AsiaSF's grand finale: popular nightclub/restaurant to close after 26 years

  • by Michael Flanagan
  • Tuesday March 19, 2024
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Melissa Prime's fabulous feathered fan dance at AsiaSF (photo: Steven Underhill)
Melissa Prime's fabulous feathered fan dance at AsiaSF (photo: Steven Underhill)

AsiaSF, the visionary transgender cabaret spot which has called 201 9th Street home for 26 years, is leaving its permanent location to continue as a pop-up performance troupe, with performances at 9th Street continuing through its last shows on April 28 (extended due to popular demand).

Violeta works the crowd at AsiaSF. (photo: Steven Underhill)  

The cabaret has been a vibrant part of San Francisco nightlife for over a quarter century and inspired the Fuse TV program "Transcendent," which ran for two seasons in 2015 and 2016. The television show was viewed by over 2.5 million viewers and was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.

The history of AsiaSF parallels the education of the public regarding transgender issues and the club has been part of that education in the city, with programs that included appearances outside the club at the Lookout and their sponsorship of an appearance by Janet Mock at the LGBT Center in 2014.

The club has been involved in charity events throughout its history, including participation in Dining Out for Life and benefits for the API Wellness Center.

AsiaSF owner Skip Young (left) with Founder and CEO Larry Hashbarger (photo: Steven Underhill)  

I visited the club to experience the show, a runner up for Best Cabaret Venue in the Bay Area Reporter's 2022 Bestie Awards, and the vitality, energy and sheer fun of the performances were impressive. The repertoire of songs covered a broad variety of lively popular music from Ruth Brown's "If I Can't Sell It, I'll Keep Sitting on it" to Whitney Houston, Beyoncé's "Pure/Honey" and the Pussycat Dolls.

The crowd skewed young and there was a mix of dress from casual to high fashion. The audience included couples on dates, family groups and friends on a night out.

I interviewed AsiaSF Founder and CEO Larry Hashbarger to discuss the closing of the club and what came next for the performers.

Gia Banks on the runway at AsiaSF. (photo: Steven Underhill)  

Michael Flanagan: Who will be performing at closing shows? Will there be any surprises - any performers from "Transcendent," for example?
Larry Hashbarger: We will have a rotating cast, including some of the Ladies of AsiaSF who we call the "OGs," like Trina, who's been at AsiaSF since the beginning 26 years ago, and also Nya, who was one of the stars in "Transcendent," our docuseries.

Gia Banks, the star of the MAX series, Legendary and Kataluna Enriquez, Miss Nevada 2021 and the first openly transgender woman to compete for the title of Miss USA will be performing as well.

Will the performers be moving to another venue as a troupe?
Yes, actually. We are working with Maven realty to sell the business's operating assets and liquor license but we will continue to own the intellectual property and brand of AsiaSF.

Our plan is to do pop-ups outside of the walls of 9th and Howard. As a performing group, the Ladies of AsiaSF will continue, under the direction of show director and choreographer, Ronnie Reddick.

Bartenders at AsiaSF (photo: Steven Underhill)  

Did the venue close primarily because you were retiring or due to a downturn in business?
There are multiple reasons, but I have been in the San Francisco nightlife business for over 30 years, and 35 years as Director of Special Production at Macy's. I'm ready to take a step back, semi-retire, yet work on a few fun projects on the side, and hopefully lots of travel.

But there has been a change in the nightlife scene since COVID as well. People are not going out as much as before and not coming to San Francisco and much as before COVID.

Your venue and performers have been vital in educating the community. Are there plans to continue in this role?
The mission of AsiaSF is the celebration of love and diversity. AsiaSF was a pioneer in creating employment opportunities and a safe space to work for the transgender community. We've done pop-up performances at Pride and at companies such as Google, where we educate people about the transgender experience in a fun and entertaining way.

As the language around the transgender experience has evolved, so has AsiaSF. It's been an extraordinary 26-year run and we have had well over a million guests celebrating everything from birthdays, bachelorette parties, anniversaries and everything else you can imagine. We've been known as 'celebration central' for all these years. So we will continue in our mission to educate about the transgender experience.

Serving glam and drinks at AsiaSF. (photo: Steven Underhill)  

When you announced the closure, the Macy's downtown closure announcement had not yet happened. Has this affected your plans?
I left Macy's in 2012, so it didn't affect our plans. For 14 of the 26 years of AsiaSF, I was also at Macy's. When I left Macy's, I was able to focus on AsiaSF and the development of "Transcendent," our docuseries, which aired in 2015 and 2016.

What are you proudest of regarding Asia SF?
Even though we're a small business, we're also a family. The Ladies of AsiaSF live their truth and are their authentic selves and that gives all of us the inspiration to also be our authentic selves and to find our truth, which will take you on your own journey of love and happiness.

When I see and talk to all these young people coming to AsiaSF, who weren't even born when we opened, I realize that the cultural change regarding positive attitudes towards gender identity and transgender awareness is part of their DNA. It makes me feel so good about the future.

I've had so many people over the years look me in the eyes and say "Thank you for opening AsiaSF. You don't know what this experience means to me." This makes me so happy and very proud of all we've accomplished together over all these years.

Hashbarger and the Ladies of AsiaSF have much to be proud of. I spoke to audience members who shared the love and joy of their project.

Melanie, a SoMa bartender who was at the show with a group of friends, had worked at Beatbox, Truck and the SF Eagle, was there for the first time, but loved the show. She, much like I, wondered why it had taken us so long to get there and knew an era was passing with the closure.

Serving up shots at AsiaSF (photo: Steven Underhill)  

Locals Jack Lindstrom and Chris Wu (complete with his "Stay Golden" Golden Girls T-shirt) were visiting for the third time in the last four weeks and have reservations for closing night. Lindstrom told me, "What Larry and his partners have done for the community are amazing."

Lindstrom isn't wrong. While talking with Melanie and I, Hashbarger reminisced about San Francisco politicos who have graced their doors, from Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris to Willie Brown and London Breed.

AsiaSF has truly made a mark while educating and entertaining the community. Though the passing of their home at 201 9th is sad, the good news is that the show will go on in pop-ups. If you haven't gotten reservations yet, you should do so ASAP as every night will no doubt sell out as the city says thank you and goodbye to a treasured nightclub.

AsiaSF, 201 9th Street. Closing extended to April 28, due to popular demand.

See more AsiaSF photos at

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