It’s getting to the point where the term “best of” is just a part of every news outlet’s annual marketing plan. Newspapers, magazines, websites, even TV now have “Best of San Francisco” features.
But the Bay Guardian was the first, the publication that started this concept, and it’s still going strong after 45 years with our 2019 Best of the Bay.
Back in 1974, Esquire Magazine decided to do a feature called “the Best of America.” City by city, its reporters would track down the “best” from a short list of items (“Best Piano Teacher, Best French Croissant.”)
When it came to San Francisco, Esquire realized that the Bay Guardian was perfectly positioned to do the local version; we were the only independent outlet involved in the feature.
For Esquire, it was a one-time thing. For the Guardian, it became a tradition. Year after year, we tracked down the “best” in what became an ever-growing list of categories. Then we decided to ask our readers what they thought —and the response was overwhelming.
This year, 7,000 people voted on 100 categories, selecting the best businesses, organizations, events … all of the wonders of this city.
Let your fetish flag wave! On Sunday, September 22, a giant leather flag was raised in SoMa on the site of the new Eagle Plaza, a multi-use space and park that will separate the Eagle gay club from the giant condo development across the street. It’s part of an ongoing project, involving Supervisor Matt Haney (and former Supervisor Jane Kim), to preserve leather heritage in the area—often calling upon developers to help ameliorate the gentrification they are helping to cause. I’m a little leery of it all, but the flag-raising was still pretty cool.
Today I helped raise the Leather Flag at Eagle Plaza, the first public plaza dedicated for the LGBTQ Leather community in the world. So many over the years fought for recognition, protection, support for this community, and there is still so much to do, but this is a huge step. pic.twitter.com/hQxPrv3PDR
The scene was festive and more than a bit old school (a fabulous gathering of leather elders)—and the SoMa flag now rivals the rainbow one in the Castro. Whether that flag is all that’s left of the storied SoMa leather scene in 20 years, once more condos move in and the old guard passes into Valhalla, remains to be seen. (The leather folk in the development renderings of the plaza look reeeealllly tiny, as if they are waving farewell already.) In a brief interview, Haney assured me that he would “demand to know from developers what they were going to do to preserve the diversity and history of the area, and to make sure the leather scene remains a thriving one.”
It’s still a big something, seeing that huge leather flag up there. It brought a tear to my eye and a wee sting to my bottom. Just right for Folsom Street Fair, which I can see also being impacted by another wave of bland developments. So let us (un)clad ourselves in our desires while we may! Here’s my party picks for the wild weekend, full of rubber gloves and lots ‘o love.
THU/26 MISTER DRUMMER 1979: THE BALCONY The Mister Drummer 1979 party crew recreates the look and feel of classic leather bars of yore inside other bars, and makes a damn good dance party out of it (plus there are t-shirts!) This time around it’s the sociable Balcony in the Castro, which not only served up hot men, but also brunch. It opened at 6am! Who could resist? With wonderful DJ Souffront and Matthew Paul taking us back to sweatier, leatherier times. 9pm-2am, $10. Underground SF. More info here.
THU/26 F*CK ME UP SIS! A party to benefit the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, featuring all ’80s tunes? Come on out! You’re truly joins DJ Rolo and Siobhan Aluvalot on the decks for a flashback in tim to help our fabulous, charitable gay drag nuns. 9pm-2am. The Stud, SF. More info here.
THU/26 THE TUBESTEAK CONNECTION DJ Bus Station John kicked off the whole bathhouse/cruising nostalgia wave more than a dozen years ago, with his awesome weekly tribute to steamy disco and vintage man-meat (and maybe even some Eartha Kitt). If you want an authentic taste of old school gay life—and a more Tenderloin vibe— traipse to his vinyl tunes all night on Aunt Charlie’s carpeted dance floor. 10pm-2am, $5-$7. Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, SF. More info here.
THU/26 JUNK It wouldn’t be Folsom without an underwear contest/party! And with hosts Mr. Pam and Dulce de Leche, anything goes … off. 6pm-2am, $5. Powerhouse, SF. More info here.
FRI/27 STEAM DOES FOLSOM Eternal cutie Walter Gomez’s monthly salute to bathhouses, but inside a bar, gets Folsom-y with dancers in shower stalls, a wet towel competition, massages, and awesome DJ Lorant Duzgun from NYC. 9pm-2am, $5 benefits LGBT Asylum Project. Powerhouse, SF. More info here.
