More than a year after the closing of the Lexington Club, Allbee found himself in another room, in another bar in San Francisco, but this time there were no tears. He was at San Francisco’s oldest gay club, the Stud, a space every bit as sacred to the Bay Area’s queer performance and drag community as the Lex had been to queer women. All around him, many of the leading members of that community — drag queens, DJs, bartenders, party promoters, writers, musicians, burlesque dancers, and other practitioners of the “nightlife arts” — sat stone-faced as they listened to a story that was by now all too familiar. The building housing the Stud had been sold, the new owners were raising the rent significantly, and the Stud’s owner, Michael McElhaney, preferred to retire after 20 years of bar ownership rather than fight. He told those assembled that if anyone was interested in saving the Stud he would support them. If not the bar would be closing its doors.
Allbee looked around the room and saw “some of the smartest people that I’ve ever had the pleasure to know or work with. The real artistic core of the S.F. LGBT nightlife community was in that room.” Among them, VivvyAnne ForeverMore, hostess of Club Some Thing, the Stud’s long-running and beloved Friday night drag show. Upon hearing the news, she was devastated.
“Not only has it been my nightlife home for the last seven years, but a lot of the people I work with came up at the Stud. It has a lot of history for me personally. And culturally, the history of The Stud is very rich, and I can’t imagine it not being there, not just for what it is, but what it represents.”
Immediately after the meeting, Allbee grabbed her and said, “Vivvy, I’ve been preparing for this. I think we can save The Stud.” Between the two of them they pulled together a group of 15 people (which later expanded to 18) from across the queer community, and they then spent the next six months in an intensive co-op boot camp: learning what they are, how they work, and tailoring co-op structures for a bar. If the team pulled it off, The Stud would be the first worker-owned nightclub in the United States.
The newly formed Stud Collective reached out to the community for support and was able to raise the equity to purchase the bar. The collective negotiated with the landlord to both decrease the rent and extend the lease two years. And it has breathed new life into one of San Francisco’s most beloved LGBT institutions. New parties, new promotions and the workers — everyone behind the bar, security, the person checking IDs at the door, and many of the drag queens on stage are now the proud owners of one of the most storied gay bars in the country.
At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2016, it became official. The collective had been notified the day before, and as Vivvy and fellow co-op member Honey Mahogany (of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 5 fame) took the stage to ring in the New Year there was an air of disbelief. Many of those assembled had been at the Lex on her final night a year and a half earlier, and when the clock struck 12 a similar scene played out — with drinking and tears and stories about how a bar had changed their lives — but this time was different. This time they had won.