Tomorrow at a 2pm press conference, the official announcement goes out that the Stud, the oldest gay bar in San Francisco, operating since 1966, will close its location of 33 years.
As a member of the Stud Collective, a wonderful group of 17 friends that purchased the Stud in 2016, in order to save it after a huge rent hike, I am weeping for that beautiful, scrappy space—its gold and red velvet-and sequined curtains parting for kooky drag shows, its graffiti-laden bathroom stalls, its very naughty green room, its dance floor packed with gorgeous creatures from all walks—which was such a vibrant and essential part of the community.
Here’s the thing, though: The Stud, the nightlife entity, is not dead. We’re still going to come back when this is over—a different space with the same lovingly outrageous vibe.
But for now, what else can we do? Like other bars and businesses, we must still keep paying rent indefinitely while being unable to bring in revenue. Loans and grants pretty much go directly to landlords and utilities, who are the true government-subsidized businesses here, in an arduous, arcane process that looks more and more like a bizarre money-laundering scheme.
Even if we could participate in cocktails-to-go and delivery (we have no kitchen so we can’t), it would hardly make a dent in our bills. Slowly, the city and the ABC are instituting things like outdoor liquor sales and service (for which we could pair with a food truck), but effective social distancing and limited outdoor space still would not pencil out to enough. We’re still wondering how people would even drink with masks! And operating at 25%-50% capacity, possibly for years, won’t cut it either. Many small bars in the city might be doomed before this is over, alas. It’s a desperate situation.
So: We want to keep our community safe, while also preserving the Stud for future generations. Without any rent breaks/suspension or more direct financial support, small business like ours are faced with a tough choice: Close our doors now, get nimble, and try to move forward? Or keep losing money and hope this blows over before we owe hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Ever-flexible, we decided for the nimble option. Our lease was up at the end of the year, anyway, so something like this was coming. Luckily, we’ve built an amazing online presence with our weekly Drag Alive show, and soon we’ll be a full-fledged virtual club, broadcasting an entire slate of our parties online. While it’s still not nearly enough, our beloved performers, DJs, and even bar staff (serving “virtual shots”) are earning tips and staying working.
We’ll also be holding a “drag funeral” to honor the space and share memories on May 31 at 6pm, stay tuned to www.studsf.com for more information.
By closing the doors on our location—a place that holds memories for almost the entire city, and which survived both the AIDS and app years, as well as two tech booms and two economic busts, all with wigs a-flyin’—we’re able to survive another day, in a new Stud incarnation. Mobile Stud parties, pop-ups, appearances, and more are being investigated. Who doesn’t want the Stud serving liquor and looks at their socially distanced lesbian wedding or drag quinceanera?
And after this is all over, a new permanent location, to help rebuild the city’s shattered nightlife scene—and continue the Stud’s rough-and-tumble legacy the only way we know how: with shots up and heels high.
It’s unfathomable to imagine North Beach without certain institutions—City Lights, Vesuvio’s, Gino & Carlo’s, Caffe Trieste, and, of course, Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe, the oddity-stuffed watering hole tucked away on its own very tiny plaza, a literary and cultural landmark since its eponymous founder, Richard “Specs” Simmons, opened it in 1968. The minute you walk into the bar, you can tell you’ll leave with a story or three.
“People always associate our giant cheese wheel at the bar with Specs’—and it’s rightly well-known,” Elly Simmons, Richard’s daughter, told me, laughing, over the phone. “But for me, if I’m feeling nostalgic, it’s all about the drink in my hand.
“Manhattan? Oh, I remember that crazy night. Whiskey? I remember making out with that guy. The bar is bursting with stories of people having wild adventures, and falling in and out of love, and meeting characters you won’t find any place else. It’s still very romantic and ideal that way. Along with the other establishments in North Beach, we form a hub of San Francisco culture you can’t find anywhere else.”
Elly, an artist full of great conversation, and her daughter Maralisa, a musician sheltering in place in New York, own the bar now. And like every other bar owner since the shutdown—and, considering outrageous rents and other dispiriting factors in the city, a fair bit before it—they’ve been struggling. A GoFundMe set up in March is inching towards its goal of $100,000—but with bar opening restrictions set to last months longer, possibly, SF might well lose one of its most distinctive gathering places. (Please help them out if you can.)
