Diving Into SoMa/Folsom: Club Life..."Hit me with your Rhythm Stick!”

By Will Seagers

 

Hi folks! Will here. Today's stroll back through memory lane will put a little bounce in your step - it's time to look back at some of the famous and infamous dance clubs in our "Dive" into Soma/Folsom history!

Although the South of Market area hosted some of the biggest and most popular discos and dance clubs like Trocadero Transfer, Dreamland and The End Up, it would not be fair to the history of San Francisco not to mention some of the clubs that started the whole phenomenon. The City, Dance Your Ass Off, Bones, and The I Beam come to mind... just to name a few. These were some fantastic dance venues in other parts of town back in the day.

 

Dance Your Ass Off button (L); I Beam sign (R)

Dance Your Ass Off button (L); I Beam sign (R)

 

Just off Folsom and down the street from Hamburger Mary's and The Stud was The Oasis. This bar with its unique swimming pool made for an exotic backdrop for the equally exotic and talented Timmy Rivers, its first DJ. Timmy was famous for his very sophisticated taste in music as well as legendary mixing skill. Still open and featuring great drag and cabaret, it has weathered several decades in SoMa!

 

 

Oasis SF, present era

Oasis SF, present era

 

Although huge in popularity, The End Up was a modestly sized venue located at 6th and Harrison that was opened in 1973. You could always count on great music from DJ talents like George Ferren (listen to his current music here), Steve Fabus and Peter Struvy - just to name a few. Although it had its own attraction for the late night/early morning crowd, it became an infamous after hours club catching the "still wired" revelers from Trocadero and Dreamland - which closed at 2 AM. The DJs took full advantage of this crowd and played amazing classics as well as breaking a lot of hot new tunes. Yours truly had the privilege (albeit sort of brief) of being one of their sound techs. Together with Tom Junnell in the late 80s, we revitalized the sound system with state of the art JBL Cabaret series speakers and some vital new electronics. It seemed that the DJs and the dancers noticed and responded with joy! This was truly one of San Francisco's one of a kind experiences.

 

End Up ads including a flyer for its 8th Anniversary party (1981) featuring Steve Fabus with producer George Ferren

End Up ads

 

Now on to the big time... Trocadero Transfer! Built in 1977, it was owned and created by Dick Collier of Baltimore. This club broke new ground in terms of size and sound. Graebar Sound was brought in from NYC. Peter Spar and Barry Lederer of Graebar brought to the table the kind of sound found in 12 West and Fire Island Pines' Sandpiper and John Whyte's Boatel (the home of the original Tea Dance), just to name a few. The hardwood dancefloor was vast and specially built as not to fatigue the dancers through the long nights. After a parade of talent made its way up those steps of the mirrored pyramid (the DJ booth), a young man originally from Masapequa, Long Island made his way up those steps to be one of the most famed DJs in the country: Bobby Viteritti. He was a massive success for the club and had an immense following. And, it gave rise for yet another Goliath – Dreamland.

 

Trocadero Transfer ad (L); Will Seagers' Dreamland membership card (R)

Trocadero Transfer ad (L); Will Seagers' Dreamland membership card (R)

 

Dreamland! Born in the late 70s (circa 1979), was the "dream" and creation of Michael Maier, formerly of Cincinnati. I had the pleasure of meeting and having a rather torrid affair with Michael during the summer of 1978. We both worked on Fire Island. He worked for The Sandpiper and I worked for the Boatel. After work we would go out dancing in our "neighborhood bar," The Sandpiper. The music was always great - with the likes of Robbie Leslie, Richie Rivera, and many of the other top name NYC DJs. A funny thing... we both liked to play tambourines to the music... even while dancing. It was not uncommon back in the late 70s to bring a percussion instrument onto the dance floor. Michael surprised me by moving to San Francisco that next fall.

As for the "birth" of Dreamland... some of it happened right in my little 10th St. San Francisco apartment as I mentioned in a prior blog. Blueprints were unfurled right on my coffee table and investors were invited to get this ball rolling. So, just months later with yet another Graebar sound system and another specially engineered vast hardwood dancefloor installed, the doors were ready to welcome the dancers and night life of San Francisco. I was among its first employees. With the talented Roy Shapiro we did the light show.

