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Meet Gayle Santillan of The Rail in Hillcrest

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gayle Santillan.

Gayle, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My first job at 15-years-old was as a hostess in a family restaurant, where I eventually worked my way up over many years into a general management position. I knew I belonged in the customer service industry! When my parents decided to open their own restaurant, I jumped ship to work for them. My father eventually purchased several nightclubs, including The Brass Rail, and I trained as his personal assistant and bookkeeper, learning the business side of the restaurant/nightclub world. I took over running the operations when my parents passed on, and eventually I became the sole owner of The Brass Rail.

To maintain our proud heritage as a family owned and operated business for over 55 years, I brought my son Dustin in to work for me when he was just 18-years-old, to learn the bookkeeping side of things. When he turned 21, he trained behind the bar as a bar back and light jockey. Over time, he was promoted to management when I realized I needed someone I could trust with all my heart. It’s been a learning experience for us both, as it is always difficult to separate the mother/son relationship from employer/employee. However, we both realize how fortunate we are. I had the same working relationship with my father, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I learned so much from him, but also got to laugh and enjoy life with him, and I hope that my son feels the same way. Life can be so short sometimes, and spending time with the people you love is priceless.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Running a night club is hardly ever a smooth road. We do our best to keep our customers safe and ensure they are having a great time, but when you are serving alcohol, you really need to stay on top of everything. Being the oldest gay bar in San Diego has made The Brass Rail an icon, but throughout the years, we have also done our best to keep up with the times and remodel to keep things fresh. I remember when the entire club had an all-black interior because it is what our customer wanted at the time.

Thankfully, we have had a very loyal customer base that has made it possible to keep going through some of the tougher times. Many other venues come and go, but we have managed to stay open since the 1930s! Our most recent remodel was by far the most challenging, as we did close for several weeks. The outcome was beyond my expectations, and our customers have nothing but wonderful things to say about how the club looks now with post-Prohibition-era décor, private event spaces, brick and wood corrugated wall treatments, and indoor and outdoor patio areas.

Please tell us about The Rail.
Considered San Diego’s first gay bar, The Brass Rail originally opened for business in the 1930s. Back then, law enforcement was known to have entered with flashlights, demanding “All hands above the bar!” to keep men from holding hands. The bar relocated to Hillcrest in the early 1960s to continue to foster this relationship with the LGBTQ community. After our makeover in 2016, we changed the name from The Brass Rail to The Rail in an effort to re-brand without losing our loyal customers. We re-opened a kitchen that had been closed for many years and hired a very creative chef, Chef Chad Brunette, that came up with some wonderful menu items and entire brunch and lunch menus.

Breaking into the restaurant business has its own challenges, with so many opening and closing each year. We are hoping that this will add something special to our venue that will bring more customers in during the day and for brunch on the weekends! Our primary focus has always been on the nightclub business and we will continue to have our themed nights that our customers have come to love. Our Latin Saturdays are well known throughout the area as the place to be for great music and dancing.

Overall, I am most proud of the staff that works for me. They are like family, and they all treat each other as such. We provide a safe working environment where you can be yourself, have fun, and make money. In this business, longevity is highly unusual, and we have staff members that have been with us for nine years and counting, which goes to show the community we have built here.

We are hoping to become a community hub in Hillcrest, the brunch spot on Sundays, and the spot you choose for your next big event. The club has never looked better and we are hoping the locals and visitors alike come in and give us a try. They won’t be disappointed.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Wow, that’s a tough question. I’m very happy with where I am in life and with what I have accomplished as both an entrepreneur and as a parent. You make mistakes both personally and professionally over the years that, if you admit them and learn from them, can only make you a better person. I take great pride in being a kind, compassionate human being, and treating others as I would like to be treated, regardless of background, and I also understand that to be respected means you must also give respect.

In the end, I don’t really think I would change a thing. My life has been a roller coaster of wonderful times along with incredibly sad times, and there is much more to be seen. I have a wonderful family, incredible friends and a business that I am very proud of. The Rail has been a part of my life for 25 years now, and I am looking forward to what our future will be together.

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Image Credit:
Alternative Strategies

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