned away by bouncers and told to go to Pendulum across the street. As the Bay Area Reporter recalls, Badlands was then the subject of a Human Rights Commission report in 2005, though the report was never made official because the commission's director at the time never signed off on it.
Natali responded to the BAR regarding that report in early June, when Badlands was again being called out by activists for racism, saying that the 16-year-old claims "were found without merit and were dropped." Natali added, "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's likely correct on the latter statement — Badlands was, in recent years, highly diverse in its clientele. But nonetheless, those accusations never really went away — and indeed the bar's Wikipedia page mentions that Human Rights Commission report and little else about its history. The website SFGayHistory notes the racism accusations as well.
Badlands opened in 1975 in somewhat different form than its most recent, video-screen-filled incarnation. After briefly opening as the topically named Watergate West in 1973, the bar/restaurant was rechristened as Badlands in 1975 and originally served brunch and dinner. It took on a rustic, vaguely western aesthetic into the 1980s, with license plates on the walls and sawdust on the floor. Natali purchased the bar in 1999 and remodeled it into a dance bar where Britney, Whitney, Gaga, and Madonna were played on repeat, and where a dozen people were always forgetting their coats in coat-check and wandering off into the night.
Stay tuned for details about the new ownership and name.