FRI/27 OTHER STRANGER: DISCIPLINE The most excellent Other Stranger, a bi-monthly party “focusing on the mutant freak faction of the electronic music scene through live performance and dj sets” gets extra wicked for Folsom—with LA’s Marvina 7 performing his “freaky tracks that inspire action and adventure,” Portland’s mind-blowing Golden Donna, and DJ Vera Rubin. 10pm-3am, $13. The Stud, SF. More info here.
FRI/27 BEARACUDA: HORSE MEAT DISCO Who can resist a little Horse Meat? Well hang on to your silky manes and get ready to whinny, the UK’s favorite disco revivalists are in town for the big bear party. Horses and bears? All night long. That’s Folsom, baby. 9pm-4am, $45-$60. Public Works, SF. More info here.
FRI/27 SHENANIGANS: MAGIC KINKDOM Who could resist a Disney-themed fetish party? There are so many puns I could make here, but all of them pale next to the party’s own copy: “Don’t just SIT around waiting for your prince… make him COME.” (???!!!) 10pm-late. Oasis, SF. More info here.
FRI/27HARDER The traveling party originated in NYC with naughty backrooms and a dance floor to match—what goes better than great dance music and wild abandon—and has been bringing its brand of Harderness around the USA these past few years. For its Folsom stop, headliner DJ TEETH with dazzle you with his hypnotic, fantasy-frenzy tunes. With DJ Sindri (yay!), Steve Fabus, and Kelly Naughton. 10pm-4am, $20. F8, SF. More info here.
FRI/27 CLUB LONELY My secret favorite club falls on Folsom and features three of our sweetest DJs—Primo, Vin Sol, and Jeremy Castillo—so beats will be banging. Expect a colorful, pan-everything crowd under Club OMG’s weird dancefloor dome. This is a benefit for beloved scenester Russell “The Muscle” Rogers who recently passed away. 10pm-2am, $10. Club OMG, SF. More info here.
FRI/27-SAT/28 MR. S FOLSOM BLOCK PARTY “Join hundreds of the sexiest men in the world at Mr. S Leather for our 2-day event leading up to the Folsom Street Fair. We’re opening our Back Alley Beer Garden from 12-6 on both Friday & Saturday. The shop will be open 11am-8pm daily for all your Folsom needs. Come find the gear that’s going to get you laid. And who knows, you might just meet the guy you’ll be spending the rest of the weekend with :)” With perfect DJs Stefanie Phillips, Jim Hopkins, and more. Noon-6pm, free. Mr. S. Leather, SF. More info here.
SAT/28 GAGGED Let’s get some diverse gender energy up in this leather sitch! Extremely rad DJs Boy Pussy, Jasmine Infiniti, and Bored Lord get crazy with the good rave music, and it’s all sponsored by the #1 nasty poppers brand Double Scorpio. 9pm-4am, $12-$15. The Stud, SF. More info here.
SAT/28 PEGASUS Something different: a sip-and-shop daytime event from perennial “Best Men’s Clothing Store” Sui Generis. Don’t miss some cute tunes, sweet bubbles, and nice ‘fits at this SF treasure trove. Noon-8pm, free. Sui Generis, SF. More info here.
SAT/28 ELECTROLUXX Literally and figuratively a ton of great DJs—including duo Fatherhood, the collaboration of Michael Magnan and Physical Therapy (I adore both)—and cute artists coming together for this wheeling romp, which also includes “2 indoor stages & silent disco outside, face painting, tarot reading, photobooths, performances, and more!” plus: Giant Cuddle Puddle! 9pm-4am, $15-$30. Public Works, SF. More info here.
SAT/28 NEW BREED THE all-night rave of Folsom, but you’ll have to get there early for tickets! The Pound Puppy and Polyglamorous party crews always puts on a great joint, and this incredible lineup of underground greatness—D. Tiffany, Justin Cudmore, Mexico’s Por Detroit crew, Victor from Bears in Space—will make the Folsom fireworks pop. 10pm-6am, $60. Club Six, SF. More info here.
