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New Eagle Owners Prepare to Open

by Seth Hemmelgarn
Friday Sep 21, 2012

As owners of what's to be known as SF Eagle prepare to reopen the beloved former leather bar, community members who've been hoping for the space to return as an LGBT venue have been cheering.

The old Eagle Tavern, at 398 12th Street, shut down in April 2011 after a rent dispute between the former owners and the landlord.

But those celebrating Mike Leon and Alex Montiel's signing the lease in late August appear to know little about the businesses partners' somewhat limited bar backgrounds.

"This is a community space. ... It's not about us," Montiel said Sunday when the men held a press conference at the site.

But the bar faces hurdles.

A fundraiser to help with making repairs at the bar is set for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, September 23 - the day of the Folsom Street Fair - in the parking lot across from the bar.

Among other issues, crowds at the old Eagle had appeared to be thin - except for the popular Sunday afternoon beer busts and Thursday's live music nights - and attracting patrons to the new business could be a challenge.

Leon, who's bisexual and in his mid-40s, and Montiel, who's gay and said he's close to Leon's age, joined several supporters Sunday, September 16 for a news conference on the bar's patio, where fundraisers helped generate thousands of dollars for nonprofits over the years. (The Bay Area Reporter interviewed both men at the news conference and Leon in a subsequent phone interview.)

Their plans aren't finalized, but the format will be similar to what was available before - leather events, live music on Thursday nights, and beer busts. They also plan to have ladies' nights.

The two spoke about their backgrounds. Montiel said he was related to the bar Badlands "a long time ago." Leon said his mother had a bar when he was growing up, and he helped her out whenever he could after school. He said he knows "the ins and outs" of what it takes to operate a bar.

Leon also owned the North Beach gallery Mea Cinis, which shut down last May. He said he still owns mixed-use property in that neighborhood.

They paid "well over" $250,000 for the lease, Leon said. That figure includes the security deposit, first and last month's rent, purchasing a liquor license, and other costs. He wouldn't say where they got that money, or how much they're paying in rent. They have a 10-year lease, with an option of going for another 10 years, Leon said.

Both men had been patrons of the former bar, Leon said, and both said they had been working on obtaining the South of Market space since it closed last year.

Remodeling work will include upgrades related to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Leon doesn't know how much the work will cost, and he wouldn't say how much money the two of them have.

Montiel said Sunday they're trying to open the bar by October 31, Halloween, but asked later about opening by that date, Leon laughed.

"I don't know," he said. "My primary concern right now is the remodel. ... I don't know what I'm going to discover in these walls." He added, "I'm going to try my hardest to get it open as soon as possible."

One essential ingredient is transferring a liquor license to the space. The transfer is expected to come up at the Monday, September 24 Board of Supervisors City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee.

San Francisco Superior Court records indicate Montiel filed for bankruptcy in 2009. He said it was "private" and wouldn't answer questions about it. Leon declined to discuss Montiel's bankruptcy other than to say, "He's clear of that."

Despite the support the men have received, community leaders the B.A.R. spoke with don't seem to know much about them.

Supervisor Jane Kim, whose District 6 includes the Eagle site, said after the news conference Sunday that she wasn't aware of the pair's business background, but she's seen their "persistence, their passion, and their enthusiasm."

Gay Supervisor Scott Wiener also came to the Eagle patio Sunday. In an interview Tuesday, he said he initially met Leon and Montiel five or six months ago.

"I'm sure we talked about that," Wiener said of the men's business histories, but he didn't recall the specifics. "I know I had enough of a confidence level that they knew what they were doing."

In a phone interview, Supervisor David Campos, who's also gay, said he hadn't been "really familiar with the specifics" of the pair's business backgrounds.

At Sunday's gathering, he said it was "never about the sexual orientation" of the bar's owners, but it was about getting "someone committed to making sure [the bar] remained the community space it had been."

In response to emailed questions, Folsom Street Events Executive Director Demetri Moshoyannis said other than the "old" Eagle's Sunday beer busts and Thursday night live bands, "it seemed pretty dead most of the time." However, he appeared hopeful for the venue's future. He said he's been helping the men and they "seem very determined and diligent."

Longtime entertainment commissioner and local nightlife figure Audrey Joseph, an out lesbian, said in an interview last week that she didn't know the men.

"If they have no experience doing this kind of work and what it takes, their success rate is minimized," Joseph said. She also said if they stick to the old bar's format, "I do not believe it has a shot in hell of being successful." Among other problems, she said, there's no foot traffic at the site.

John Nikitopoulos, the bar's landlord, has never responded to interview requests from the B.A.R.

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