Opening night was memorable. The immense four foot diameter mirror ball was lowered to the floor in a non-spinning mode. Opening night's DJ was Vincent Carleo - of Flamingo (NYC) fame. As patrons filtered in, he started with "The Land of Make Believe" by Chuck Mangione and that enormous mirror ball started to spin and raise into the heavens. This tasteful start was followed by lots of the very urban and gutsy music that Vincent was known for. Dreamland was a hit!

 

Mirror ball

 

My DJ debut took place at Dreamland. It was the Tea Dance of Easter Sunday 1980. Having played lights there and being an integral part of the "family," both Michael and Roy learned of my budding taped music career. After hearing my tapes, they decided it was time to move off the lights and onto The Wheels of Steel! It was a marvelous event attended by lots of friends and fellow DJs. I was scared to death... but rose to the occasion with tons of familiar tunes. The roar of the dance floor kept me going!

I started off by mentioning there were too many wonderful places all over San Francisco to list all of them. My co-author, Josh, and I will do our best to do highlights for you! Life is a Dance!


 

Bio of Will Seagers:

Will Seagers (also credited as Matt Harper), within his multifaceted careers and participation in numerous gay communities across the country in the '70s and '80s and beyond, worked as a print model, film performer, and DJ, just to name a few. He made iconic appearances in releases from Falcon, Hand in Hand, Joe Gage, Target (Bullet), J. Brian, Steve Scott, and more, including in lead roles in major classics like Gage's L.A. Tool & Die (1979) and Scott's Wanted (1980). He brought strong screen presence and exceptional acting to his roles and was scene partners with many fellow legends of classic porn.

George Ferren, a close friend of Will's frequently mentioned in his blogs, was a major figure in the San Francisco music scene in the '70s/'80s. His current music is available for your pleasure on Soundcloud: BY GEORGE

 

Will Seagers, present day image

 


You can read Will Seagers' previous blogs for Bijou here:
Welcome Matt/Will
What's For Dessert?
On and Off the Set of L.A. Tool & Die
Wanted, Weekend Lockup and Weekends in Hermosa Beach
Honeymoon in the Palms
Birds of a Feather
The Stereo Maven of Castro Street
The Pass Around Boy
The Ecstasy and the Agony
Fitness and Fantasy: The Early Gyms
Chasing the Boys and Chasing the Sun: My Story of Sun Worship and Where It Got Me
Becoming Invisible
The Reverse Story of Dorian Gray
Pin Money
One Organ Leads to Another! Part 1
The Wheels of Steel
Feast and Famine: The 1970s to the 1980s
An Alphabet Soup of Powders and Pills
Merry Christmas (and Getting Re-Organized)
Now and Then
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Badlands
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: Moby Dick Bar
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: "Just Another Stroll Down the Castro!"
Diving Into SoMa/Folsom: Hamburger Mary's
Diving Into SoMa/Folsom: Long Live the Stud!

 

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DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Midnight Sun

By Josh Eliot

 

My roommates and I lived at 19th and Castro for many years starting in 1984 when I was 22. The neighborhood had everything we needed. Between Market and 18th, just across from the Castro Theatre, was Marcello’s Pizza where they sell pizza by the slice to a non-stop line from opening to closing time. Two doors down was Louie’s Barber Shop which was always filled with guys checking each other out while they waited for their haircuts. Every three weeks or so I plopped my ass in one of those chairs for a crew cut on the sides while keeping it a bit longer on top, with spiking gel. While I changed my haircut over the years, it always seemed to revert back to that same look.

 

Louie's Barber Shop and Marcello's Pizza

Louie's Barber Shop and Marcello's Pizza

 

Donuts 24 was on the corner of 18th and Castro and was the place to cruise for your last chance hook-up after all the bars let out at 2am. For those truly too horned up to go home, a block away was Collingwood Park which was basically a baseball field with some extra land. Men would line up along the chain link fence, cruising the passersby and sometimes jumping into whatever random car might pull up. It was all a bit dark, murky and desperate, but my roomies and I would end up there from time to time.