“We’re getting desperate,” said Elly, who pointed out that bars like hers are still paying rent, while zero income flows in. Elly and Maralisa have just launched a website where you can purchase gift cards— and t-shirts designed by Elly are on the way. Other than wait for more government relief funds and promote the GoFundMe, however, there’s not much they can do. Like all the other aforementioned North Beach institutions, they’re relying on the kindness of patrons and lovers of SF culture to make it through.
City Lights famously raised $300,000, but their situation is unique for the neighborhood. “We don’t own our building,” Elly told me. “We have a good landlord, but we still need to make rent every month on top of all the other bills. We also pay our staff well, which is union—it’s part of our roots that Specs’ opened as a working class bar, to cater to the neighborhood at the time. When things come due at the end of the month, it’s very hard.”
Maralisa told me over the phone, “We’ve applied for all the grants and loans. But I’m sure like most places we have to ask ourselves, how much debt do we want to shoulder if we don’t know when this is going to end? It’s scary. We’ll do whatever it takes to stay open, we owe it to our family and the neighborhood. The bar is so special. We’ve gone through our savings, though, and now we rely on the GoFundMe for support.”
Specs’ was among the first businesses that qualified for Legacy Business status, helping to guarantee a 10-year lease. Since it opened, the bar has been a magnet for poets, artists, journalists, and bon vivants, who mingled with the neighborhood’s union workers and family men. “People automatically think of the Beats when they think of North Beach, and most of the Beat people—Bob Kaufman, Neil Cassady—came to hang out here,” Elly said. “But we were beyond that, encompassing the jazz culture and working class history of North Beach.” Jazz-blues musician Taj Mahal, in fact, was the one who suggested the GoFundMe idea to Elly.
“My parents were true bohemians,” Elly said. “They were very engaged in politics and the protest movement. I was practically raised with a protest sign in my hand. North Beach is such a special neighborhood, it sometimes seems frozen in time—but it’s truly diverse, representing almost all sides of San Francisco.
“We’re the lefty bar, where you can hang out and discuss politics and art and what’s going on in the world. Where you can really talk to people, face to face. We can’t lose that.”
In a major example of how the Bay Area is coming together in a vacuum of political leadership and billionaire donors to take care of its own, the Queer Nightlife Fund announced today that it had raised $160,000 in funds through online efforts—and would begin disbursing grants to 176 local workers.
The recipients are mostly nightlife performers, staff, and others who rely on tips and wages which disappeared overnight in the wake of the March 13 COVID shutdown of bars, nightclubs, theaters, and restaurants. (Some performers have been able to eke out tips on streaming platforms, but this barely covers expenses of living here.)
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the community’s support for the fund,” QNF steering committee member and Polyglamorous DJ Mark O’Brien told me. “The QNF working group has been meeting 6 days a week since March 14, and it’s exciting to see our first campaign finally come to fruition. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we’ve helped a lot of folks in queer nightlife. We are going to keep on working at this, because the need is definitely still there.”
That need has convinced the QNF to continue its efforts. “This marks a major milestone for the QNF,” Watson says. “The shelter-in-place order has been extended through May, and all of our major queer holidays have now been canceled through the fall, including Pride and Folsom Street Fair. It remains uncertain when our vital cultural institutions can reopen and when we can again gather in person as a community. Therefore, the QNF has recognized the need for a second fundraising campaign and a new round of grant applications.”
The San Francisco Queer Nightlife Fund is proud to announce that we are now disbursing grants from our first round of applications.
From March 16 to March 31, 2020, we received applications from 258 nightlife workers, of which 176 met our eligibility criteria. Applications were evaluated anonymously by an internal team of steering committee members and then underwent an auditing process to ensure integrity. Grant amounts were determined based on need, and all recipients are currently being notified.
This marks a major milestone for the QNF! The shelter-in-place order has been extended through May, and all of our major queer holidays have now been canceled through the fall, including Pride and Folsom Street Fair. It remains uncertain when our vital cultural institutions can reopen and when we can again gather in person as a community. Therefore, the QNF has recognized the need for a second fundraising campaign and a new round of grant applications.
