Besties nightlife: back and better than ever

  • by Michael Flanagan
  • Wednesday September 28, 2022
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Nikki Jizz (Best Drag Queen), host of Reparations (Best Drag Show), <br>at the multiple Bestie-winning Oasis, in a photo by Gooch (Best Nightlife Photographer).
Nikki Jizz (Best Drag Queen), host of Reparations (Best Drag Show),
at the multiple Bestie-winning Oasis, in a photo by Gooch (Best Nightlife Photographer).

This year the Besties are even more of a celebration than usual, because this year, after our (ahem) unexpected pause, our nightspots gave us the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, and to celebrate a community reborn after far too many remote events. It's our chance to say, "We're back and we're fierce, baby!"

So go revisit your old favorites and say "Congratulations!" and (hopefully) find some new favorites in this astounding list of places where fun is always on the menu. And when you finish with the winners, you can check out the runner-ups and see if you agree with our readers.

Jinkx Monsoon at Oasis' Princess  

Best Nightclub, Best Cabaret Venue, Best SoMa Bar: Oasis
Runners-up, Best Nightclub: El Rio, 1015 Folsom
Runners-up, Best Cabaret Venue: Martuni's, Asia SF
Runners-up, Best SoMa Bar: Powerhouse, Eagle

As it has done in the past Oasis proves its worth again as the winner in multiple categories for the Besties. This year's triple winner is called the best nightclub, best SoMa bar and best cabaret venue by our readers. Oasis is an ongoing success story that opened its doors to us this year and made us feel safe and welcome in the "year of reopening."

When the Cockettes celebrated their 50th-ish celebration of "Eternal Emissions" this year with new and old stars alike, it's no surprise that the venue that housed the event was the Oasis. It is this sort of dedication to live events that makes the venue the go-to place for cabaret in the city.

Programs like Princess, the drag show and dance party, with themed parties on Broadway, Marvel vs. DC and Emo Night have been drawing in the crowds, as have burlesque programs like Bizarre Stripper Burlesque and Baloney's all-male burlesque. And they haven't left behind those closet performers in the community, either. Sing Out Louise, the piano bar and open mic night, have given those who desire the spotlight their own space on the stage as well.

Add to the mix the fact that in March 2021 it didn't look good for the club and there was the Oasis telethon to bring back attention, crowds and money to the bar and you can see what a spectacular success this year has been. Our readers concur: Well done, Oasis!

Detox at Beaux's Drag Brunch (photo: Gooch)  

Best Castro bar, Best Drag Brunch: Beaux
Runners-up, Best Castro Bar: Twin Peaks, 440
Runners-up, Best Drag Brunch: The Port Bar (Oakland), Jolene's

Beaux has been packing in our well-satisfied readers for the past year with events like Shangra-La's Tea Dance, Panda Black and White Ball, Gaymers Night and Pool Party. Club Papi brings its own brand of sweetness to the bar with Pan Dulce and its gogo boys, drag shows, DJs, music and party atmosphere. And of special note is Saturday and Sunday's Drag Brunch, which happens twice each day (at 12:30pm and 2:30pm) and has featured events like Bobby Friday's Pop-Up Brunch, Mahlae's Booger Down Jamboree, Bionka's Brunch, and on second Sundays, Babes who Brunch. Our readers thank you with their votes for keeping the Castro lively.

The White Horse Bar  

Best East Bay Bar: The White Horse
Runners-up: Que Rico, 1220

The White Horse returns again as our reader's favorite East Bay bar, and why would it not? A venerable institution which has been serving the community since well before Stonewall, it has done a wonderful job of keeping it fresh while still staying a cozy spot for the community.

With events like the Triple D Dance Party (with drinks, DJs and dancing) every Saturday night, Ethereal Dollhouse goth dance party and creep show on fourth Sundays, Karaoke nights weekly and drag events like Dollz hosted by Ava LaShay, the night time is the right time for fun in the East Bay. And if you stop by during the day you can catch a game at the bar or cozy up around the fireplace with friends. I've never been there when I didn't meet friendly people and have fun conversations and our readers agree.