 

Donuts 24 and the Patio Cafe

Donuts 24 and the Patio Cafe

 

The infamous Elephant Walk bar was kitty corner from Donuts 24 and became notorious as the place the cops came to when they exacted their revenge for the gays setting City Hall ablaze after the Dan White verdict. Police descended onto the Castro and the Elephant Walk, violently striking the bar patrons who were already filled with complete fury and disdain for the police state and justice system. The gays fought back and set police cars on fire. By the end of the night, dozens of police cars were set ablaze and 20 people were arrested.

We cooked at home a lot, but when we were too lazy we could pop across the street from our flat to the Canton Bistro for Chinese takeout. My roommates were: Alvonne, a student at San Francisco State University, Paul, a waiter at the Patio Café on Castro, and Brian, who did odd jobs like mover, waiter, bar back and call boy, advertising in local gay classified ads. We spent a lot of time at the Patio Café which had an incredible outdoor setting and a great cheap meal, because Paul would leave most of our ordered items off the bill. My aunt and uncle visited once with my parents so we took them there for lunch. Eating at the table right next to us was porn star Rick Donovan, with his sister I think. The café was buzzing about it so my aunt took the opportunity to swipe the ashtray and salt and pepper shakers while everyone else was transfixed on Donovan. The four of us were inseparable and, because we were in our early 20s, we related mostly to the Midnight Sun Video Bar as our top choice for a local hangout.

 

Josh with Castro Street roommates Alvonne, Brian and Paul

Josh with Castro Street roommates Alvonne, Brian and Paul

 

The Midnight Sun was a new concept at the time born from the new and exciting MTV generation. We were there for milestone moments like when Madonna rolled around on the floor while performing "Like a Virgin" at the MTV Awards, gathering anxiously to see premieres of videos from The Talking Heads, The Bangles, Bananarama, The Go-Go’s, Psychedelic Furs, Human League and Queen’s “I Want To Break Free.” Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry was tripping my trigger in those days, especially the Avalon album. There was a waiter friend of Paul’s at The Patio Café who was a dead ringer for a young Bryan Ferry. I tried every trick in the book to peak his interest, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

The Sun was not a place to necessarily brush up on your cruising skills, but more of a gay social scene where we all could form comradery with complete strangers who appreciate music and visuals on the big screen. Charging only $1.75 for a Seagram’s 7 and 7up and $1.25 for Budweisers, the small space was a gold mine for the owners. Literally a standing room only place with ledges for sitting along the side and back wall.

 

The Midnight Sun

The Midnight Sun

 

Wednesday Night was Dynasty night and you needed to get there at least 45 minutes before the show started or you would be stuck outside in line, not getting in until after the show - if you were lucky. Watching Crystal push Alexis into the lily pond for the very first time was the ultimate high. Everyone went wild! I remember seeing the episode on Halloween in 1984 where Alexis is put in jail, after which we hit the packed streets of Castro to take part in all the costumed madness! Dedicated fans didn’t miss a beat as we saw several drag groups with their “Free Alexis” banners! I guess it wasn’t only the Castro that was clicking with Dynasty’s theme that night. You know, I like to rummage through my spouse’s photos (as you might have read in my blog “Is That Al Parker In Your Photo?”) and, lo and behold, there he and his friends were, that same night in West Hollywood… dressed in drag and carrying “Free Alexis” signs!

 

Free Alexis Halloween costumes after Dynasty viewing

Free Alexis Halloween costumes after Dynasty viewing

 

The Midnight Sun’s VJ followed the crowd pleaser cues from the Dynasty clips and regularly showed classic fight scenes. I remember one in particular from The Turning Point with Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, fighting and pulling each other’s hair on a rooftop! Anne Bancroft’s real name was Anna Maria Italiano and she was cousin to my spouse’s father. Unfortunately I never got to meet her!

The Midnight Sun is still going strong to this day but is now featuring a diverse weekly line-up including: drag shows, go-go boys, karaoke, throwback hits with 2 for 1 drinks and Latinx Thursday Nights. Next time you're in San Francisco, pay them a visit If you find yourself on the corner of 18th and Castro looking for some good clean fun.

