This is not an exhaustive list of gay bars in San Francisco in the 70’s. You can find that information elsewhere. There were just too many gay bars for me to visit all of them. Here, I will only talk about bars and clubs that were significant to me. Most are dance bars or clubs because I have never been one to just want to sit around in a bar to drink.
The Stud, originally at 1535 Folsom, was the first gay bar, or first bar for that matter, that I started going to. I came there with Jim Archiquette and was only 18 at the time. I remembered what Darlene had said when she and Chuck had brought me to a the military base bar- she had told me to walk in like I owned the place and just ignore the door man who might be check ID.’s. This worked beautifully well at The Stud. It probably didn’t hurt that I was young and cute. In those days, none of the gay bars seemed to obsessed with checking ID’s.
When you entered The Stud, there was a long bar on your left with burning candles behind the bar. It was very rustic with rough wood decor. On the right, boxes of beer were stored up against the wall and I think there may have been a wood bench over these, where you could sit. Many of those sitting along the wall or at the bar in that room would turn their heads each time someone new walked in as everybody was looking for the next Mr. Right or at least the next Mr. Right Now. When you walked to the end of the bar in that room, there was a connection to another room with essentially the same dimensions and another bar. The dance floor and performance area was at the back of the bar where the two rooms connected but primarily on the left side of the building in the second room. At the very end of the first room, in a small alcove, were the bathrooms.
The clientele of the original Stud were hippies. It turned out that a lot the male hippies I had known earlier had, by this time, come out of the closet as being gay. It was always a pleasant surprise when someone you had known previously, turned out to be gay too. Some of the people I had known in San Diego were now also living in San Francisco.
We all wore Levi 501 button fly jeans as tight as possible to show as much as possible. I remember smoking pot in The Stud and nobody seemed to mind. The crowd was always friendly and welcoming. Dropping acid and going to the Stud was not unusual.
Sylvester often played at The Stud. Sylvester had been one of The Cockettes in 1969-1970 but had now gone solo. The first time I saw him was at The Palace Theater where the Cockettes usually performed. His premier performance with his “Hot Band” and The Pointer Sisters singing backup only lasted about thirty minutes. He was amazing, though. He was becoming increasingly popular in San Francisco but this was way before he would reach the pinnacle of his career as a disco diva later in the 70’s. At this point, he was still more of a gender bending hippie. He played rock songs and some torch song classics.
Febes was located at 1501 Folsom Street which was on the same block as The Stud. It was on the corner of Folsom and 11th. It always seemed a little mysterious to me at that time.
Jim Archiquette and I went to check out Febes once. It was a much smaller bar downstairs than The Stud
and a much older crowd. There was a much more macho kind of atmosphere with some customers wearing leather. The customers were a little intimidating to me at the time but it wasn’t long before I realized that leather was just another type of drag and affectation. There was a small room upstairs at Febes that sold sex toys and leather goods. There was an iconic statue by Mike Caffee. called Leather David, that looked like a Tom of Finland model with a leather jacket open in the front and jeans with a distinctive bulge.
“Mike Caffee worked in and did graphic design for many leather businesses. In 1966, he designed the logo for Febe’s and created a statue that came to symbolize the bar.
He modified a small plaster reproduction of Michelangelo’s David, making him into a classic 1960s gay biker: “I broke off the raised left arm and lowered it so his thumb could go in his pants pocket, giving him cruiser body language. The biker uniform was constructed of layers of wet plaster. . . . The folds and details of the clothing were carved, undercutting deeply so that the jacket would hang away from his body, exposing his well-developed chest. The pants were button Levis, worn over the boots, and he sported a bulging crotch you couldn’t miss. . . Finally I carved a chain and bike run buttons on his [Harley] cap.” (Caffee 1997)
This leather David became one of the best-known symbols of San Francisco leather. The image of the Febe’s David appeared on pins, posters, calendars, and matchbooks. It was known and disseminated around the world. The statue itself was reproduced in several formats. Two-foot-tall plaster casts were made and sold by the hundreds. One of the plaster statues currently resides in a leather bar in Boston, having been transported across the country on the back of a motorcycle. Another leather David graces a leather bar in Melbourne, Australia. One is in a case on the wall of the Paradise Lounge, a rock-and-roll bar that opened on the site once occupied by Febe’s.”–Gayle Rubin, excerpted from “The Miracle Mile: South of Market and Gay Male Leather, 1962-1997″ in Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture (City Lights: 1998)
The Ramrod had opened in 1970 1225 Folsom St. – I visited the Ramrod a few times. This pic shows the motorcycles lined up out front.