Our first campaign has been incredibly successful. In only a little over a month, we raised approximately $160,000—almost entirely from individual donations. We have established new community rituals, including the weekly Sunday Quaran-Tea Dance, streamed live on Twitch and Zoom. These new rituals and the success of our fundraising efforts have revealed the strength and resilience of our community and have given us all hope for the future. Our commitment to the community remains stronger now than ever before.
Stay tuned shortly for our announcement of the opening of our second round of grant applications.
If you continue to have a reliable source of income, please consider donating to the fund, and consider making your donation weekly. The performers, artists, bartenders, and behind-the-scenes workers who make the nightlife magic happen in the SF Bay Area need our continued support in this extraordinary time.
Tune in THIS WEEKEND to two events:
Friday at 8 PM PDT, the San Francisco Bay Area Queer Nighlife Fund is proud to present a special Friday night soiree featuring music from San Francisco matriarch Juanita More, who also serves as a member of the SF QNF steering committee. She’ll be gifting us with some fantastic beats to kick off the weekend. Also joining us is Chrissy, a genre-bending DJ and prolific producer, whose latest 12′′ was released last week on Dansu Discs.
Sunday from 1-6PM PDT, join us for our seventh Quaran-Tea! This week the SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund joins forces with the legendary PLAY T-Dance. Since 2001, PLAY T-Dance has been giving folks in the Bay Area the occasion to flirt, frolic and dance to their favorite tea dance music. PLAY T-Dance has become renowned for its unique and engaging themes, abundant hospitality, unrivaled production value and the most uplifting and energetic music on the planet.
For now, stay safe and healthy, and SEE YOU ON THE VIRTUAL DANCEFLOOR!
There’s probably waaay more than you need to know, and maybe a few giggles along the way. Anyway, the story of how a queer Arab American from the Midwest (and Southern Ontario) got into this crazy SF media business via nightlife and music may be of interest. Thanks to Jeff Hunt and the Storied SF crew, and check out all their great podcasts!
Click on my face below to hear the podcasts:
NEW PODCAST!Marke Bieschke, who today is a member of the 17-person Stud Collective, which owns San Francisco's oldest…
Governor Newsom’s announcement last Tuesday that live shows and concerts are unlikely to happen until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, which may be as far as 12-18 months away, confirmed the devastation of the local music scene.
“The whole industry is shut down,” said Tigran Mimosa, an electronic music producer who performs under the stage name MiM0SA. “As someone who relies on the touring market to feed my family, it’s shut off my income… I’m not able to tour and perform.”
As the music industry has migrated to streaming platforms like Spotify and Pandora, musicians have been receiving less income from music sales—and have become increasingly reliant on live events, such as concerts and music festiv upals, and other revenue streams, like crowdfunding and online instruction, according to Ill Gates, a musician who teaches an online course in music production called ProducerDojo.
“MP3s pulled the rug under from the record industry, and streaming pulled the rug from under the MP3 industry,” said Gates.
Gates told me that his touring career is on hold due to COVID-19, and he is focusing on other business ventures to make ends meet, mainly online teaching through ProducerDojo as well as a new website he is building, ProducerDJ.com, which he described as an independent online marketplace where musicians can sell their music and samples for other DJs to use and remix. He expects the website to be fully online as early as next week.
With COVID-19 effectively banning any live concerts or shows, musicians are now scrambling to generate income, and many musicians are turning to online streaming through platforms such as Twitch, Facebook Live, and Zoom. But streaming is not as profitable as live performances, because musicians cannot easily charge admission to streams and only receive income via donations on Venmo or Patreon or other fundraising platforms.
MiM0SA, who broadcasts on Facebook and Twitch, told me that streaming alone is not enough for musicians to survive. (MiM0SA will be streaming his full catalog of music on Facebook and Twitch, Fri/24 at 8pm.)
“Although the turnout was amazing, the income received from the streams, while amazing and so appreciated, doesn’t supplement the loss from touring,” said MiM0SA.