SUN/29 FOLSOM STREET FAIR Duh, this is why you’re standing there with your drawers out. The music lineup this year is pretty spectacular: punk legends L7, Detroit technoists Adult., and local dream pop heroes Imperial Teen headline. Plus there’s lots of sexytime. 11am-6pm, donation requested. More info here.
SUN/29 CAT CLUB CELEBRATES FOLSOM There are bigger parties in bigger venues with bigger DJs. But one of my all-the favorite things to do is duck into this club for a drink during the festivities and see who else is there—ore often than not t’s a glorious Mos Eisley cantina of leather-clad characters, from all points in the galaxy. Noon-midnight, free. Cat Club, SF. More info here.
SUN/29 GEAR QUEERS Touted as the official Folsom after-party for womxn, it’s a great opportunity for women-identifying players to check out our fantastic new bar Jolene’s while dancing to some filthy tunes (and then moving on to the Citadel sex club, perhaps). 6pm-10pm, $10. Jolene’s, SF. More info here.
SUN/29 DEVIANTS The official closing party of the Folsom Street Fair has always presented some great underground dance music—this time around is no different, with Chris Cruse of steamy LA party Spotlight headlining, along with DJs Whitney Fierce and Lina. 6pm-2am, $45-$50. Mezzanine, SF. More info here.
SUN/29 AIRTIGHT IV “Airtight is back with more Big Dyke NRG. Get out of the hot sun at the street fair and slip into total daytime bacchanalia at The Stud. Wild out on the dance floor, meet new babes, or have your leather rubbed down at the bootblack stand. BDSM demos, topping booths, and immersive art for inspiration all day.” A womxn-centered space but all are welcome! With DJs Akua, Russell EL Butler, Gayphex Twin, and more. 2pm-9pm, $12. The Stud, SF. More info here.
SUN/29 HOUSE OF BLACK LEATHER Honey Soundsystem brings in one of the best queer party magnets ever, DJ Peach from the UK, plus NYC’s Liquid Asset, AND turns over the big room dance floor to outstanding local deep techno crew Surface Tension. Fan-fooking-tastic. 3pm-4am, free before 6pm. Audio, SF. More info here.
SUN/29 TIT CLAMP FEVER Like Disco Fever, but with tit clamps! DJs Steve Fabus, La Frida, and Lorant bring the sparkling, pinching tunes, while drag shows all night keep you entertained to the max clamp. 9pm-2am, $10. The Stud, SF. More info here.
SUN/29 WERD. FOLSOM STREET FAIR AFTER AFFAIR Brilliant local DJ-producer Lando may have moved to Berlin, but he’s bringing his interstellar beats to this weekly shindig, a perfect little dance fan’s escape from all the muscle men (although they’re invited too!) 9pm-2am, $5. Monarch SF. More info here.
“Television is not nor has it ever been the ultimate form of drag,” Oaklash Drag Festival co-founder and performer and East Bay-based drag queen Mama Celeste, a.k.a. Greg Tartaglione, writes in an email interview with 48 Hills. She’s not-so-subtley shading a certain televised drag competition that’s spawned countless imitators who may not realize the electric connections a live and rowdy crowd can bring. Surely Oaklash’s multitudinous 100 performers will be preaching this to the choir at the second edition of the festival this weekend (Fri/26-Sun/28), which will include two extensive, eight-hour days of performance.
Mama Celeste and fellow performer Beatrix LaHaine started the festival last year to “give the Bay Area the kind of representation it deserved,” says Celeste. In 2018, that meant bringing over 50 drag queens and kings from Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose for an intermission-less six hour show.
“It was exhausting and amazing,” Celeste says. “Everyone pulled out all the stops, from a clown on a Segway scooter performing to Britney Spears’ “Circus” to a queen shooting water out of syringes stuck through her cheek. The audience was living!”
The diversity of Oaklash’s 2019 acts speaks to one of the ways in which Bay drag steps back from more mainstream incarnations.Certainly, the disconnect between Bay Area performers and RuPaul’s Drag Race has been much commented on—and the region’s near total lack of representation on the VH1/Logo TV megalith is certainly remarkable. But even if the rumors are true that the deep freeze is due to long simmering feuds between Ru and Bay legends, the Bay’s flavor of drag is anything but mainstream.
