The Stud's return: historic bar's triumphant third time's a charm

  • by Michael Flanagan
  • Tuesday April 23, 2024
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Honey Mahogany performs at The Stud's grand opening on April 20 (photo: Gooch)
Honey Mahogany performs at The Stud's grand opening on April 20 (photo: Gooch)

When the Stud first opened at 1535 Folsom Street in May 1966, The Mamas and The Papas' song "Monday, Monday" was the #1 single, and "Pet Sounds" by the Beach Boys had just been released. Initially a leather bar, a year before Stonewall, in 1968, it had already become a gay hippie bar. The late poet Thom Gunn gives us an idea of what the bar was like in a letter to Tony Tanner from Christmas 1968:

"The Stud closed for a night to give its 150 closest friends a party in the bar. The place was decorated with polythene so as to look like a kind of Venusian Fingal's Cave, with flexible stalactites, etc. And everybody, including Mike and me, said it was the best party they'd ever been to. One thing that helped was that everyone was offered acid, and so about 70 of us were on a reasonably heavy trip."

A vintage ad for a Sylvester concert at the old Stud bar on Folsom Street.  

More his and herstory
By 1970, the bar was the place to be. One of the stories about how Sylvester met the Cockettes directly involves The Stud (though admittedly many versions of that story exist). "The Fabulous Sylvester" biography by Joshua Gamson sets the scene:

"Tahara had been seeing Sylvester regularly at The Stud, a bar south of Market Street where 'everybody far-out went every night.'

One night, Tahara recalls, Sylvester invited everyone at The Stud to his flat for a party, and Tahara showed up with about thirty other people. Word got out that Sylvester did Billie Holiday impersonations."

Things weren't always quite so groovy in the early days, however. On December 12, 1970, San Francisco police shot Charles Christman in the ankle as they were "trying to clear the street" (as the SF Chronicle put it) after closing time at the Stud. His car was shot four times because he bumped two policemen while trying to leave Norfolk Alley. He was tried for five felonies, and after one trial with a hung jury, he plead guilty to two misdemeanors and was given probation for three years.

Stud bar patrons in the early 1990s (photo: Marc Geller)  

The Stud was renowned for music performances in its first decades. The first time Sylvester performed with Two Tons of Fun was at The Stud, on August 15, 1976. Etta James performed there many times in the '70s and '80s, often on Valentine's Day. Several women's music bands played there, including Sweet Chariot and Pegasus, and when Bebe K'Roche released their album on Olivia in 1976 they performed there.

My earliest memories of The Stud are from 1982, when I was invited to an after-party by the bartender Gidget (known for the buttons he made for the bar). It was not nearly as wild as Gunn's memories of the LSD parties, but is a fond memory nonetheless.

In 1987, The Stud moved to 399 9th Street at Harrison, which had previously been the Arena and Club Nine, where Courtney Love ran coat check, Chris Isaak was the house band and Diamanda Galas first performed music from "Plague Mass." By the time The Stud got there, the location already had an LGBTQ following.

The Stud's 45th anniversary at the former location on Harrison Street. (photo: Jim Provenzano)  

The 9th Street version of the bar is fondly remembered as the home of Heklina's T-shack show, which began in 1996. My favorite memory of that era was seeing the "Age of Aquarius" tribute to "Hair," which included Juanita MORE! performing "Easy to be Hard" while smoking an amazing large joint on stage. It's worth pointing out that you can see a direct connection between the rise of Heklina's parties at The Stud and the birth of the new version at Oasis.

This era of The Stud also continued their other contributions to a sense of community, from their hosting of the Frameline volunteers parties after the film festival to their parties on Folsom Street Fair weekends.

New era
Having a forty-something year relationship with a bar leads to high expectations, so I was looking forward to the reopening of The Stud. I wasn't disappointed.

At the pre-opening party on April 12, I spoke with both party-goers and staff. I asked San Francisco native Mark Montgomery French, a composer and lecturer as well as a writer at PopMatters, what the reopening of the Stud meant to him.

Devoted Stud bar patrons at The Stud's grand opening on April 20 (photo: Gooch)  

"It's success in the defense of art — even with the lack of support of art, the lack of support of gays and the lack of night life support from the city," said French. "It also means the spirit of freedom and fun can't be stopped. People come from all over to experience this safe fun, and you don't get this in the suburbs."

Bernadette Fons is known from the 9th Street Stud and spoke about the sense of family in the bar. She was hired by late Stud owner Ben Guibord in 2005, and it was already a highly popular workplace. Said Fons, "Once you get a job here, nobody ever leaves."

Rachel Ryan, president of the Stud Collective, about finally getting the bar open, said, "The process has been a rollercoaster and it's been a long time coming, but it has been very exciting!"

Returning to the bar for the grand opening on April 20, standing in line next to me was Manny Yekutiel of Manny's. While we waited, he asked if he should get into his outfit, and the answer to that is always yes, so when he came back he was trying to decide whether to wear his wig or a turban, and a butch gentlemen in front of us suggested the turban on top of the wig, which was perfect! In heels, Manny was able to offer a good description of the Sister's ritual, which included a sprinkling of green and blue glitter.

The opening party included themes from the bars several decades. Asked which era he most admired and who he was here to see, Yekutiel said, "I wish I had been here in the '70s, so I'm really looking forward to DJ Steve Fabus."

Once inside, I asked Sister Bubbles Bathory, who was with The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on the crowded patio for their ritual.

"It was a blessing for the opening, and as well as blessing the entrance," said Bathory. "We also blessed the (bathroom) stalls with glitter."

A crowded dance floor at The Stud's grand opening on April 20 (photo: Gooch)  

Music of the ages
The course of the evening's music went decade by decade. For the 1960s, Brown Amy and DJ Carnitas played a set which included "Think" by Aretha Franklin, "Want Ads" by Honey Cone and "Love is Like an Itchin' in my Heart" by the Supremes.

Gina LaDivina was the opening performer and did "Don't Rain on my Parade" from the 1960s musical "Funny Girl."

Steve Fabus' 1970s set was indeed memorable, and his set included "Music Is My Way of Life" by Patti Labelle, "Let's Start the Dance" by Hamilton Bohannon, "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder, and "Do You Want to Funk" by Sylvester and Patrick Cowley. It was exceptionally touching to hear Sylvester, given his connection with The Stud.

The '80s New Wave set by Jim Hopkins included "Pale Shelter" by Tears for Fears and "Words" by Tom Tom Club. The performer for this hour was Fauxnique, who was amazing, as usual.

The performer for the '90s Club Kid era was Rahni Nothingmore, who did a killer version of "I'm Your Baby Tonight."

I stayed through part of the T-Shack era set, to see a fun performance from Glamamore.

On my way out the door, Sister Bubbles Bathory sweetly told me, "Get home safe now!"

It was a wonderful baptism for the new location of the Stud. It's open, it's waiting and it's lots of fun. Welcome back!

The Stud, 1123 Folsom Street.

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