BARchive: Eating Out

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Wednesday November 30, 2011
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San Francisco gays gathered at restaurants and nightclubs that served food for decades before the Stonewall Riots in New York, and before the Compton Cafeteria riots in the Tenderloin.

According to Nan Alamilla Boyd's Wide Open Town, a History of Queer San Francisco to 1965, "gays and lesbians socialized regularly at The Beige Room in the early 1950s, but they also met at popular restaurants such as the Paper Doll, Gordon's and Dolan's Supper Club."

The predominant history of gay culture focuses on bars, and the extensive scandals and police harassment through the years.

The historic Black Cat had its own expansive history of drag shows and gay pioneers like Jose Sarria. The venue's 1950-era menu offers quaint proof of a different time, with Cheeseburgers and "Catburgers" costing a mere 40 cents, and a Sunday breakfast of tomato juice, hot cakes, ham & eggs, toast and coffee running a mere one dollar.

But restaurants seem to have been an easier form of social camouflage pre-revolution, and expanded as gay publications like our parent publication, the Bay Area Reporter, took ads for gay-owned eateries. The BAR's publisher, Bob Ross, was a restaurant owner himself, before making the leap into primitive publishing, pasting up the early issues with friends over his kitchen table in 1972.

By 1973, the BAR had several restaurant ads, most notable a full-page ad for the P.S. Piano Bar and Restaurant on Polk Street. Touting not only two piano bar acts, Vivian Grant and Vince Valenti, but a dining room with "an exciting menu" in Art Deco font, the ad mentions that gay culture phenomenon, "Sunday Brunch."

Although the term for "breakfast/lunch" was coined back in 1895 in Guy Beringer's article "Brunch: A Plea" in Hunter's Weekly, sometime post-Stonewall the term took on a gay tone.

Perhaps because it's the time of day that was indicative of our burgeoning active culture. Friends, probably out late the night before, got together after sleeping in to dish the previous night's social and/or sexual successes and failures.

Like many popular eateries of the 1970s, and even a few that closed only last month, restaurants like the P.S. have come and gone. But what brunches those must have been, pre-Internet, and pre-texting, when in order to share gossip, people ate food while sitting down and actually talking to each other.