Fond Farewell to Tinker’s Damn and The Metropolitan
It was a bittersweet farewell to Tinker’s Damn, the South Bay’s oldest gay bar, throughout the weekend of March 28 to 30.
Upward of an estimated 400 guests came out to have one last drink and say goodbye to Tinker’s Damn and one of its owners, Bill Funk.
Tinker’s Damn is perhaps the oldest gay bar in Santa Clara. Around for more than 50 years, it became an institution as a neighborhood gay bar that hosted drag shows by the Tinker’s Damn Divas on Sundays and Mondays and for other events.
Tinker’s Damn wasn’t the only LGBT bar to close in the South Bay at the beginning of the year. The Metropolitan, formerly Brix Nightclub, located in downtown San Jose, also closed its doors.
The last weekend of March was a bittersweet moment for Funk, who started working at Tinker’s Damn while he was in college during the mid-1970s. He became one of the principles of Four Guys, Inc., which bought the bar in 1984, he said, after spending a day packing up a lifetime of memories collected at the bar.
In 1994, Funk, who is now the president of the corporation, bought two of the partners out, leaving him and an unknown silent partner as owners of Santa Clara’s oldest gay bar, said Funk. He declined to provide his business partner’s name.
"I’m disappointed," said Funk, a gay man who is "somewhere between 20 and death," about closing the bar. "I’m saddened, very saddened by it all."
Funk said that having to close Tinker’s Damn came as a surprise to him as the landlords Cefalu Partners LLC planned to redevelop the property. In October 2013, Funk received the eviction notice that he needed to be out of the building by January 1, 2014, but that eviction was extended to March 31, said Funk, who at one time held hopes the building would become a historical landmark.
The building at 46 North Saratoga Avenue in Santa Clara was once a meeting hall for the farmers in the area. As the farmer population dwindled sometime in the 1950s, the building was turned into the Trophy Room Bar by a prize fighter, according to Funk, who couldn’t recall the fighter’s name when talking about the history of the bar.
It wasn’t a gay bar until ten years later. In 1964, the bar was taken over by the Parkers, who renamed it Tinker’s Damn, after Mrs. Parkers’ popular phrase, "I don’t give a Tinker’s Damn," and it became popular among the gay community.
Tinker’s Damn owner Bill Funk (right) and a friend at the bar’s closing party March 31. courtesy Tinker’s Damn
A decade later the couple sold the bar to Izel Starkey, who simply went by "Starkey," and the bar officially became gay. Starkey fought to make his venue the first gay bar in Santa Clara to allow two men to openly dance together, and he won that battle by the late 1970s.
In 1984, Funk and three other business partners took over the bar and the rest is history, from first drag performance to friendships and relationships made at the bar.
Funk was touched by guests’ reminiscing about their experiences throughout the weekend, from guests talking about Tinker’s Damn being the first gay bar they walked into, to coming out and meeting partners at the bar, among other memories made at the bar during the farewell weekend.
He added that many expressed their own sadness about the closing of the bar that was always open 365 days a year for more than five decades.
"It just broke my heart," said Lorie Ortiz, a 54-year old lesbian, who used to go to Tinker’s Damn to watch her late beloved gay uncle Hal Lincoln Laird’s drag performances. "An iconic place like that. There aren’t a lot of wonderful places left."
Ortiz didn’t get to bid farewell to Tinker’s Damn due to being at work throughout the weekend, she said. She hopes the bar will reopen somewhere else.
Funk hopes to reopen as well, he said. He’s searching for a new location, but he hasn’t had luck with that.
"I don’t think that it’s going to hit the community until it’s really gone," said Funk. "We’ve only been closed for a couple of days."
The Metropolitan Goes Dark
It only took about two months for the newly renovated Metropolitan to shutter its doors. According to the notice posted outside the venue, the bar is going to be under new management, but there was no mention of who that will be. Cynthia and Rod Schisler are still owners of the liquor license until November 2014 when it expires, according to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.