The current scene may well be influenced more by local history than current trends. From the days of political activist and performer José Sarria—the Widow Norton, who founded the Imperial Court system and one of the first openly queer person to run for office in the United States—Bay drag has been about far more than perfectly beat faces and expert tongue pop. Here, the Cockettes obscured the accepted social order with sequins and bearded drag, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have wielded their looksas activist beacons for decades.
“It’s always been obvious to me that the drag community in the Bay Area isn’t like other drag communities,” says Peaches Christ, who will perform at Oaklash with a host of legends like House of More! matriarchs Glamamore and Juanita More! and emergent stars like Nicki Jizz and Lisa Frankenstein. “I think I realized it before I even arrived in 1996,” Peaches continues. “When I hosted John Waters’ visit to Penn State University he told me about the Cockettes and how he and Divine and Mink would do shows with them. I’d never heard about any drag troupe that sounded anything like the Cockettes!”
“The Castro is known for its flawless beauty queens, SoMa is known for its gender-bending punk aesthetic,” says Mama Celeste. “But as rent has spiked in San Francisco, more and more artists have been moving to the East Bay which has created this amazing melting pot of all the scenes.” Oaklash’s lineup pays homage to 2019’s socioeconomic realities with its East Bay location, for the second straight year at eclectic venue Classic Cars West.
Oaklash also typifies the time-honored Bay tradition—at least in recent decades—of a pan-gender scene that does not hew to rigid definitions of who should be on stage. Some of the Bay’s most famous drag and performance nights over the years have featured artists who work gender into their art, from music to conceptual art, always welcome on Bay drag stages. This year, Zedgar Infiniti, Dollii, The Gooch Palm, Saturn Rising, and 15 DJs show the breadth of the festival’s drag community.
That’s particularly important in the face of occasional mainstream pressure to limit drag to the purview of cis gay men. “My art crosses all gender lines and allows anyone experiencing to imagine me as themselves or relate in a way that inspires their own experience,” says Saturn Rising. “It’s an escape and an affirmation all in one.”
“Drag is about performance, and presence, and being shocked and awed by the beauty of the seven-foot rhinestoned goddess whose sweat is dripping on you in the front row,” says Mama Celeste. Ample motivation to get yourself into IRL drag nirvana, a.k.a. this weekend’s Oaklash front rows, to see the past, present, and future of Bay Area drag get its due.
On June 12th, 2016, a mass shooting left 49 dead and 53 wounded at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on Latin night. As someone who helps organize one of the handful of Asian Pacific Islander LGBTQ spaces in San Francisco, it broke my heart. I found myself wondering what would happen if this had occurred here in San Francisco, in our space? How do you respond when a space that is supposed to be safe is flooded with gun violence? How do you fight back, and more importantly, how can we come together to do that.
In response to the Parkland shooting, I wanted to show our community united against gun violence, so I brought together drag queens from all over the Bay Area to speak to issues of gun violence that are important to them. Why drag queens? Drag is inherently performative. It’s a visceral medium of storytelling that forces you to question your conventionality. In times of political unrest, drag is powerful and gives the LGBT community a unique tool to subvert marginalization. As such, drag queens become the perfect way to change the narrative on gun violence, and show it as an issue with deep ties to the LGBT community.
Photos by Vince Flores and Christine Vo.
As a community, it’s time for us to move past living in this supposed post-marriage equality daze, and accept that gun violence is an issue for the LGBTQ community to fight. According to 2016 FBI statistics, race, religion, and LGBTQ identities make up the top 3 categorical targets for hate crimes, with our community accounting for roughly 20% of total REPORTED hate crimes. The term reported here is important to note since many crimes go unreported, and transgender individuals are often misgendered. Marginalized communities disproportionately bear the burden of gun violence, and this is especially true for LGBTQ people of color.
When talking about gun violence, it’s also important to understand that more Americans kill themselves with a firearm than are murdered with one at a 2:1 ratio, and that stricter gun control laws have shown to strongly correlate with lower suicide rates. Suicide involving firearms is fatal 90% of the time. Alternate methods are less deadly, and give time for that individual to be reached out to, to receive help
After Parkland, and now Maryland, policy makers are already offering their thoughts and prayers. Let’s organize our community and push them to do more.
