Eagle Tavern and Hole in the Wall in Jeopardy

Passing this letter on from the owners of the popular gay gathering places Eagle Tavern and Hole in the Wall. These two places have been a community institution for over two decades, and I hate to see something like this happen to them because of someone who cannot accept the culture of their own neighborhood.

Dear Friends of SOMA Gay Culture,

Hole In The Wall Saloon has become famous since it opened some thirteen years ago. At the depth of the AIDS epidemic, when gay South of Market seemed to be dying, “The Hole” became a joyous retreat for our community with an accent on art, fun, and music. A thinking man’s bar.

Anyway, the building where it lives now is rapidly falling apart. For years we’ve been looking for a more secure location, and in October of 2006 we bought a suitable property on Folsom Street.

Shortly thereafter, a man named Jim Meko handed us a letter. Allegedly, he had already delivered a copy to the seller’s realtor before we bought the property. We’d never seen this letter. It stated that he and the neighborhood did not want another bar in the South of Market area (despite the fact that we had already been here for twelve and a half years). So we held a neighborhood meeting and presented our plans. We assured everyone that we would address all concerns with haste and sincerity. Still, Mr. Jim Meko countered that if he stood at the intersection of 8th and Folsom streets, he could hear loud music from inside Hole In The Wall on any given night. He stated that The Eagle Tavern, our second establishment (which has been a gay bar for more than twenty-five years now) was a terrible nuisance and that he was constantly annoyed by the commotion from its Sunday community benefits. He finally stood up and exclaimed the following to our new neighbors: “Don’t trust these guys! They’re bad bar owners!”

This last accusation cut the deepest. We’ve tried hard over the years to be a positive force in our small corner of the world. We clean and police the streets in front of our establishments. We donate time, money, and energy to charities and clubs that we see making a difference. Most importantly, we respect our employees as human beings with rights. Since the beginning, we’ve provided them with health insurance, paid vacations, and a yearly retreat at The Russian River. Despite Mr. Jim Meko’s characterization of it as a nuisance, The Eagle Tavern raises tens of thousands of dollars for charities and civic organizations each year. Finally, we can’t count how many gay men have sworn they met their life partner at the Hole In The Wall Saloon and consider it a sacred place. We’re proud of these things and believe ourselves to be far from “bad bar owners”.

We were soon informed that a hearing was being insisted upon by a second neighbor at the urging of Mr. Jim Meko and that others had now been persuaded to oppose the bar’s relocation project. We personally called this second neighbor. He had never been to Hole In The Wall. He had been to The Eagle Tavern once.

At this point, the future of the Hole In The Wall looks grim. The floor and foundation are in bad shape. The bar’s days are numbered. We can’t afford to purchase another building; and in any case something similar to all of this would be the certain outcome. South of Market, in the hands of the small-minded, has slowly turned petty and intolerant. Not only is Hole In The Wall certain to close if we can’t re-locate, but the future of The Eagle is in doubt as well. Mr. Jim Meko’s main complaints were directed against it, and he sits on the city’s Entertainment Commission.

What we’re asking for is your spiritual and verbal support. We need testimony from people who know the Hole In The Wall and The Eagle Tavern and consider them important. A short letter sent directly to

President Dwight Alexander
San Francisco Planning Department
1660 Mission St. 5th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103

would be wonderful. Your presence and willingness to speak for a minute or two at our hearing on Thursday, May 10th beginning at 1:30 would be of immense help. It will be at City Hall, Room 400. In any event, the destiny of both the Hole In The Wall and The Eagle Tavern are up to their fans now… As is the future and spirit of all of South of Market.

Sincerely,

John Gardiner & Joseph Banks, Proprietors
Hole In The Wall Saloon & The Eagle Tavern
E-mail: info@holeinthewallsaloon.com

More info and opinion on this subject can be found at the San Francisco Bay Times.

Photo in this entry courtesy of Flickr user Wolftag.

14 Comments so far

  1. Charles r.Sears II (unregistered) on April 5th, 2007 @ 6:48 pm

    Mr.Meko sounds like he is a homophobe.Has he and his board been approving bars and clubs for hetero’s? Them you would have a clear case of discrimination.I agree,The Eagle has done so much fundraising for the gay community now and when AIDS first took a foothold here in SF,and it was one of the first bars to support those with the disease.The leather community has done so while at the same time they too have lost men and women to this devastating disease.It is still killing us! We still need our bars and our community to support us as we support them with our dollars and our talents.We must not let angry neighbor’s who have never seen what the bars do for people,or the community they provide for gay men and women..to close the doors on the very places we congregate and contribute to our lives by meeting others like ourselves and where we can add our gifts for others who need our money or time.Maybe the neighborhood can do with a visit from leathermen who can enlighten them into the good deeds that the two bars and the people who visit them contribute to.Have you sent flyers and or visited them door to door and talked to the neighbors? It may do some good.It is just a thought.


