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A Christmas Destination

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Marlena’s Bar in Hayes Valley. For nearly two decades bar owner Garrett McLain, who also goes by Marlena, has collected and displayed an impressive collection of over 1,200 Santa decorations during the holiday season.

There are Santas riding sleighs from the ceiling, ho-ho-ing on the bar, nestled in the smoking cage, and watching over as you play pool. There’s even a few Santas behind the bar helping mix cocktails. If you’re in the mood for a stiff drink and some holiday cheer (aren’t we all during this time of year?), head to Marlena’s for a dose of both.

“We started about 18 years ago with three Santa Clauses, and people just started to bring in more and more,” McLain says. “Now we have over 1,200 from all over the world, and 80 percent of them have been gifts.”

From miniature and wooden Santas to Disney and life-sized Santas, the St. Nick display at Marlena’s is truly an international Christmas smorgasbord. The bar features Santas from Prague, Russia, and every corner of the world.

The best part of this lavish display of holiday love is that it’s about so much more than tinsel and trees.

“It has become a family thing and people really feel the warmth in here,” McLain says. “Its just wonderful. We have little kids come in during the daytime, and they are just in awe. It’s a miracle that it’s still happening.”

McClain is amazed at the outpouring of generosity and sense of community the Santas have created. “Just the other day, this guy came and he gave me two hand-crocheted Santas his grandmother had made,” he says. “She recently passed away and he wanted them to give them to us. I put them up prominently. As all of our Santas do, these ones especially came with love. He knew they’d be taken care of and treasured here.”

Marlena’s has been a Hayes Valley neighborhood institution for twenty years. For many regulars, it’s a home away from home. For that reason, the bars stays open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

“There’s a lot of lonely people during that time of year and we’re here for them,” McLain says. He’s proud of the friendly reputation Marlena’s has and says, “It’s a neighborhood bar first, and a gay bar second; most of all it’s just a friendly place. I don’t care about your politics, religion or race, we just want this to be a place filled with positive energy.”

If there ever comes a day when Marlena’s Santa collection need to be put to rest McLain says he wants them to stay together, and preferably be housed in a museum somewhere in the city.

“It’s a beautiful tradition that shouldn’t be broken up,” he says. “It’s a creation of warmth and love.”

With Christmas still weeks away, instead of waiting for Santa Claus to come to town, head to Marlena’s — he’s already there.