The Last Dance: Nob Hill Theatre, SF's only male strip club, to close
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One of the most difficult things to do in art and entertainment nightlife is bowing out while you're on top. Before the Chippendales and Magic Mike franchises, there was The Nob Hill Theatre, the world's first gay male strip establishment.
For nearly four decades, the combination of sensuality, sexuality, dance, muscle and music in this iconic venue was the epitome of gay male erotic entertainment.
Opened in 1911 under various businesses, including a jazz club where Louis Armstrong, Jr. once played, the renovated property was a transcendent building, dedicated to glamour, grit and the prime focus of gay sexuality.
Iconic magazines, from Architectural Digest to Unzipped, praised both its vices and virtues. Porn films from Wakefield Poole's Take One (1977) to Naked Sword's orgy-filled epic Grindhouse (2012) have documented the venue's sexual ambiance. The number of performers exceeds belief.
However, on August 19, the theatre's owners, Gary Luce and Larry Hoover, will bring down the curtain, turn off the lights and bring an end to a very lively part of erotica culture.
The Bay Area Reporter has had a long, sterling relationship with the theatre and its owners and so, I was prepared to document and reflect, with Gary and Larry, as they set about preparing for the theatre's final performances, and offer tribute to a moment in the sexual (r)evolution that could happen only in San Francisco.
Cornelius Washington: How do you feel that your theatre was a pinnacle of live porn performance?
Larry Hoover & Gary Luce: Just the fact that the Nob Hill Theatre was the last live gay porn performance theatre in San Francisco made it one of a kind. We really tried to book the 'top of the line' most-popular porn stars and to pair them with other porn stars for the hottest connections that we could arrange. Add to that mix our local house performers who performed every day. We've always tried to keep it fresh, interesting and new. Performance-wise, that was the key to our success.
What most surprised you about operating the theatre?
The local crowd and how fun, interesting and friendly they were. We have made great friends here. In addition, we were surprised at the number of foreign visitors the theatre attracts from all over the world.
What will you miss most about operating the theatre?
The people. Those friendships. Porn stars, house performers and customers alike.
Can you offer a critique of the lack of other similar venues?
The fact that more and more people watch porn online today, than what was available in the past, has no doubt had an effect on the number of live erotic theatres here in the City. So the people who might have come to a theatre like ours to connect has absolutely changed. The two (live performance vs. online porn) are very different. We depend somewhat on the popular porn star. To watch porn in a live setting is very different and will continue to cultivate interest for many years to come. You have to stay current about what the customers want to make it work.
What most surprised you about porn stars?
We were a little intimidated at first. These were icons in our eyes, people I have watched on DVDs for years. We thought that they would be aloof and to themselves. We were so pleased that that has not been the case. We open our apartment at the theatre as their 'green room' before and after their shows. We have really enjoyed getting to know each of them. We have to give credit to Michael Brandon for assisting us in making many of the initial contacts.
What most disappointed you about working with porn stars?
Not disappointment, but some frustration in trying to contact the stars we wanted to perform here. I'm sure they're hit up so much about doing this or going here and there. It takes a long time to make the connection and actually get them here.
What has been the evolution of porn during your years at the theatre?
Viewing porn online has far more importance than purchasing a DVD to watch porn. In addition, anyone with a phone or a camera can (and seems to) make their own online porn, short 60-second snippets of an erotic performance. These are fun and can be very hot, and it is a good way for a porn star to self-promote, etch out a better living in adult entertainment and control his own direction. It's our opinion that the two can co-exist. I want to watch something more polished, more thought-out and creative. Most of the home versions do not have that for me.
How has your sexuality evolved while operating the theatre?
It definitely has become more casual and fun. You can't host a successful Circle Jerk if you are not willing to take your dick out of your pants!
Who was your hottest porn performer?
There are too many to just pick out one. We were most successful with Adam Killian and Rafael Alencar. They both have been making porn for some time and have a huge following. They, along with many others, have become personal friends with whom we hope to stay in touch as we retire.