Here is a pic inside a leather bar I found on the internet.
Up until this time, The Castro had not become the gay neighborhood that it would become. I had even lived on Castro Street between 18th and 19th with Louise around 1969. The first gay bar I remember visiting in The Castro was Toad Hall at 482 Castro. Toad Hall first opened May 28th, 1971 which was on Memorial Day weekend that year. It was the first dance bar in The Castro and had the distinction of being one of the first bars anywhere to use taped music rather than a jukebox. The songs were “mixed” into each other with the end of one song blending into the beginning of another. Eventually, they would have d.j.’s playing records from a D.J. booth that had been installed. Like The Stud on Folsom, there were always live candles burning behind the bar and more of a hippie atmosphere with most of the men still wearing long hair. There were several fires over the years while the bar was named Toad Hall. This bar would be replaced by The Phoenix in the same location. In these pictures I found at “Uncle Donald’s Castro Street” website. You can see the crowds of gay men gathered outside on the sidewalk. The biggest crowds would gather at 2:00 am as the bars closed and men “cruised” for their next sexual partner.
The location of Toad Hall will have several gay bars over the years. Eventually it would become a part of Walgrens drug store which was located at the corner of 18th and Castro but extended into the space in which these bars of the 70’s and 80’s were located.
The Nothing Special bar at 469 Castro 1971 really was “nothing special.” It was just a sit down bar, neighborhood gay bar where you could get a beer or cocktail and socialize with friends. I think it was a bit of an older crowd, too. I remember going there with Jim Archiquette and getting into an argument with him and creating a bit of drama there. If I remember correctly, the bar tender asked us to leave. In those days, Jim liked to drink gin and pernod which had a licorice taste. As I had never been
much of an alcohol drinker, I would just drink whatever he drank. As is often the case with young people, neither of us really knew our limits and would often overdue it and become inebriated and probably a little obnoxious at times.
On 18th Street, a block up from Castro Street, The Pendulum had opened in 1970. I don’t think I went there until a few years later, though. It was a racially mixed bar which was unusual at the time. There was a lot of racism among the white gays in the early 70’s.
The Lion Pub was another bar that had opened in 1971, located at 2062 Divisadero. Castro Street becomes Divisadero north of Market Street. The Lion Pub was kind of off the beaten track for me but was an easy hitchhike ride away. The guys there tended to be a little more upscale. I suppose these could be considered early “A-Gays.” The bar was in an upscale area of San Francisco called Pacific Heights and a lot to the guys that went there tended to have shorter hair and wore more preppy outfits. There were a few hippies that mingled in the crowd but it was primarily white and coiffed. I believe they had a dance floor but they also had a fireplace, if I remember correctly, which often made it too warm to dance. Although the Lion Pub is considered the oldest continuously operating gay bar in The City, my visits there were short-lived. It was one of those places where everybody went for a minute. Otherwise, just a neighborhood gay bar.
The Midnight Sun opened at 506 Castro Street in 1971. Ten years later, in 1981, it would move to 4067 18th but the original bar was on Castro. It was a long, narrow room and a “stand-up” bar as opposed to being a “dance” bar. It was probably the first bar that I had ever seen that had monitors with video playing along with the music. This was really before actual “music videos” that became popular later in the 80’s with MTV.
The Twin Peaks Tavern opened at 401 Castro which was on the corner of Castro and Market in 1972. It’s claim to fame is
that it was the first gay bar to have plate glass windows looking out onto a busy sidewalk. This was not a place to be in the closet because anyone walking by could look in and see you sitting there. It was never a place that I frequented, though, because it tended to have an older, more conservative looking clientele and was another sit down bar which was never my thing.
In 1972, Hamburger Mary’s opened next to Cissy’s bar across from the original Stud bar and would eventually take over Cissy’s space too at 12th and Folsom. Although not a gay bar, it is where a lot of us went after the bars closed. It was gay friendly and became very popular very quickly.
The other best place to get a burger late at night was The Grub Stake II at 1525 Pine Street. The original Grab Steak was at Turk and Mason in the Tenderloin. Drag queens and speed freaks were more common at the original.
