The Castro lights up for community 'Brite Nite' event

  • by JL Odom
  • Wednesday May 29, 2024
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Drag artist Croptop was decked out in neon in front of the Freeborn store during the May 25 "Brite Night" event in Castro. Photo: JL Odom
Drag artist Croptop was decked out in neon in front of the Freeborn store during the May 25 "Brite Night" event in Castro. Photo: JL Odom

San Francisco's Castro neighborhood was aglow over Memorial Day weekend for "Brite Nite," a free, community-focused event featuring Day-Glo decor and dancers in storefronts and glow-themed parties in neighborhood bars.

"I actually live in the Castro, and I will do anything to come out and reinvigorate the space. You can see the businesses are coming back, so we're kind of just doing everything we can to get people out on the streets," said drag artist Croptop, a Brite Nite participant.

"Brite Nite" was organized by the Castro Community Benefit District and supported by the Civic Joy Fund, which provided a $5,000 grant for the event. Grants of $100 were also available for merchants to fund entertainers and glow-in-the-dark accessories, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

Andrea Aiello, a lesbian who is executive director of the CBD, stated that 28 Castro district establishments took part in the event, which kicked off at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, with a few members of the drag nun group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on hand at Harvey Milk Plaza as go-tos for event information and glow-in-the-dark jewelry.

About a dozen shops on Castro Street and some establishments on cross streets, such as Moby Dick, Toad Hall, and Theatre Rhinoceros on 18th Street, got in the neon groove. Castro hotspots along Market Street, such as the Lookout, Beaux Bar and The Detour, joined in the luminous festivities as well.

Comfort & Joy, the San Francisco queer arts collective, provided the bright, whimsical displays in the storefronts of Queer Arts Featured (A.F.), Cliff's Variety shop, and Freeborn, a clothing store on Castro Street.

"I'm just happy that the city is helping us bring people to the neighborhood," said James Freeborn, designer and owner of the eponymous store.

Freeborn participated in Brite Nite on Saturday, offering glow-in-the-dark accessories to those who stopped by his clothing store.

"I think the streets are going to be pretty dead until the theater reopens, so I'm here to help in any way I can. We're happy that they're doing stuff like this," he said.

The Castro Theatre shut its doors in early February for Another Planet Entertainment's planned restoration and remodeling of the theater's interior; it will remain closed until summer 2025, as the B.A.R. had previously reported.

Doris Mantley, a bookseller in Fabulosa Books, was glad to take part in Brite Nite, also seeing it as a way to increase foot traffic in the Castro.

"We will be a part of anything that just encourages more activity, especially with the closing of Castro Theatre. Bringing any kind of attention and bringing a bit more community and nightlife to the Castro that doesn't involve having to be out in bars, I think we're very much supportive of that," she said.

The "glow-go" dancers at Brite Nite were one of the attention-grabbing features in the storefront windows of merchants, such as the gift shop Welcome Castro, the clothing store Knobs, Hot Johnnie's sandwich shop, and the cannabis dispensary Eureka Sky.

Mantley said Fabulosa "lucked out" in terms of getting a glow-go dancer to perform in one of its windows. "We didn't know how it was going to pan out until tonight," Mantley said. "And it's working out really well — it looks really cool. Our dancer Jack is so talented, lovely, and sweet. He's up there in a thong and it's freezing."

Dance-friendly songs like Britney Spears' "Work Bitch" thumped through the bookstore's speakers throughout the evening.

"It's really cool for us to be involved in something like this because we are a bookstore, so we're mostly very mellow. This will be on the opposite side of that tonight," she added.

Several Sisters walked around the Castro on Saturday night carrying baskets to collect cash and QR code-based donations for LYRIC, the center for LGBTQQ+ youth located in the Castro. The event was a fundraiser for the nonprofit, which faces a 56% program budget cut over the next five years from the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, as B.A.R. . Advocates have called on Mayor London Breed, expected to offer her proposed budget this week, and the Board of Supervisors to reverse the cuts.

Croptop, who is gay, referred to LYRIC's pending budget cuts as a "no-no."

"In any way, shape or form that we can prop up our community, we should. Those cuts obviously are not what we need," she said.

Gael Lala-Chávez, who is nonbinary and executive director of LYRIC, did not respond to a message seeking comment about how much was raised for the organization.

Mantley shared that bolstering LGBTQ organizations like LYRIC is what Fabulosa is all about.

"We are a queer bookstore ... so we very much are all about helping those — especially queer and trans individuals — who need to be uplifted and who need that support from the community. So this is a very small way that we can do that. Everyone's in lights, and I think it's a great way to bring awareness to that specific cause."

Fabulosa has a program whereby it solicits donations from customers and sends LGBTQ-themed books to community centers and other groups across the country, as the B.A.R. has noted.

Aiello noted the event went well, and that organizers learned a few things.

"Brite Nite was intended to be a low-key promotion of the Castro and a way to urge people to come to the Castro at night, on a historically slow weekend in San Francisco — Memorial Day weekend, Bottle Rock [in Napa], and freezing temperatures," she wrote in an email. "Thanks to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who attended the event and collected donations for LYRIC."

Aiello stated that she and the merchants tried to do the event at a very low cost with nothing that would require a permit of any type. Some lessons were learned for the planning of future similar events in the neighborhood, she stated, from their taking that route.

"There needs to be an event, something for people to experience. People came to the table asking when the show was going to start," she noted. "There needs to be amplified music outside, and there might be a market for a 'tour guide' to give nighttime tours of the Castro that incorporates a bar crawl."

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