Among the nightclubs and music venues that have suffered deeply in San Francisco over the last year, one of the relative newest, Oasis, could face permanent closure without some immediate help from patrons, or the federal or local government.
The six-year-old LGBTQ nightspot at 11th and Folsom doubles as a drag and cabaret venue and a dance club, and it was opened by local drag stars Heklina and D'Arcy Drollinger with a couple of business partners. It has kept itself afloat and in the news over the last year through various means, including, like some other beloved queer bars around town, a crowdfunding effort last spring. SFist reported on the club's Meals on Heels drag-and-dinner delivery service last September, just as it was reaching the pages of the New York Times and CNN, and the club was able to reopen its rooftop for distanced drag shows and drinks — and food from Don Ramon's down the street — between August and November.
Also, Drollinger has launched a paid streaming platform called Oasis TV, featuring on-demand videos of some of the many performances that have happened on the Oasis stage, like drag reenactments of the Golden Girls, Three's Company, and and his own original slapstick play "Shit and Champagne." (Drollinger's real name, out of drag, is the same as his drag name, thus the pronoun.)
Drollinger tells the Chronicle this week that things are getting dire, despite Oasis' landlord forgiving half of their rent last year. He says that the business requires $30,000 a month just to survive, including rent, and about $40,000 is currently due in back rent, and he's already depleted his savings to keep the place alive.
Thus, there's now a crowdfunding campaign that's already live, as well as a telethon set to air on Oasis TV on March 6, hoping to raise $100,000.
"The telethon is going to be 12 hours of all the things you love about Oasis, bringing together those near and far who have ever graced our stage," Drollinger tells SFist. "It’s a critical time and it is heartening to see so many fabulous entertainers stepping up to fight (and perform) to keep Oasis alive."
SAVE THE OASIS TELETHON! Saturday 3/6 at OasisTV. Donate today at https://givebutter.com/saveoasisPosted by SF Oasis on Wednesday, February 24, 2021
"It’s easy with all the stuff we’re doing to make it look like we’re winning this,” Drollinger tells the paper. “In a lot of ways we are, with what we’re doing for the community, but it’s not realistic to run a venue of this size and be closed. I thought rather than let things totally fall apart, I would ask help."
Heklina sold her piece of the business in late 2019/early 2020, just months before the pandemic shut the place down. And Drollinger has borne the burden of keeping the venue alive, applying for a PPP loan, and presumably applying for a Save Our Stages grant from the last federal stimulus package. But unlike other LGBTQ spaces with more foot traffic, like those in the Castro, things aren't really looking up for Oasis until the club can open for indoor drinks and entertainment.
Drollinger says that the place lost more money being open at a limited capacity last year than it does being closed, and each pivot has come with startup costs and mostly only resulted in enough to pay his workers, and the entire thing is becoming unsustainable. "It’s getting harder each month," he says.
The SF Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed legislation creating the Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund, however as reported earlier, this is still a fund in search of funding. Supervisor Matt Haney, who sponsored the effort, has suggested that wealthy tech people and philanthropists should pony up funds to help save some of the cultural fabric in the city before it disappears, but that hasn't happened to date.
"I am super-grateful that it is happening, finally. I wish, personally, it had happened a little sooner," Drollinger told the Chronicle last week, regarding the new fund.
Echoing what many business owners have been thinking and feeling during these extended shutdowns, he said, "I am deeply in debt. The club is deeply in debt. I’ve sunk my savings into this. I’m all in. It’s so frustrating being told, ‘You can’t open your business, and we’re not going to find aid for you.'"
Previous crowdfunding campaigns have helped provide vital relief to several legacy LGBTQ businesses in the city and their staffs, including El Rio, Aunt Charlie's, and Twin Peaks — which just recently launched a second campaign that netted them over $100,000. Patrons and regulars have shown that they are will to spend some of the money they would have spent there last year anyway to keep these places alive until we can visit them again.
But other LGBTQ bars and venues, like Virgil's Sea Room in the Mission (which announced its closure this week), and The Stud, were not so lucky. And this pandemic ain't over by a long shot.
Top image: Drag performers Roxy Brooks-Lords (L) and D’Arcy Drollinger (R) get dressed before performing an in-person outdoor drag show at SF Oasis on September 04, 2020 in San Francisco, California. San Francisco's Oasis nightclub has started a meal delivery service called "Meals on Heels" which offers a delivered meal that is accompanied by a socially distanced drag performance. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)