  2. Jim Meko (unregistered) on April 5th, 2007 @ 6:56 pm

    I have been talking with Jeremy Paul, who represents the Hole, for quite a while and about two weeks ago we arrived at a compromise that I was hoping the neighbors would accept. But then the folks from the Hole started spreading all this crap against me. I didn’t write the DR, didn’t organize the neighbors, haven’t talked to the Planning Department and am certainly not out to close the Hole (or the Eagle). I’m not the enemy of fun that they make me out to be. I do hold a seat on the Entertainment Commission, one that has been set aside to represent the interests of the neighbors. Now that this article has come out, with all these lies, I’m not so sure how interested in compromise these particular neighbors will be.

    John’s recollections about meeting me are ludicrous, I don’t know this guy at the Bay Times and he didn’t even bother to contact me. If he had, this is what I would have told him:

    I think both the Hole and the Eagle are great bars and I hope they go on forever. One of the things that makes them so much fun is the outlaw factor. Joe Banks and John Gardiner operate right at the edge of what’s legal and acceptable but they’ve been established in this community for so long that I’d fight to defend their right to continue that tradition. My complaint is that they didn’t give any thought to this new neighborhood they decided to move into. Huge difference. Nearly a hundred neighbors in close proximity. 98 units of affordable housing at Folsom/Dore. 140 units of SRO supportive housing with drug rehab programs going in directly across the street. Joe and John got bad advice about that location. I wrote a letter to their real estate agent last July outlining the challenges they would face but they decided to bully their way through all of this. It’s turned into a nasty and divisive fight and I deeply regret it.

    Thanks,
    Jim Meko


  3. dantc (unregistered) on April 5th, 2007 @ 10:29 pm

    SOMA Leadership Council, as maintained and presumably updated by Jim Meko, but doesn’t give much indication for the current anti-bar push.

    Meko is (was?) a contributor at Fog City Journal, with a grand total of three columns there from last year. Here’s a quote from his 11/27/06 piece:

    A word to my “yuppie loftdweller” friends … when I was the newcomer to the neighborhood, they had a different name for us: it was “faggot.” It wasn’t said with a smile and it was often bellowed from a passing car. You froze in your tracks if the car slowed down. The modicum of safety you now enjoy in this neighborhood was painstakingly — and often painfully — achieved by building a sense of community and finding common ground with those who came before.

    And yet now he wants to rip a vital organ from the community body. Two, in fact. It doesn’t make sense. The SF Bay Times story notes that Meko seems to have a history of doing this sort of thing in other neighborhoods, but it doesn’t seem to mention that he hasn’t had a lot of success.

    More blog stuff here. Everything goes quiet after the elections. He doesn’t (at least from his writings) seem to be a fan of the Gavin Newsom anti-fun movement, so what’s his motivation here? A modern day Carry Nation? A personal/historical grudge against one or both bars? The irresistible charms of a developer? I can’t figure out what Jim Meko is up to. The leather community is the core of LGBT organizing and activism, more politically connected than people realize. Obviously more than Meko realizes. And he’s going to take them on by attacking these two bars?


  4. dantc (unregistered) on April 5th, 2007 @ 10:51 pm

    Well, that’s an interesting update and certainly puts things into perspective (and I dearly hope that was really written by Jim Meko). But I’m going to say that the reality probably lies somewhere between the two extremes we’ve been presented today.


  5. courtney (unregistered) on April 6th, 2007 @ 12:29 pm

    dantc, I think you’re right, there are definitely two extremes here.

    It would certainly be sad if these places closed, and even more sad if it was because of poor choices on the owners’ parts.


  6. David Wilton (unregistered) on April 6th, 2007 @ 8:08 pm

    Are you kidding me? I live at 11th and Folsom and the Eagle and the Hole could never compete with the noise, street fights, and mayhem that spills out of Caliente. And that’s just one place of about a half dozen near that intersection. Personally, I don’t mind. Anyone who moves to Soma should understand this is what this area is about at night. And I love the leather bars. Soma would never be the same without them. And btw, what’s that guy talking about Folsom and Dore? The Powerhouse is right there. Are they the next target?


  7. Dan Waterhouse (unregistered) on April 7th, 2007 @ 3:28 pm

    This sort of thing is what got Proposition 37 passed in Oregon–and a similar law almost passed in California last election cycle!

    Essentially, under Prop 37, if government meddles in private property use in any fashion (other than health and safety), it must financially compensate the property owner or approve what the owner proposes to do.

    In the case at hand, up the coast in Portland, the city would either have to approve what the Eagle/Hole in the Wall owners were proposing, or fully compensate them in cash.

    As a planner, I understand the Prop 37 proponents are going to try again in California (as they are around the country). Jim Meko may be providing the “poster child” for why liberals should vote “yes.”


  8. Jim Meko (unregistered) on April 7th, 2007 @ 6:04 pm

    JIM MEKO ISN’T TRYING TO CLOSE ANYBODY DOWN!

    “If this is how they treat one person who disagrees with them,
    can you imagine what kind of neighbors they’ll be to the rest of us?”

    Oh, the power of the Internet! You can say anything you want and make up whatever outrageous assertions that suit your purpose. Scare people. Create boogeymen. Portray yourself as a victim. Ruin reputations. Bloggers pick it up uncritically and spread it all over. No one seems to be interested in the truth.