MiM0SA is not the only one who has seen their income decrease due not being able to perform live. Dave Paul, a one-man music act called the Prince and Michael Jackson Experience, told me in an email that people who watch his streams rarely give tips.
“Tip-wise the highest I’ve seen on my streams is 22% of the people tipping. So that’s 78% people just enjoying it for free,” said Paul.
(You can watch Dave Paul’s streams of the Prince and Michael Jackson experience on Twitch here. You can also support him through Venmo at DavidPaul415, Paypal at djdavepaul, and Cashapp at $djdavepaul.)
Some believe that for musicians to survive during COVID-19, they will have to find a way monetize their online streams. DJ Jimmy Love, founder of SF-based production and dance company Non-Stop Bhangra, told me that he believes that the next step for the music industry will be the creation of a platform where musicians can easily implement a paywall for their streamed content.
“I think someone is going to create a platform that allows a paywall for videos. That’s what we’re all hoping for,” said Love.
Love envisions a future where dance parties can be held at home, and instead of clubgoers paying for admission to a venue, they would pay to access a stream where several DJs would perform over the internet.
“If you open up to more than 10 person gatherings, I can have four DJs in my house for an entire event, and people could have a house party along with like thousands of other houses. I think that’s kind of the next wave,” said Love.
Others are more skeptical about the possibility of monetizing streams. Robbie Kowal, the CEO of HushConcerts, an events production company headquartered in San Francisco that specializes in silent disco and conference events, told me that “monetizing streams would be impossible.” We can ask for donations, ticket sales, but I don’t think it’s feasible to monetize live streaming,” said Kowal. “People’s time live is one thing. The stage, lights, bass, etc. Live is Live. At home you’re competing with Netflix, iTunes, TV, video games, Instagram, comic books, etc,” said Kowal.
Although HushConcerts receives little money is doing so, they are still streaming content online over their HushCast website, which runs two streams over the Blue and Green Channels from 1:30-3:30pm and 8-10pm, respectively. Kowal told me that his motivation for continuing to stream music for free was to help listeners and DJs sheltering in place stay active.
The community “needs to exercise, dance. Many of them have kids,” Kowal said. “So we bring an authentic silent disco experience to their house. The DJs love it, it makes them feel valuable again, and the community loves it,” said Kowal. (When I listened to the Green Channel stream on Tuesday, a DJ named My Pet Monster was playing.)
Gates on the other hand, thinks that musicians will need to move beyond streaming to build a brand and earn enough to survive.
“The idea that everyone will turn to streaming and that everyone will survive on donations, is naïve,” said Gates. “I think the musicians who survive are going to be the ones who can give something to their fans. Not just here’s my tracks, but also like here’s my sample packs, here’s a special message to your friend, like Cameo,” said Gates.
Kowal, for one, is interested in giving to the community in ways other than playing music. HushConcerts has started a campaign called MusicForMasks, where they are 3D printing face shields to be distributed to Kaiser San Leandro Pediatrics and nurses in Chicago, according to Kowal. They are raising funds through a GoFundMe campaign, and have a goal to raise $10 thousand to produce face shields for the next six to eight weeks. As of writing this article, they have raised over $3000.
Despite a sharp drop in income, Kowal remains confident that he and HushConcerts will survive COVID-19. “How we’re going to make a living, I have no freaking clue, but we’ve always found a way,” said Kowal.
Here are some scenes from the MusicForMasks production workshop, utilizing 3D printers.
Social media was flooded with understandable vitriol against these dangerous scofflaws of social distancing and nightclub shutdown regulations. Virtual torches were lit, pitchforks were verbally polished, the sequestered villagers were assembled for an online march on the castle. The City Attorney’s office even got word of it and put the promoters and venue on blast with a strongly worded letter to the landlord.
Except the whole incident appears to be an overblown error, revealing not only technology’s (and journalism’s) failure to catch up with the coronavirus shutdown, but the extend of the disease’s effects in the Bay Area as well.
The whole imbroglio was a combination of overzealousness, technical snafus, and COVID-19. Both the venue and the promoter had actually canceled the Lehar show on March 14, just after the state announced that all nightclubs were to be shut down indefinitely. However, due to the way that events are announced and tickets sold online—mostly via Facebook and Eventbrite—the word was slow to get out, and the party appeared to still be happening.
