Last Call: Marlena’s Says Goodbye
More of a celebration, and less of a wake, the last weeks of Marlena’s the historic and intimate Hayes Valley bar grew to a series of crowded boisterous celebrations.
On the same weekend that the Eagle Tavern re-opened, after 22 years, on March 3, 2013, Marlena’s closed.
The last days were full of performances, including the marathon showcase of lip-synching numbers performed by dozens of female impersonating drag royalty from the Imperial and Ducal courts.
Taking a break from the day full of acts, Marlena, whose real name in Garry McLain, sat outside the bar, rested on a tree planter and recorded another portion of an upcoming audio feature for a reporter.
Asked about the day being called a celebration, Marlena agreed. "It is, because I’m not going anywhere," he said. "I’m not moving. Hopefully, these people will find somewhere to go. But I’m still dedicated to this city. I’m an Empress! I love this city and I’ve given my life to it, so why wouldn’t I want to keep it going? I figure I’ve got another good twenty or thirty years."
As reported in BARtab’s parent publication, the Bay Area Reporter, the men in escrow to buy Marlena’s are Matt Conway, Anthony Healy-London, and Josh McAdam. Conway is the bar manager at the nearby restaurant Absinthe, and Healy-London is a co-owner of the gay-friendly Church Street bar Churchill.
McLain, better known as Absolute Empress XXV of San Francisco, Marlena the Magnificent, and his business partner, Janice Buxton, entered into escrow with the buyers in January.
Twenty years ago, Hayes Valley was a very different place. The highway overpass loomed, street crime was rampant, and many of the current successful shops and restaurants had yet to become part of a financial boom.
Buxton and her now-deceased husband, John, opened the bar in 1978 as The Overpass. In 1990 McLain came on as a co-owner of the bar while he was the reigning empress, and it was renamed Marlena’s.
Now, with the Patricia’s Green park and other nearby improvements, it’s sad to see a stalwart part of the neighborhood bid goodbye just as the street has become a success (or a gentrified strip, according to critics).
"The neighborhood is changing, rapidly," said Marlena. "All the new businesses, the buildings, and a lot of younger people. We have a lot of younger women who had been coming to the bar." He offered a campy look. "Now I have nothing against women, except they scream."
Amid some laughter, Marlena posed for another bevy of photographs, commenting, "If I got a dollar for every picture I’ve had taken today, I’d be rich."