Happy patrons at Splash Bar  

Best South Bay Bar: Splash
Runners-up: Renegades, Mac's Club

Splash is the winner of this new category in the Besties. The bar describes itself as the South Bay's premiere gay nightclub and has two levels for dancing, a rooftop smoking lounge more than 20 video screens. Clearly our readers feel it is the place to have fun in the South Bay.

The bar features a karaoke night every Tuesday; Wednesday is Latin Night. Splash is the home to Club Papi in San Jose and features the Fridays are a Drag show (on Fridays, duh) and the Wet and Wild Drag Show on Sundays hosted by Aurora Forte. Well done to the first winner of our South Bay Bestie and welcome.

Pilsner Inn bartender serves it up.  

Best Beer Menu: Pilsner Inn
Runners-up: Eagle, 440

Pilsner Inn is the winner of the best beer menu again this year. The bar is a repeated winner in this category. When you visit the bar, it's obvious why. Of the eighteen handles on tap when I visited were many delicious choices, including KSA (a Kolsch from San Francisco's Fort Point Beer Co.), Ballast Point's Sculpin IPA, Franziskaner Weissbier, Moose Drool (a Brown Ale from Big Sky Brewing), Duchesse de Bourgogne (a Flanders Red Ale with its unique nun-shaped taps — no doubt a favorite of fans of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence!), Cinq Cents from Chimay, Blue Moon Belgian White as well as standards like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Guinness. Clearly our readers know their beers. I tried the Coconut Hiwa Porter, and I can testify that it was delicious.
One of the things that draws in our readers to the Pilsner (aside from the beer) is the warm neighborhood feel of the bar with its large outdoor patio area with its beautiful plants. And there is an active pool game there whenever I've visited. It's a warm, friendly neighborhood bar. Well done again, Pilsner.

Katya Smirnoff-Skyye and Matthew Martin at Martuni's  

Best Cocktail Menu: Martuni's
Runners-up: Blackbird, Last Call

Martuni's is back on top of its cocktail game, regaining the crown from last time's winner Port Bar. Martuni's has been the go-to spot in the Hayes Valley neighborhood for cocktails for years. It's great to see them again get the recognition they well deserve. While the shutdown was happening, I admit to stopping by their to-go shop at the door and getting a hot toddy or two, so they were truly missed.

Martuni's is, of course, well known for their martinis (make mine dirty), but they also feature sidecars, metropolitans and Blue Hawaiians. The have wonderful lemon drops (world famous, according to the menu) and feature a Cosmopolitan collection (name your fruit-flavored poison). For those with a sweet tooth, they have watermelon martinis, sour apple martini, peach fuzz (with peach vodka), cherry blossom (black cherry rum) and a Creamcicle.

Reparations at Oasis with Nikki Jizz  

Best Drag Show: Reparations @ Oasis
Runners-up: Princess at Oasis, Beaux

Reparations! an All-Black Drag Show began on Juneteenth 2020 in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the subsequent up swelling of uprisings around the country to protest the continued loss of life of Black people at the hands of police. For the first year and a half of Reparations' existence it was an internet phenomenon on the Stud's Twitch channel and drew audiences from around the world. Beginning in July 2021 the show moved to Oasis, where it has been wowing audiences ever since.

Reflecting both the political and entertainment of the project Nicki Jizz told KQED in June 2021, "This is not just a fad. This is not just a summer thing. This is a forever thing. We need to support Black arts every day," and "I'm excited for the future of Black queer nightlife. I'm excited to bring performers from out of town and celebrate ones from the Bay Area and give them a place to shine that isn't just a Beyonce or Nicki Minaj night at other clubs."

Best Drag Queen: Nicki Jizz
Runners-up: Frida, Juanita MORE!
Between hosting Janelle Monae tribute nights at Oasis, appearing as a manifestation of Harriet Tubman in the video "You Good? Black Mental Health in the Age of COVID" and being the moving force behind Reparations, it's just astounding that Nicki Jizz has time to breath, let alone look as fabulous as she does!