Faluda Islam is a drag queen rebel leader bent on liberating the Muslim world from the shackles of Western Imperialism. Infusing San Francisco ideals with a queer Muslim identity, she wants to show the world that Muslims are a nonviolent people. Even though they carry the stereotype of being terrorists, they are not actually responsible for a majority of the gun violence, or event acts of terrorism in America. Historically, more Americans are killed by right-wing extremists born right here. School shooters have a demonstrated profile, so why do we immediately think of Muslim terrorists? Faulda comes in peace. Muslims come in peace. They can come to escape violence or to find new homes. They can be queer, and they can also advocate against gun violence.
Our media landscape is fragmented. We have a greater number of media outlets, and those outlets are increasingly reaching specific, segmented audiences. We can get trapped in our own bubbles of influence, and it can be hard to separate fake news from real. What can you believe when there is a non-stop, escalating garbage dump of rhetoric? We can often feel disillusioned, defeated, and silenced, but we can break free from the chaos and find our voice. Listen to the victims of mass shootings. Listen to the Parkland kids. Listen to the survivors of Pulse. If we are going to fight gun violence, we must be engaged in the struggle for what is right. Surveys show that LGBT groups overwhelmingly support gun control measures, it’s just time for us to be a little bit louder about it.
We’re sick and tired of Thoughts and Prayers™. Our elected officials offer nothing but pithy platitudes after each mass shooting, and we’re done with it. Our nation is at a tipping point in the gun control movement, and this mass shooting feels different. The Parkland survivors are inspiring–particularly Emma Gonzalez and Delaney Tarr, two of the strong young women leading the charge–unequivocally rejecting and renouncing offers of thoughts and prayers and demanding action. Our nation has burned through all our thoughts and prayers over the years, and if our legislators won’t take action, WE are the ones who get burned by the continued inaction. Time’s Up for #thoughtsandprayers
On February 27th, 2018, the Florida House Appropriations Committee passed a bill that included $67 million for a program to train teachers to carry guns. There is no good research showing that arming teachers, or even putting more armed police in schools is effective. In fact, the good guy with a gun narrative has shown to overwhelmingly incorrect. More guns means more death. Trump has said that “gun-free” zones are invitations for attackers, but then why aren’t guns allowed in congress? The teachers from Parkland and countless other school shootings have told is that they don’t want guns, they want gun control and funding for school supplies instead. It’s time to listen to them.
Gun control is a numbers game. It’s no secret that sponsorship of major politicians and mass marketing efforts is what gives the NRA its formidable political clout. In 2016, the group donated more than $30 million to get Trump elected — the highest amount ever spent on a presidential candidate. However, this statistic is indicative of a bigger problem: Over the past 15 years, spending on gun rights lobbying exponentially exceeded that of gun control by nearly tenfold. Not only are we lacking in voting numbers, but we also lack the monetary numbers necessary to bring safety to us all.
We need to unify a voting bloc and target donating entities. We need to fight numbers with numbers. We need to put our money where our mouth is.
NIGHTLIFE Two of the best parties of the last year pulled off a gay miracle: They combined classic, raw sexuality straight out of the ’70s with forward-thinking music. It was like stepping into a time capsule that turned into a spaceship that turned into an orgy. Transformational!
The Mister Drummer 1979 parties aim to revive the vibe of historic local leather bars. The first two explicitly commemorated lusty, long-gone SF bars the Tool Box and Febe’s, even printing retro logo t-shirts for the occasion. “We wanted to recreate old school cruise bar environments while simultaneously celebrating iconic institutions,” DJ Matthew Paul, part of the crew founded by his friend Nick Wafle, told me. “It’s time to make leather fun, sleazy, and relevant again!”
These parties aren’t the first to model themselves on filthier-than-thou bacchanal of SF in its Folsom Street Miracle Mile heyday. DJ Bus Station John’s Thursday weekly Tubesteak Connection plays underground disco and Hi-NRG from the time and wraps everything in a retro-porno vibe—it’s now going on its 14th year at Aunt Charlie’s in the Tenderloin—and he also spins the classics third Sundays at Disco Daddy, the Eagle’s first-ever tea dance. Honey Soundsystem has also feted the music and vibe of that far-off time, with parties that feature vintage porn soundtracks in legendary locations. The monthly Go Bang parties at the Stud delve into the gay disco vibe, too, with special guests from the heyday of bathhouses and all-nighters.