It was Comment Section Heaven for a hot second, though, wasn’t it? Imagine: 200 sweaty revelers, some of them probably wearing Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin costumes, pulsating to the beat, while outside a plague raged and the rest of us stewed six feet apart from one another. You think people are boiling alive just peering through their blinds to judge the parents of small children who are playing in the park? This was like the Fyre Festival raised to the power of The Masque of the Red Death.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office thought so, claiming that tickets were being sold through Eventbrite and through Pineiro’s personal site until Wednesday, March 25. However, Pineiro says that a technological foul-up was to blame. He created a Facebook event through Eventbrite, but once the owner of 251 Cocktail Club deleted the initial Eventbrite posting, there was effectively no way for Pineiro to delete the now-orphaned Facebook post.
“Four days ago, I reached out to Eventbrite and said, ‘I’m sick, please refund all tickets.’ But there’s only so much they can do without me doing the rest, and because of that particular glitch, I couldn’t even look at it.”
Pineiro showed 48 Hills a series of text messages that confirm a Facebook post canceling the event on Saturday, March 14—almost two weeks ago. He also claims that he’s been ill with COVID-19 for more than a week, since returning from a festival in St. Martin.
“I had a really high fever, and got back and tested positive and quarantined myself with no human contact for the last 10 days,” Pineiro said by phone. “I’ve been sleeping 16 hours a day. It’s been rough. Imagine the worst cold you ever had, and multiply by 100.”
Pineiro expressed surprise at the vehemence of the city’s claims, stating that the City Attorney’s office never contacted him and never looked at his social media accounts, which he updates frequently. (There is a 10-day posting gap on his Facebook page during the time frame in questions, which may have contributed to the confusion.)
“They’re accusing me of something that was never going to happen,” he said. “Why would I try to sell tickets to an event that I am not promoting?”
Indeed, the entire argument that someone would throw a giant party weeks into a nationwide emergency only stands up to scrutiny if one believes that party-goers are uniformly self-absorbed, irresponsible hedonists who don’t care about each other’s wellbeing, and that absolutely none of them would be upset by this. A casual glance at venues around the city show that not only is San Francisco’s entire nightlife community abiding by the restrictions, but that people are valiantly rallying to look after one another, physically and economically.
Moreover, Pineiro has a good reputation in SF’s nightlife community.
“He’s a super-solid promoter, up front with everything,” says Jeff Whitmore, owner of Public Works and The Midway. “I’ve been talking to him for the last week or so when he’s been sick in bed. We had several events planned with him that we’re going to reschedule for the fall.”
The City Attorney’s office stood by its decision, however.
“We’re pleased this event is now cancelled and tickets are no longer being marketed or sold,” said spokesperson John Cote. “We will continue to monitor the property to confirm that the event will not take place. We are in the midst of a pandemic, and everyone needs to follow the directives of public health officials.”
Lehar, the headliner for the long-canceled party at 251 Cocktail Club, probably knows this well. As Pineiro points out, he’s from Italy and wouldn’t have been able to fly to the US to perform, anyway.
If, like me, you’re “into” nightlife and music, your social media feed has flipped almost instantaneously into a multi-roomed nightclub, with DJs and musicians streaming live sets, friends recommending playlists, and drag queens lip-syncing for their lives (and hopefully tips).
This outpouring/overload of entertainment has affirmed dance music’s joy, connection, and necessity—not to mention the Internet’s—in this time of uncertainty and isolation. There’s far too many DJ sets to choose from right now, it seems, which leads to a giddy delight while you’re bopping on your sofa. Of course, there’s an element of concern involved as well, as most DJs have suddenly had their livelihoods eviscerated and are trying to find new income, er, streams.
This sudden concentration on the Internet may seem novel, but the folks at local streaming DJ site Fault Radio were way ahead of the coronavirus curve when it came to visual club-hopping. Launched in 2018 by two nightlife savvy emigrés from Tel Aviv, Dor Wand and Dundee Maghen, Fault Radio surfaces some of the best DJ talent in beautifully produced live videos, recorded at various locations around the Bay. Fault Radio’s archives are a treasure trove of sounds both familiar and new, lovingly archived and presented by two people who care deeply for our delicate yet thriving scene.