 

Midnight Sun current lineup and interior

Midnight Sun current lineup and interior

 

Previous blogs in DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO series:
The Castro Theatre - Josh Eliot
The Badlands - Will Seagers

 

Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002. 

 

You can read Josh Eliot's previous blogs for Bijou here:

Coming out of my WET SHORTS
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment
That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!
The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor
(Un)Easy Riders
7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER
Super NOVA
Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?
Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?
DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake
We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?
Don't Wear "Short Shorts" on the #38 Geary to LANDS END
How Straight Are You Really?
BEHIND THE (not so) GREEN DOOR
The BOOM BOOM Room
CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone
Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD
SCANDAL at the Coral Sands Motel
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre

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The Legendary Baton Lounge: Just a Few Steps Away

posted by Madame Bubby

Jim Flint in the Baton Show Lounge

A friend of mine sent me a link to a news item: the legendary Baton Lounge, long a fixture of the LGBTQ community in Chicago, has moved after 50 years in the same location. The entertainment venue, which has featured over the years so many famous drag queens (Chili Pepper, see below, was one of my favorites), had been located in what is now called the River North area. But, according to the news source, rents escalated, and Jim Flint decided to make the move north. And even north of the established Boystown, in the growing gayborhood of Uptown (and walking distance from my abode).
 

Family cast
Chili Pepper

Baton Lounge performers
Baton Lounge performers

Jim Flint
Jim Flint

What is significant here is Flint did not decide to just close up shop. Apparently the venue is still thriving; the entertainment he provides has not gone by the wayside like the great gay adult theaters (Bijou at the top of the list) or the bathhouses (only one is left in Chicago with the closing of Man’s Country).
 

Bijou Theater sign

It’s obvious Flint is not providing a venue of public sex or pornography in the stricter sense; he’s putting on live theater which does not focus on a naked porn star jacking off. Yet, remember, the Bijou used to do and was doing again broader forms of entertainment, rethinking the purpose and audience of the space, before its closure in 2015.

And drag is of course in the global spotlight. Hello, RuPaul (who actually appeared at the Baton). And whether one thinks this fact is unfortunate or not, a drag show is straight-friendly. It has been for some time. Think Victor/Victoria, which of course makes the illusion even more complicated. And that illusion was the basis of theatre for so many years. Women could not appear on the stage respectably in the West until the eighteenth century. The Greek tragedies and the plays of Shakespeare relied on men playing the women’s parts.

(I can’t imagine the Baton putting on a performance of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, though. It doesn’t lend itself well to parody or even camp, though one line in the play, “The queen is falling,” might get a laugh.)

And speaking of straight-friendly, I know someone whose date took her there on the first date. Now, both of us had met her date at a wine-tasting event, and we could not tell who he was attracted to. Still, it seems an odd, or rather, ambiguous, place for an ostensibly straight guy to take a straight woman on a first date, however original and exciting the venue. There was no second date. Que sera.

I was taken to the place on my birthday. I was not sure if that was a straight person’s “safe” idea of gay entertainment (the person who planned the event), but several persons from the office went (not all gay). I did enjoy receiving some attention from Chili Pepper, who was dressed up in some fabulous 1960s retro outfit (kind of a dress with a jacket with white buttons and trim). The host did not believe I was 28 (I wasn’t that young; so much for illusion).

Flint’s new location is in a beautiful building with a deco feel, perhaps an architectural landmark. Much of the area around it is either abandoned, waiting for or in the process of bland gentrification, perhaps diluting some of the illusion or edginess that feeds into that illusion.
 

Baton old and new locations
Baton old and new locations

Still, it’s not far from the legendary Green Mill cocktail lounge, and the Uptown Theater is in the process of renovation, or, more accurately, retrovation. That’s the paradox: idealizing and revisioning the past in a time when daylight too often intrudes upon magic and everyone thinks they are a star shining on the screen of a smartphone.

May the magical stars of the Baton reign for another 50 years.

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