But Mister Drummer 1979 is the first to exclusively concentrate on the leather theme, and almost all traces of vintage camp have been subsumed in the sweaty embrace of hard looks and hot muscle. Some of the dudes there are tanks, straight out of the stuck-together pages of a Tom of Finland calendar. A leather dress code is strongly encouraged, as is making out with as many men as you can on the dance floor.
Don’t be frightened, be titillated, a little curious even. Whereas the macho seriousness of original leather bar scene could be a turn-off for more playful-minded folks like myself, these parties are full of conviviality—almost relief, really, at the option of being able to come together in a steamy, red-lit atmosphere full of harnesses and chaps that weren’t just purchased on the fly for Folsom Street Fair trendiness. There’s also the music: While there are occasional winks to the past, the DJs utilize contemporary techno and synth music to whip up a heady eroticism that wouldn’t be out of place in Berlin’s notorious sex-dungeon Laboratory.
(I would also add here that now that macho conformity isn’t the only option in gay bars, thanks to a vibrant and femme-positive queer underground scene, I don’t feel the toxicity in the air I used to at such gatherings.)
The Eagle itself, the real one down in SoMa, opened in 1981 as a leather bar (one of many called the Eagle in various cities, signaling a safe haven for gay men). Over the years it transformed into more of a biker hangout that hosted packed Sunday beer busts for charity, closed for a spell in the early 2010s, reopened with community help and new owners in 2012, and now caters to a more dance party-oriented crowd—although there are still plenty of rough characters, cigar smoke, and hot trade.
Auto Erotica is glorious, go there, buy stuff. It’s full of tasty memorabilia from the golden age of gay media, including stacks of “one-hander” books and bin upon bin of magazines like Mandate, Colt, BlueBoy, and, yes, Drummer. (Batt told me a 23-year-old customer recently told him this was his first time holding a gay porn magazine in his hands, which made me feel like Methuselah.)
View treasures like an original poster from the Lion Pub poster, SF’s first preppy gay “fern bar” from the 1970s that transformed into a drum ‘n bass music hangout in the 2000s, and has now just hit the market as a single family home for almost $6 million dollars. Gaze upon tantalizing VHS cassettes that will have you plotting to rescue your grandparents’ old player from their basement storage.
Owner Patrick was a successful bar manager in Chicago—he ran leather classic Gold Coast—and was moved out here by Eagle owner Bob Damron, creator of the legendary (and, pre-Internet, essential) Damron Guides for gay travelers, to give the fledgling leather bar some polish and shine, and to help distinguish it from its many competitors.
Batt made it only a few months into the bar’s life until he was quite literally canned. “I was from the Midwest, and didn’t know there was a distinct West Coast gay bar culture,” he told me. “One of the biggest mistakes I made was stocking the bar with beer in cans. I had no idea that people here would get so angry about that. People were slamming the cans back on the bar when they were served, yelling ‘What the hell is this?'” But we were locked into a distributor and we couldn’t change to bottles quickly enough. So the Eagle had to actually close for a time while we fixed it. And then I was let go.”
Batt described the SF gay bar scene of the time as “exactly what you’ve heard about it, wild and full of bars and men. Everybody had their little gimmick to distinguish themselves, but it didn’t seem very competitive at the time because there was so much going on.”
Batt went on to work for Drummer, in its mail order distribution department (back then you had to send away to San Francisco for sex toys and porn mags in most part of the country), before breaking off and starting his own company, Mercury Mail Order. Mercury’s dildo and lube storage facility became the original Auto Erotica storefront in the late ’80s. And now Auto Erotica sells old Drummers and ’70s gay bar memorabilia. Truly, the Circle of Gay Life.
The Mister Drummer 1979 Eagle Tribute includes music by one of the stewards of gay Hi-NRG pioneer Patrick Cowley’s legacy, Josh Cheon, formerly of Honey Soundsystem. My fingers are crossed that there will be a retro logo t-shirt available as well. In any case, you will dance, your chaps will squeak, and everybody will probably get laid.
MISTER DRUMMER 1979: A TRIBUTE TO THE EAGLE Fri/2, 9pm-2am, $10 Eagle, SF. More info here.