When I interviewed Dor and Dundee a few weeks ago, before the full force of COVID-19 hit, we excitedly talked about how Fault Radio was helping to increase the Bay Area’s international profile—while documenting the diversity that still exists in dance music scene holding on in a very expensive and rapidly homogenizing environment.
They were looking forward to their huge Shifting Plates Record Fair, this year in partnership with popular crowdsourced record database Discogs, which was to draw dozens of vendors and hundreds of participants to Classic Cars West in April. They were also recording sets at Vinyl Dreams record store in the Haight, which is owned by one of the godfathers of the local dance scene, Mike B (no relation).
“We’ve been very wavy emotionally, like everyone else,” Dundee told me in a follow-up call after the lockdown. “We had a few hard days, but we’ve shifted to working on initiatives to support the community, which is helping to keep us focused.”
“There was an advantage to being from somewhere else, we saw what was happening there before it came here,” Dor added. “So we had a little cushion of knowing what to expect. We had a few days lead time to think about how we could support and elevate the scene here before the impact.”
Those initiatives are pretty exciting. First, the pair have opened up broadcasting on the Fault Radio site to anyone with their broadcast from home “Relief Sessions.” You fill out a quick survey to apply, and they teach you the fundamentals of streaming remotely—perfect for DJs who are new at it.
“This outbreak is causing so much isolation, that we want to make it as easy as possible to connect with other people online, in the best way,” said Dundee. “Streaming is now a commodity, a way to earn a living, and we want to offer our experience in this way to help.”
“When everyone started streaming on Facebook and other sites, we knew that there would be huge differences in quality, in terms of the sound, the lighting, and other things you only know from doing it a hundred times,” said Dor. “Many people are dealing with this technology for the first time, so we want to help bring everyone up to a similar level.”
To this end, Fault is also offering “Stream-Kits” to be delivered to DJs’ homes, with everything they need to set up and stream. (Fault Radio archives and promotes the stream on their site, as well as their Soundcloud and Youtube.) “The box has various equipment inside to upgrade your streaming—maybe even something alcoholic,” Dor laughs. “When you receive it, we can hop on a video call with you and help you through the process. We just announced this, and already we’ve had interest from people in London, Budapest, Istanbul…”
But their heart remains with the locals. “Even with every one on lockdown, there’s still things happening. There’s still a scene,” Dundee said. “Now the biggest challenges that we’re dealing with is, you’re feeling very isolated from your community. Even if you are documenting yourself, it feels isolated. This is our way to make the music scene still feel alive.”
“I don’t even know anybody who has been able to handle this.”
Entertainers and performers have been devastated by the coronavirus and the subsequent ban on events of more than 100 people, which went into effect Friday evening.
And with the governor’s declaration today closing all bars and clubs, the situation will just get worse.
DJ Jimmy Love, founder of SF-based production and dance company Non-Stop Bhangra, has had to postpone a music festival in Fresno which was supposed to be happening at the time of the writing. Love is unsure if the festival will ever take place.
“We had 78-100 people staffed, food trucks, a staging company, full dance company, and we sunk a lot of marketing money into it … we moved it to a day next month and we’re still not sure it’s gonna happen,” said Love.
Love explained that the postponement of the festival is potentially catastrophic for DJs and performers who were booked.
“We spend a lot of time planning, and then we get to this one payday. [As a performer], you don’t make a lot of money from December to February, and March and April are our payday, you get paid for all the work you put in dancing, rehearsing. This is our key season,” said Love.
Beyond the festival, Love has lost nearly all his business due to the coronavirus. Since Wednesday, Non-Stop Bhangra has had seven high-value corporate events cancel, resulting in a sudden loss of $15,000 in expected revenue.
Love said he believes the situation for the entertainment industry, especially for smaller venues, will be dire in the coming months due to the coronavirus.
“I don’t know any small venues that can handle three to four months of paying rent with no sales,” he said. “We might not have clubs to come back to. This could be completely the end of our business. By then you’d better start some other kind of business, otherwise I don’t see how else you’ll get by.”
