BARchive :: When Hayes Meant Gays

  • by Michael Flanagan
  • Sunday January 31, 2016
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When I heard about the impending closure of Flipper's (482 Hayes) last month, it got me thinking about the history of the LGBT community in Hayes Valley, where I live.

It may seem strange that a burger joint would make me think of this, but if you consider that the manager there was Kirby White, who worked at Aunt Charlie's and performed as Kristy Kruise, and that Absolute Empress Marlena XXV was frequently there for breakfast, it makes a bit more sense.

The neighborhood has been quite involved in the community for some time. Vanguard Magazine, the magazine of the gay and trans Tenderloin youth group, published out of 330 Grove from 1967 to 1969.

330 Grove also housed the Gay Liberation Front at the same time that the Black Panthers were there. The Panthers and the GLF coexisted and interacted early on, giving the neighborhood a head start on avoiding the problems that gentrification caused between African-Americans and gays in the late 70s.

The Angels of Light, a queer faerie theatre group derived from former Cockettes, lived in the building. Pickup's Tricks, a documentary about the troupe by Gregory Pickup, includes a screen appearance by Allen Ginsberg.

Lee Mentley's Hula Palace art gallery was on the top floor, where Tuxedomoon performed on Feb. 26, 1978. The Dead Kennedys third show was at the Gay Community Center as well on Dec. 16, 1978 and the Avengers and X performed there in 1979.

Doris Fish's first performance in San Francisco was at 330 Grove (Sluts A Go Go with Doris Fish, Tippi and Miss X performed there).

Theatre Rhinoceros' first season was there (the first performance was The Madness of Lady Bright by Lanford Wilson in August, 1977).

The artist Robert Opel's last show was there on June 2, 1979 (five days before he was murdered). Michael Maletta produced Night Flight (considered the first circuit party) there on Dec. 30, 1977.

330 Grove was also a hub of political activity. The Pride Foundation offices were there from 1975 till 1980. Gilbert Baker created the first Rainbow Flag there, which was first used during the Gay Pride Parade on June 25, 1978.

Harvey Milk delivered his speech, "You've Gotta Give Them Hope" there on June 24, 1977. The speech, which was the announcement of his third run for supervisor, contains a section about 330 Grove, which was even then under threat to be torn down for the Performance Arts parking garage. The building was torn down for the garage in 1980.

There was also a Gay Community Center at 32 Page Street, based in dancer and choreographer Ed Mock's studio. The first showing of what would become the Frameline film festival, called a "Gay Film Festival of Super-8 Films," happened there on February 9, 1977.

In 1976 Arthur Evans gave a series of lectures there entitled "Faeries" which would become his book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Dances were also a feature of 32 Page. The Berkley Barb publicized drop in and dance nights there in 1977.

Muscle System gym on Hayes Street, from the Body Wisdom column Muscle Sisters, San Francisco Sentinel, November 20, 1987. photo: Thomas Alleman

Livin' in the '80s

On Dec. 24, 1981 the next big step happened in the development of a gay Hayes Valley neighborhood: the San Francisco Sentinel moved to 500 Hayes (currently home of La Boulangerie de San Francisco). The paper would stay till January 1992 and became a huge neighborhood booster with articles like "Hayes Valley: A Hidden Oasis."

The Sentinel published ads from a number of local businesses like The Black Cat (a costume store at 418 Hayes), Powell's Place (a soul food restaurant at 511 Hayes), Bunkhouse Apts, (419 Ivy), Star Records (332 Linden), The Muscle System (364 Hayes), The 1808 sex club (1808 Market) and SoHo cards (334 Gough).

Along the way they helped develop a sense of community. The first ad I ever saw for Zuni Cafe was in The Sentinel. In 1991 they took this community-building a step further and held a block party in the 500 block of Hayes (then promoted as "Mecca In The Making").