Who was your hottest house dancer?
Likewise, we can't and won't name one. We can say that these are the guys that keep us young. They have this fresh approach to life that makes them seem a little timeless. They work hard, have great senses of humor and seem to live life to the fullest. We are convinced they probably view us as "stick-in-the-mud old guys," but we can usually find common ground and have a mutual respect and caring for each other. They have been great!
Describe the elements for a successful live performance run at the theatre.
In our opinion, the successful live performance needs to be well thought-out. From the music to the costumes to the sets and special effects, it needs to be a show. The performers who think about the actual view from the seat of the customer usually provide the best shows. A performance should draw a customer into what they are doing. Performers have the opportunity to spend time in the audience with every customer. The performers who can make the individual audience member seem important, even if it is just for a few minutes, make for a successful show.
Describe your ideal customer.
Someone who appreciates and respects what goes on here; someone who has a good time!
What do you want our readers to know about gay male sexuality?
That sexuality, in general, is a wonderful thing. That everyone should be comfortable with who they are and should be able to express themselves in a way that does not hurt others.
When you retire to Palm Springs, how will you explain San Francisco to your friends?
Friends and family know what we have been doing for the past eight years. It makes for good stories around the Thanksgiving table!
Is there a book in your future about operating the theatre?
We certainly have enough material for a book, but not so much the ins and outs of how to do it. My son is a writer and knew the original owner of the theatre, and worked for him in the Carmel area, as a first job, selling tickets and working the concession stand at one of the owner's everyday movie theatres. I have always hoped that my son would write a book about the original owner. It would be a best-seller in my mind.
Do you have any advice to LGBTQ business owners, particularly in today's economy?
Be inclusive and love everybody.
Do you have any advice for future porn joint owners?
You have to be in tune with social media. The world is moving that way, so to be successful, you need to embrace it.
Tell me about the theatre's enthusiastic female customers. Did you ever consider having a ladies' night? If so, why did you decide against it?
We have many regular customers. Some like to chit-chat, others like to come in without a lot of conversation. Both have been enthusiastic of what we have to offer. Reading that customer and knowing what they want has always been important to us. We have always been more of a place for guys. Absolutely everyone is welcome, but we cannot be everything to everyone. We do what we do best and that is what we have stuck to.
What was the one moment in the theatre where the onstage sexuality most excited the audience?
That is difficult to say. There was the Fleet Week just after 'Don't Ask/Don't Tell' was repealed, and we had many customers here in uniform. Adam Killian was our headliner that weekend, and he was so good to the military men and women in attendance that night. He made it special for everyone. It was such a wonderful night.
Then, there was the Gay Pride Weekend when same-sex marriage was reinstated. That was a Pride to remember! Some of our favorites were the Folsom Weekends. We pulled out all the stops and so did our performers, house performers and porn stars alike. Those weekends were epic in my mind and the ones we enjoyed the most.
What was the one moment in the theatre that made you gents shriek with delight, or dismay?
The 10 p.m. headliner shows usually were with two porn stars. When the connections between the two performers were hot, the shows were unbelievably electric. I'm not sure if we ever shrieked in delight, but those shows were always fun to watch. We also remember when we had a house performer who rode a motorcycle. He talked us into a show where he actually rode his bike into the theatre. Let's just say that that happened only once!
What do you want to tell the city of San Francisco as you retire?
We love San Francisco and are so glad that we were able to experience it firsthand. We will always remember our time here, the pride we have had in running the Nob Hill Theatre and the friends we have made, inside and outside of the theatre.
Read 'Curtain Call,' Cornelius Washington's additional quotes from performers, staff and patrons of The Nob Hill Theatre: http://www.ebar.com/events/nightlife_events/263100
For info on The Nob Hill Theatre's closing celebrations, visit www.thenobhilltheatre.com
See Cornelius Washington's Erotic Fetish Photography at http://cuirphoto.com