For Dan Karkoska, who produces Puff, which he described as a “queer cannabis drag party,” things are up in the air.
“We’re in a state of waiting, everyone’s scared,” said Karkoska. “For us it’s financial, how long is this going to go for? I have a month, if I have to,” said Karkoska.
On Wednesday, the day before I spoke with Karkoska, he had expected to have 14 performers at the Puff show at The Stud, San Francisco’s oldest gay bar, but only seven showed up, and turnout was a paltry ten people, about a tenth of what the show usually gets.
Despite the low turnout, Karkoska was grateful that the show was able to happen.
“Last night’s show was fun, good to get everyone out, I think that’s the scary thing is staying away, it’s a human nature thing to come together when we’re scared,” said Karkoska.
To make ends meet during these trying times, Karkoska plans to sell things from his house on eBay and hopes that there will be government assistance for performers who are out of work.
Rasa Vitalia, a professional dancer, singer, percussionist and caricature artist, said times ahead look bleak as well.
“I don’t have any backup solutions… I just have to surrender to what’s happening, there’s no creative solution,” said Vitalia.
Vitalia has had all her events for March, April, and May cancel, and is scrambling for a plan to earn income during what is normally a busy time for her business.
“I’m hoping my May events happen, but if not, I don’t know what to do,” said Vitalia. “I have like $10 left. I’ve been looking for other employment, trying to teach online dance, do online caricatures for people,” said Vitalia.
The situation for performers is worsening in real-time. Even as I was speaking with Vitalia, a Saturday gig where she was going to perform cancelled at 1:30pm Friday. Another artist and drag queen I spoke with on Saturday, Jordan Sunshine, showed me a screenshot of a Facebook message telling her that an event where she was booked to perform had been cancelled. The message was timestamped 3:30pm, about one hour after I spoke with her over the phone.
Sunshine has had 18 events cancel on them because they would draw more than 250 people, including the Palace of Trash drag show, which normally has 300-600 attendees and was scheduled to occur on her birthday.
“No birthday drag show for me,” said Sunshine.
Sunshine, like many performers, holds another job to make ends meet and has also been affected by the gatherings ban and social distancing. In addition to working as a drag queen, Sunshine works in visual design at Living Green Design, where she builds artwork out of plants for events. According to Sunshine all the events where they were scheduled to work have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.
Karkoska works as an usher at the Curran Theater for the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. All shows have been cancelled, erasing all Karkoska’s expected income from that job. All of the performers I spoke to said that they have other friends with side jobs, such as driving Lyft or playing piano at high school musicals or events, and have lost that much-needed income due to the closure of schools or the practice of social distancing due to the coronavirus.
As their income channels have been shut off, Sunshine, Vitalia, and Karkoska are all moving toward performing online to make ends meet.
Karkoska streamed the Puff show where Jordan Sunshine performed live from The Stud Thursday night, and had 800 people tuning in, and got two small donations during the streaming. He intends to look into streaming more drag shows and having attendees tip electronically, possibly through Venmo or Paypal.
“We’re fighters, we’re doing online drag shows and doing online streaming, Other queens are looking at starting Youtube shows, I’m hoping to get my shows digitally produced,” said Vitalia.
Sunshine told me that many performers are moving to Ubereats, Caviar, Doordash, because “the only way to make it in the gig economy is to deliver food to people staying home” as the coronavirus continues to spread.
Although the present situation for performers in the wake of the coronavirus is dire, many are still trying to remain positive.
“Money’s great, but if we can make the world feel better, that’s our next and ultimate goal,” said Sunshine.
“I hope that if people are looking for some alleviation from this crisis, and [that] they will invest in entertainment, and perhaps supporting the arts online is good for everyone,” said Vitalia.
If you want to help support artists and performers in the Bay Area affected by the coronavirus, you can donate to a GoFundMe campaign arranged by performers from Puff, where they are gathering funds to support each other. Donate here.
You can also contact legislators and demand financial assistance for affected artists. A SF-based drag queen, Polly Amber Ross, has posted a script on Facebook.
“We’re gonna have to forge a whole new now,” said Karkoska.
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.