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Historic Harvey’s Gay Bar on Castro Street Closes

Historic Harvey’s Gay Bar on Castro Street Closes

Historic Harvey’s Gay Bar on Castro Street Closes

Harvey’s was the successor to the Elephant Walk bar, site of San Francisco’s Stonewall Riots.

Longtime Castro Street restaurant and bar Harvey’s closed its doors for good on Sunday. Named after the late activist and politician Harvey Milk, Harvey’s first opened in 1996, replacing the iconic Elephant Walk bar that had existed in the same space since 1974. Harvey’s announced its closure using a signboard outside their door.

“This is our last day of being open,” the handwritten message read in a photo posted to social media.

Manager David Facer told the San Francisco Chronicle the difficulties of keeping a business afloat during the pandemic forced Harvey owners to shut down for good.

Patrons, locals, activists, and politicians all lamented Harvey’s closure and the impact its predecessor Elephant Walk had on LGBTQ+ history in the city and beyond. In its 1970s heyday, the Elephant Walk was a safe space for activists like its namesake, as well as a performance venue for entertainers like pioneering drag diva Sylvester.

“Harvey’s is an iconic restaurant & location in the Castro,” gay State Senator Scott Wiener tweeted. “As a 25 year resident of the neighborhood, I’m heartbroken it’s closing & hope it’ll reopen soon as a new restaurant or bar.”

District Supervisor Rafael Mandelman called the closure “a huge loss for the neighborhood” and joined Wiener in expressing hope a suitable similar establishment to fill its place.

News of the closure stunned AIDS Memorial Quilt founder Cleve Jones. He visited Harvey’s on Sunday evening and later told the Bay Area Reporter he was given a photo of himself with Milk at the late activist's 24th birthday party in 1978. The photo had been hanging on a wall in the bar.

“Last night was a pretty sad night for me,” Jones said. “I went down to Harvey’s, which still in my mind is Elephant Walk, and I can still hear Sylvester's voice echoing in there, and it makes me very sad.”

Harvey’s first opened its doors in 1996 when building and current owner Paul Langley refused to renew the Elephant Walk’s lease. The Elephant Walk had been in operation since 1974, and quickly gained fame as one of the first gay bars to have glass windows facing the street.

Milk operated his camera shop just up the street and was a frequent patron at Elephant Walk. The connection to Milk was strengthened when his assassin, fellow supervisor Dan White was convicted on lesser manslaughter charges. As the community gathered by the thousands at City Hall on May 22, 1979, to protest the conviction, some responded by breaking windows and burning police cars. In response to the violence, police officers in civilian clothes descended upon the Castro where they broke out the windows of the Elephant Walk and attacked patrons. Many locals cite the attack as San Francisco’s version of the Stonewall Riots.

The Elephant Walk was severely damaged in a 1988 fire that nearly destroyed the building. The bar reopened after four years of restortion, but was closed a short time later when the current owners did not renew the lease. Harvey’s opened its doors in 1996.

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Donald Padgett

Managing Editor at OutTraveler. Also write for Out, The Advocate, and Plus magazines.

Managing Editor at OutTraveler. Also write for Out, The Advocate, and Plus magazines.