Bars came into the neighborhood beginning from the periphery. The Mint (1942 Market) had been the closest gay bar since the 1960s. The Eagle Creek (1884 Market) was a friendly gay bar which lasted from the '70s through 1993 that had a majority African-American clientele. Black and White Men Together had events at the bar.

Mark Abramson, author of the memoir "For My Brothers," said of the Eagle Creek, "I remember it well. They had a kitchen and served dinners at one point. Their disc jockey played great music and they had a terrific pinball machine, in addition to the very popular pool table."

The Fog Horn (1592 Market) was a gay bar from 1980 through 1985, which featured events for the Imperial Court. Regarding the bar, Abramson said, "It had very high ceilings, a spinet piano and a life-size full suit of armor."

Gay Peoples Music concert flyer, late 1970s.

The first gay bar at 488 Hayes, David's House, opened in 1983. David Schuyler was the David in question. David's House lasted till 1988 at which time it was replaced by the Overpass. Marlena became a partner with the owner Janice Buxton in 1989, and in 1992 the bar became Marlena's. In 2013 Marlena's closed and it became Brass Tacks.

In March, 1985 Schuyler opened "David's Garden Cafe" at 482A Hayes. He had two chefs there from Trinity Place and 132 Bush, Robert Duvall and Bruce Patrick. For a short while (in 1988) it was called Hayes Garden Caf�. Geva's, a Caribbean restaurant, was next there. Flipper's replaced it in 1997.

Lily of the Valley

Lily's, named after the Empress Lily Street by owner Emperor Steve Rascher, opened at 4 Valencia Street in 1991. As you can imagine from the name, there were a large number of drag performances and Court events at the bar, including the premiere of Justin Bond's Kiki & Herb lounge act. Lily's became Martuni's in the mid-1990s.

There were two other restaurants affiliated with the gay community in the neighborhood. Blue Muse began advertising in The Sentinel in 1982. It began having cabaret performances in 1989 and the Imperial Court dinners and events such as birthday parties for Marlena and Emperor Matthew Brown. Ivy's (398 Hayes) opened in 1980 and advertised heavily in the Sentinel. It was known for its California cuisine and remained open till 1997.

131 Gough was a renowned cabaret spot for twenty years. It started off as Our Kitchen "a bistro for lovers and happy people" in 1980.

Cabaret singer Wesla Whitfield performed there in 1982 and recalled the spot as being similar to Buckley's, which replaced Our Kitchen in 1984 and lasted till '87.

Teddy Bears replaced Buckley's in 1987, which was of note for featuring more than 200 teddy bears as well as cabaret shows. Charpe's Grill replaced Teddy Bears and was there till 2000. Voting for Emperor and Empress took place there in the '90s. Marlena told me that there used to be drag performances there as well. Charpe's closed in 2000 (the restaurant Sauce is there now).

A place that deserves special attention is Mad Magda's Russian Tea Room & Caf� (at 579 Hayes), as it was a truly unique spot that existed in the neighborhood from 1991 through 1999.

Regarding Magda's, David Nemoyten (the owner) said, "The concept of the cafe grew out of my fascination for eccentric San Francisco establishments that really didn't fit into any category. Magda's was also inspired by a fascination with the mystic arts. I had Tarot, palm readers, trans channelers, etc. reading seven days a week. I called the interior 'Grandma's house on Acid!' It also had a magic garden in the back."

For three years there was an event there called The Mysterium which was a festival of performance, visual, and mystic arts.

The event that changed the neighborhood forever was the removal of the central freeway, which finally happened in 2003. Octavia Boulevard opened in 2005. There was an influx of construction and we now have the new neighborhood.

Martuni's and gay-friendly spots like Brass Tacks remain, but the influx of new neighbors from the building boom has made it a more mixed neighborhood. It is a lively spot, but occasionally I reflect on something that artist Michael Johnstone said to me when I saw him at the former La Boulange: "I feel like Miss Havisham.".

The author would like to thank Dan Nicoletta, Marc Huestis, Silvano Nova, Mark Abramson and David Nemoyten for their assistance.