Church Street Station was another place you could get a meal 24 hours a day. It was located at 2100 Market. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the old Pam Pam’s downtown. I remember sitting in a booth there with my friend, Booker, having a late meal and a pistol falling out of his coat pocket into the booth seat. He just tucked it back in his pocket and indicated he wasn’t going to talk about it. t think Zim’s restaurants were open 24 hours a day but I rarely went to those as the lighting was too bright and harsh. Pam Pam’s was subdued and comfortable. Church Street Station was cruisy. Hamburger Mary’s was funky. Grub Steak II actually had the best burgers.
In 1972, The City at 936 Montgomery was THE place to go. It was the largest dance floor I had seen in a gay bar up until that time. When you walked in, you first entered, “Caberet,” which had it’s own bar, tables and chairs and a small stage where Sylvester often played during his torch song phase before he was doing disco. Grace Jones and others played there as well. At some point, the club got into trouble for their ID policy, requiring THREE pieces of ID, which apparently only applied to African-Americans and women. Once that policy was put to rest, more women started coming. It is my experience that straight women tend to like gay bars because they can relax and not be hit on by straight men constantly but ultimately, the straight men follow the women and, as is often the case, the club turns from gay to straight very quickly and then straight male testosterone fueled machismo leads to violence and then everybody loses interest and the bar just remains straight or goes out of business. Once a bar or club has gone straight, it stays that way. Especially after the AIDS epidemic. We lost much of the gay culture and businesses, along with the thousands of men we lost.
The City had been extremely successful but was in Northbeach which was not near any of the gay neighborhoods: Polk Street, Folsom Street or Castro Street. It also quickly changed from gay to a mixed crowd to primarily straight which ruined the early vide of the place and what had made it so special. Another bar opened briefly that was supposed to be “bisexual” from the beginning. It was very short lived. Once straight women brought straight men of that era, the whole vibe changed as it always does. I can’t remember the name of that bar as I am writing this. I think it may have been located where Bimbos 365 Club is now located but I wouldn’t swear to it.
Maybe to compete with The City, The Shed opened at 1973 Market Street in 1972 and would be THE place to go dance for a couple of years. I think it followed the path of The City, though and eventually, straight women that wanted to dance in a gay club, brought their straight boyfriends and the club lost it’s luster as well. It would end up closing in 1977.
When the club first opened, you would actually enter at 3520 16th Street. There was a huge dance floor which was actually in the basement of the building.
You could walk upstairs and at some point, i know you could exit directly onto Market Street. On one occasion, I remember going there with Mary Jo and a pint of Southern Comfort hidden discreetly in my back pocket. Southern Comfort was a common drink for young people of the time. Maybe related to articles that said Janis Joplin had drank Southern Comfort. After the first sip, it is pretty a very sugary sweet drink. I don’t remember any gay bar every patting anyone down or checking bags in those days.
The following year, in 1973- Alfies opened up the street toward Church Street at 2140 Market Street. I probably didn’t go to the bar so much when it was called Alfies because I was out of The City for a while. I am not sure if it was still Alfies or the Mind Shaft when I was going but remember they had a raised dance floor that you had to step up to and if you were a little inebriated, it was easy to fall off the dance floor. Alfies would become The Mind Shaft in 1974. Live from the Mind Shaft: (https://hearthis.at/sfdps/dj-michael-lee-live-at-the-mind-shaft-sf-feb-1976/)
I had left San Francisco in 1973 and had lived in Toppenish briefly before moving to the Upland/Ontario area in Southern California to attend vocational school to become a Licensed Psychiatric Technican.
I had returned to San Francisco in 1974 and had got my first Licensed Psychiatric Technician job where I would remain for the next twenty or so years- first as a Psych Tech and then an registered nurse after 1985.
Saint Francis Hospital was located on Hyde Street, between Bush and Pine on Nob Hill, about two blocks off of Polk Street. When I first started working at Saint Francis, I lived over the Rainbow Cattle Company, another gay bar at Valencia and Duboce. Then, when my 16 year old brother, David, came to live with me, we had moved to Larkin Street, just a few blocks from the Hospital. In those days, Polk Street was considered a gay neighborhood and Buzzby’s at 974 Polk Street was THE club to go dance on Polk Street. There were other bars in what was called “Polk Gulch,” but Buzzby’s was the neighborhood disco. Some of us would go after we got off work at the psychiatric unit called 4-East at Saint Francis and walk down the hill to dance. Live from Buzzby’s: DJ Michael Lee – Live At Buzzby’s (SF) 8-29-78hearthis.at
Badlands opened in The Castro in 1974 at 4121 18th Street. It was rustic with some pool tables in the back and had license plates from all over the country on it’s walls. It was a sit down bar at that time with pool tables in the back. I was just never very interested in sit down bars. If I was going to go to a bar, I wanted to dance. I have never understood just sitting around in a bar drinking.