    The truth?

    http://sfbulldog.com/jimMeko/2007/04/07/jim-meko-isnt-trying-to-close-anybody-down/

    Thanks,
    jim


  9. Dan Waterhouse (unregistered) on April 7th, 2007 @ 11:14 pm

    Sounds like Mr. Meko needs to learn to mind his own business and not mess into others’ His butting in seems to have created this problem.


  10. Jim Meko (unregistered) on April 8th, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

    The Hole in the Wall had three choices: stay where the are, buy an existing bar or find another place that would require a change of use application. They chose the most controversial of the alternatives and the neighbors turned around and appealed that decision. A representative from the Hole approached me to see if I would broker a compromise, which I’ve tried to do. It’s more than a little disenguous that they chose to turn this into such a personal attack at the same time they’re using me to convince the neighbors to withdraw their appeal. I guess no good deed goes unpunished.

    jim


  11. dolphpun (unregistered) on April 13th, 2007 @ 1:14 am

    SOMA has been under slow attack for years. This is clearly another attempt to push out the people who made SOMA an international destination. Many tourists come to SOMA’s Folsom and Dore Alley fairs as well as to spend money in our wonderful taverns. “SF eagle” nets over 10 thousand references on google.

    John and Joe have always supported the community with charity beer busts down to simple things like birthday parties. I would trust their word over a politician ANY TIME.


  12. Dan Waterhouse (unregistered) on April 15th, 2007 @ 11:00 am

    I understand that’s what Jim Meko is–a politician.


  13. Michael (unregistered) on April 15th, 2007 @ 8:54 pm

    Jim Meko owns property in SoMA and his only concern is property value, having him sit on the Entertainment Comission is a joke. What a conflict of interest! He only cares if his property values go up the maximum they can and that means shutting down anything that boring yuppie suburbanites will find offensive. “South of Market Activist” HA! More like self-interested property investor.


  14. jim meko (unregistered) on April 24th, 2007 @ 8:55 pm

    HOLE IN THE WALL
    CRISIS OVER

    Owners of the Hole in the Wall finally accepted a solution proposed by the neighbors several weeks ago, thus removing nearly all of the obstacles to the relocation of the bar to 1369 Folsom Street. A second protest, filed by Jackie Bryson, is not affected by the agreement.

    The neighbors who support Damian Ochoa’s request for Discretionary Review proposed the compromise on Monday, April 9. Jeremy Paul, representing the Hole in the Wall, accepted the conditions on April 11 and Damian, Jeremy and Jim Meko shook hands on the deal. Jeremy Paul also offered to obtain an apology from the owners, something he was subsequently unable to produce but an apology was never part of the deal.

    There has been some confusion since then (including statements from the owners of the bar denying the existence of a compromise) but plans submitted by the bar last Friday explicitly accept the first five conditions. The sixth, a request for the imposition of a good neighbor policy, is at the discretion of the Planning Commission.

    A comparison between the neighbors’ proposed compromise
    and the revised plans submitted by the Hole in the Wall:

    1. Applicants shall construct a smoking room inside the bar that is properly ventilated so that no smoke enters the neighboring homes and the rear of the bar shall be adequately sound-proofed so that no noise from inside the bar is audible in any of the surrounding residences.

    The new plans add a smoking room in the bar and move the office and restrooms into a horizontal extension at the rear as an additional sound buffer. The smoking room is to be ventilated four feet above the roof line.

    2. The backyard shall be off-limits to patrons.

    The plans read, “REAR YARD ACCESS CONTROLLED: RESIDENTS AND EMPLOYEES ONLY. NO PATRON ACCESS TO REAR YARD.” Also, there is no rear exit from the bar proper to the yard.

    3. in accordance with Planning Code Section 816.37, nighttime entertainment (as defined in section 102.17), which includes the prohibition of DJs and live bands, is not allowed on the premises.

    This statement reflects the existing code. The plans state, “AS PER PLANNING CODE SECTION 816.37 NIGHT TIME ENTERTAINMENT NOT PERMITTED ON PREMESIS.”

    4. Applicants shall employ Charles Salter & Associates to advise them on sound attenuation throughout the bar.

    Title page states, “SOUND ATTENUATION/MITIGATION RECOMMENDATIONS AS PER C.M. SALTER TO BE IMPLEMENTED BY CONTRACTOR.”

    5. Applicants shall surrender their curb cut and establish a motorcycle parking zone in front of the bar.

    The plan states “CURB CUT TO BE REMOVED IN ANTICIPATION OF (N) MOTORCYCLE PARKING TO BE IMPLEMENTED BY OWNER & DPW/DPT.”

    6. The Good Neighbor Policies of the Entertainment Commission shall be added as conditions of approval for this change of use.

    This is not addressed on the engineering drawings but a Good Neighbor Policy will certainly be imposed by the Planning Commission.

    If these six stipulations are adopted as conditions of approval, the objections contained in Damian Ochoa’s DR request will be considered resolved.



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