HAYWARD -- In the 1980s, this city had eight gay bars; now the last one, the Turf Club, has evolved into an outdoor live music venue and neighborhood gathering space.
"We've gotten rid of the labels. It's no longer a gay bar; it's a community bar with live music," owner Larry Gray said last week.
Gray transformed a parking lot into a landscaped patio with trees and plants, a Tiki bar, a stage and a pond with koi, goldfish and five turtles.
"We're trying to bring live music back into Hayward, making Hayward a destination," Gray said.
There's no longer a need for gay bars, which were safe places to meet, get information and raise money for political causes, he said.
"The laws have changed, and people's attitudes toward gay people have changed," Gray said. "Straight people love coming in and seeing the live music. Knowing it's gay-owned and -operated has no effect. It's free and open, blending straight and gay people into a harmonious situation, drawn by the music."
Musician Kaye Bohler and her eight-piece band perform at the Turf Club on downtown Main Street about once a month. She's the lead singer for the Kaye Bohler Show, a blues and soul band with a three-piece horn section.
"It's like you're on vacation when you're on the patio; Larry Gray has created a Polynesian paradise," she said. "He's really beautified the neighborhood with what he's created."
The Turf Club in 1962 was a bar that earned its moniker because judges and lawyers from what was then nearby City Hall said the establishment was their turf, Gray said. When a gay bartender was hired in the mid-'60s, his friends started coming by and it evolved into one of the area's better-known gay bars.
Gray bought the Turf Club in 1985 and turned it into the Bay Area's first country and western gay bar. It turned more political in 2005 as the fight for marriage equality gained traction.
Now, he wants it to be known as a music venue. The club has live outdoor music Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons, and a DJ or karaoke on other nights. There is no cover charge.
The only other regular live music venue downtown is The Bistro at B and Main streets, though solo musicians perform during dinner at some restaurants.
"Since Larry was 16, he has loved listening to live music outside," Bohler said. "He's invested a lot of time and money to make this into a beautiful place to listen to live music."
Gray has upgraded the sound system and is working on booking touring bands for Sundays, she said. It's the only club in Hayward she's aware of that has outdoor music.
"It's a big challenge to change what has been a gay club to a music venue that's for everybody to enjoy," Bohler said.
Since its transformation began two years ago, the club also has seen retirement parties, baby showers, parties and wedding receptions, Gray said. It drew more than 100 people to a Hayward Chamber of Commerce mixer last year and was a stop on the chamber's 2013 restaurant walk.
"Larry Gray is the mayor of Main Street," said chamber President Kim Huggett.
"He reinvented the Turf Club," he said. "Sitting in the Turf Club's Tiki patio, sipping a drink, munching on barbecue wings and enjoying a great band is just a great way to spend an evening."