The Elephant Walk also opened in 1974 at the corner of Castro and 18th. It was another sit down bar but they did have live entertainment there and of course, Sylvester. Sylvester regularly played at Elephant Walk and the music would float out over the intersection of 18th and Castro. The Elephant Walk would eventually be renamed, Harvey’s, in tribute to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay City Supervisor that was shot by Dan White.
On May 21, 1979, after Dan White had been convicted of voluntary manslaughter, a much lighter sentence than what had been expected for the double murders of Mayor Moscone and City Council member Harvey Milk, riots broke out in the Civic Center area. Once those riots were dispersed, the police made a retaliatory raid at Elephant Walk and clubbed many of the patrons. Two dozen arrests were made and several people would later sue the San Francisco Police Department.
The End Up was another dance club that opened in 1974. It was also an “after hours” club and would go all night and into the morning.
They had a jock strap contest that would square off several hot dudes in their jock straps dancing for dollars to be stuffed into the straps. This is one of the few gay bars that survived the plague of the 1980’s but, like many other gay bars, has become primarily straight.
Live at the Endup: (https://hearthis.at/sfdps/dj-peter-struve-3-25-79-side-a/)
The Oasis opened some time in the 70’s. It was across from Febes and the old Stud on Folsom at the corner of 11th Street. They had a swimming pool and nude sunbathing in the afternoon. There were no signs that said anything about the depth of the pool and it never occurred to me that it was not deeper. We were sitting around the pool naked, smoking pot and drinking beer, and unaware of the depth, I dived into the pool and hit the bridge of my nose on the bottom. I came up gushing blood and have had a small scar there the rest of my life. I am lucky as it very well could have caused a serious head injury or knocked me out so that I could have drowned!! I think the bartender was just irritated but gave me something to stop the blood.
Around 1975, a club opened at 900 Columbus Avenue called, “Dance Your
Ass Off.” The location in the North Beach area was again off the beaten path. In my memory, the club didn’t last very long- maybe a couple of years. It was only considered a gay club for less time than that. It seems to me that they started out with the idea of being a “mixed” club from the beginning. When I first went, it was probably about 75% gay but within months, that would change dramatically. As is often the case, straight women that liked dancing at gay clubs, started bringing their straight, homophobic boyfriends. Most gay men quit coming at that point and moved on to other, more gay clubs in San Francisco. There were plenty to choose from.
Oil Can Harry’s at Larkin and Ellis opened in 1976. It seems like it came and went pretty quickly. You would walk in and there would be a long bar to the right and then to the left was a large dance floor. If I remember correctly, the ceiling was on the low side for a dance club with disco balls and disco lights. I think that part of why it didn’t last very long was that in 1977, the I-Beam and Trocadero Transfer opened and were just too much competition.
In 1977, the I-Beam opened at 1748 Haight Street. It would be the second largest gay dance club in San Francisco at that time next to The City in Northbeach. But by this time, The City was becoming increasingly straight and it was located in an inconvenient location, away from the gay neighborhoods. The Haight was not exactly a gay neighborhood either but it was fairly close proximity to The Castro. I lived about a block away from the I-Beam and was thrilled when it opened so close to where I was living and I would go frequently. The Sunday Tea-dance was incredible.
Later in 1977, the Trocadero Transfer opened. Initially, I think it was going to be a member’s only club but by the time I started going, you didn’t have to pay extra for the membership. I think it was the largest dance floor of any of the clubs up until that point. It also had a balcony that went around the periphery of the club on two sides. I remember they would put out fresh fruit and snacks on a long table upstairs, but maybe that was for a special event but it seems like it was not unusual to find snacks there. It was an another after hours club that would go all night. Ritch Street baths were just a couple of blocks away so you could go dance until the wee hours of the morning and then head over to Rich Street.
The graphic below is from the “South of the Slot” boardgames from the 1970’s. It has the addresses of all the bars and bathhouses we frequented in the South of Market area. At that time, this was really only one of several gay neighborhoods in San Francisco. There was also “The Castro” and “Polk Gulch.”