But along with being a drag goddess and a prime mover in the community, she has also managed to carve out an amazing career along the way and impress the hell out of everyone, including our voters. In 2020, Oasis owner D'Arcy Drollinger told the SF Examiner, "She's powerful, outspoken and hilarious. You literally never know what's going to happen next."|

Madd Dogg 20/20  

Best Drag King: Madd Dogg 20/20
Runners-up: Papi Churo, Leigh Crow

Madd Dogg 20/20 has been performing since 2006 and has amassed many titles along the way. He was a Sacramento Drag King winner in 2014 and San Jose's Switch-hitter Drag King winner the same year. He has performed at SF Pride, Mother, SF Bootie, The Monster Show and Pride Night at Great America. He was one of the performers who stepped up for the Oasis Telethon in 2021. He ruled the Ducal Court of the Golden Beaver with his Grand Duchess Miss Shugana. He recently appeared at the SF Drag King Contest at the Oasis and at Reparations, An All- Black Drag Show.

In the last Besties (in 2020) Madd Dogg 20/20 was a runner up for the Best Drag King and now he has ascended to claim the scepter as the rightful Bestie Drag King of the year. The Besties 2022 say, "all hail Drag King Madd Dogg 20/20."

Cute 440 staff  

Best Happy Hour: 440
Runners-up: Eagle, Toad Hall

An old saying tells us "Don't take any wooden nickels," but our readers say, on the contrary, that you should take be happy to take them, particularly during happy hours at 440 Castro. On Woody Wednesday and the Friday, a Weekend Warm-Up Wooden Nickel you can buy one drink and get a wooden nickel good for a second drink. Tuesdays feature all day and all night $3 beers. Our readers suggest that you bring the hours and 440 Castro will supply the happy. What a deal!

Blush Wine Bar  

Best Wine Bar: Blush
Runners-up: Swirl, Scopio Divino

Blush regains the crown as the Besties' best wine bar this year. Inspired by European wine bars, owner Jef Pauly is proud to make a home for live music on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Tarot readings on Wednesdays and Sundays, and Queer Comedy Night on the first Wednesday of the month.

And as wonderful as all that is, then you have the wines. Selections include examples like a Prosecco Brut, Fantinel "One and Only" from Veneto, Italy as one of the bubbles they offer; for whites a Chenin Blanc from Lubanzi Winery in Swartland, South Africa vintage 2021. And for a red, the Merlot "Pot de Vin" from France vintage 2020. But these, of course, as merely examples. You could spend hours studying (and drinking) the menu. So stop by, relax and enjoy the wine bar that takes this year's Bestie.

Comic Shea Suga  

Best Comic: Shea Suga
Runners-up: Lisa Geduldig, Marilyn Pittman

Richmond's own Shea Suga, who has performed at Freight & Salvage with "The Daily Show" correspondent Gina Yashere and will appear at Tommy T's Comedy Club in Pleasanton in a benefit for Hers Breast Cancer Foundation on October 9, is a truly hilarious comedian. Her character Gertha Mae Valentine can be seen giving advice to Will Smith and Chris Rock after 'the slap,' and getting Kanye West to take the Greyhound to Oakland, to discussing the afterlife of the Queen with Aretha Franklin in online videos.

Originally a hair and makeup artist, she was tricked into doing stand-up by a friend at an open mic in 2005 and the rest, as they say, is history. Some 17 years on in the funny business, she is still as fresh and funny as ever.

Bartender Icarus Ferreira by his likeness on the Oasis mural.  

Best Bartender: Icarus Ferreira, Oasis
Runners-up: Gage Fisher, SF Eagle and Roberto Ramirez, Que Rico

In further evidence that Oasis is on fire these days, the hottest bartender in town is their own Icarus Ferreira, and this time it's not because Icarus flew too close to the sun. I asked Ferreira what it has been like being a bartender during the comeback from COVID and what he most appreciated about being a bartender at Oasis and he told me:

"It's been great to come back and experience nightlife the way we did before the pandemic. I'm grateful to D'Arcy Drollinger who had so many great ideas to keep things going during the pandemic, such as the delivery service Meals on Heels, Oasis TV, and the telethon — and the team's execution of them. Now it's great to see our friends and clientele again."

Best Nightlife Photographer Gooch (photo: Gooch)  

Best Nightlife Photographer: Gooch
Runners-up: Sloane Kantor, Steven Underhill

Originally hailing from the UK, Gooch is the official photographer for the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and Folsom Street Events. His photography frequently appears in the pages of the Bay Area Reporter and he has previously won Besties as Best Nightlife Photographer in 2017, 2018 and 2019. He can often be seen in action taking photos at Big Top Sundays at Beaux and Go Bang! Congratulations on this year's Best Nightlife Photographer Bestie; an award well deserved.

DJ Bus Station John at a Flagging in the Park event. (photo: Steven Underhill)  

Best DJ: Bus Station John
Runners-up: DJ Jaffeth, Taj

Called "perhaps the most important DJ in the San Francisco gay scene in the past decade" by no less than the DeYoung Museum, DJ Bus Station John is well known for his Tubesteak Connection at Aunt Charlie's and Disco Daddy at the SF Eagle. The Bay Area Reporter's own Ronn Vigh said in 2011, "When it comes to discussing music, DJ Bus Station John approaches the subject with the passion and spirit of a Sunday morning preacher." Though much has changed in the world in the last decade Bus Station John's fervor has not. Congratulations on recognition well deserved — let the music play.

Flagtastic at Folsom Street Fair. (photo: Rich Stadtmiller)  

Best Leather-Kink Event: Folsom Street Fair
Runners-up: Up Your Alley Fair, Code @ The Edge

For some 37 years now the Folsom Street Fair has been enticing and encouraging both participants and looky-loos alike. It is the largest event of leather-oriented sexuality in the world. It is iconic enough that when the 2007 Folsom Street Fair's official poster referenced "The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci, there was a huge uproar which reached such a level that San Francisco Representative and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was quoted as saying: "I'm a big believer in the First Amendment. I do not believe Christianity has been harmed by the Folsom Street Fair."

As imitation is the highest form of flattery, it should be noted that events using the moniker "Folsom" have appeared elsewhere in North America and Europe. Our readers thank you for keeping it real for so long.

Getting steamy at Steamworks  

Best Sex Club: Steamworks
Runners-up: Eros, Catalyst

Steamworks, which along with its Berkeley location has bath houses in Vancouver and Chicago, initially opened its first location in Berkeley in 1976. The website Preserving LGBT Historic Sites in California notes that in the 1990s, Steamworks provided condoms, employed a health educator and tested for sexually-transmitted diseases.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In July of this year the city of Berkeley partnered with Steamworks to provide the MPox vaccine to the public. It's that kind of care for its patrons that gives Steamworks a special place in the hearts of our readers. In a time when rights are being rolled back and censorship is raising its ugly head around the nation, we need institutions like Steamworks more than ever.

Attendees at a Mr. S event  

Best Sex Shop: Mister S
Runners-up: Does Your Mother Know, Rock Hard

Mister S leather was founded in San Francisco in 1979. They've been with us a very long time and there's a good reason for that — they know what they're doing. It is, according to the Leather Archives & Museum site, the largest leather and fetish retailer in San Francisco. Its founder Alan Selby is a noted enough individual that the GLBT Historical Society mounted an installation 'The Mayor of Folsom Street: The Life and Legacy of Alan Selby, aka Mr. S' at their museum. In the past few decades, with the availability of sales on the internet, their influence has only increased. Congratulations on a job well done.

Victory at The Underground Wrestling Alliance (photo: Steven Underhill)  

Editor's Choice: Best Pro Wrestling & Drag Event: Underground Wrestling Alliance

Just one more: we have a special place in our heart for the combination of pro wrestling, LGBT characters and drag queens (the indefatigable Pollo Del Mar), plus beer. The Underground Wrestling Alliance's slam-bang beefcake and beauties show, held at Emporium Arcade Bar in July 2022, served up all that and more in a rollicking night. If you miss their shows, watch them on YouTube.

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