Diving Into SoMa/Folsom: Hamburger Mary's

By Will Seagers
 
Original Hamburger Mary's exterior

Original Hamburger Mary's, SF

 

Where do I begin with telling the tales and memories of this iconic Folsom area locale?

First, I'll do my best to recount my presence and involvement at Hamburger Mary's. And, it is going to come from a very personal standpoint... I literally "lived there" for most of my thirteen-year relationship with my first partner Tom Beebe. He was one of the "original family" that started this restaurant back in 1972.

 

Tommy in leather jacket

Tom Beebe

 

My first and sort of vague recollection of the place was having one of their legendary hamburgers after a night out prowling around the Folsom/SoMa area and its countless bars. This, by the way, was just before meeting Tommy. So, my view of the place was detached. Nonetheless, I was fully awestruck! Upon entering, I immediately felt like I was on the set of an Andy Warhol or John Waters movie. In the well-orchestrated chaos of the place was a waitstaff of latter day hippies, drag queens and some of the most colorful people (in a very colorful town!). All offered a friendly and slightly crazed welcoming feel!

 

Patron hanging out in original Hamburger Mary's doorway

Hamburger Mary's

 

Keep in mind this was late 1976. So, Baghdad by the Bay was in full swing in terms of wild sexuality and frivolity. What I was wearing I thought was a propos for the area and the night (leather - vest and chaps)... It turned out I was too tame. I wore 501s under the chaps! LOL. Hanging out at Sissy's Saloon (the bar connected and to the right of the restaurant proper) were all sorts of barely clad men and women - the men NOT wearing the 501s that I had just mentioned! And, it did not turn a single head! It was just standard operating dress at this time.

One of the cornerstones of the place was the food... always predictably good! From the legendary hamburgers (meatless to meaty) to scores of salads and homemade soups. Remember, this was also a representation of left-over hippie macrobiotic and vegetarian fare! Speaking of soup... the young lady who first started at 18 as one one the "soup crafters," Rose, went on to become manager and owner of this enterprise. She and Tommy were very close and remained friends for years.

One of the other cornerstones was the eccentricity of the appearance of the restaurant, itself. The walls were plastered with lots of local art and photos. One photo of note was of my Tommy's butt in 501s with a waiter's order pad in a back pocket that said "Thank You!" The tables were doors from Victorian homes of late. No two chairs in the pace matched... nor did the "china." And, one of my favorite touches was the milk or half & half placed on each table in a glass baby bottle complete with a nipped off nipple for easy dispensing. Another part that I really enjoyed were all of the exotic plants around the place. The legendary "Artista" took care of them and supplied the place with her artwork, as well. There was never any one star in either the staff or the guests... it was a collective! 

How I met Tommy:
Little did I know that he was a big porn fan of mine until his arrival in December of 1976 at Trinity Place. I was offered a job there by Chuck Holmes (of Falcon fame) back on Fire Island at the end of the 1976 Summer. I accepted the job and gleefully moved to San Francisco with a troop of other folks from Fire Island.

So back to Trinity Place:
In walks Tommy with his close friend Chrysler and they prop themselves up prominently at the bar. He was the cutest guy with the most dazzling brown eyes and smile. He orders up and, upon paying for the drinks, lays out a beautiful fine gold chain (along with a whopping tip!). At the end of his stay he invited me to come see where he "worked!" Later on that day we made our way down to Hamburger Mary's!

 

Will and Tommy

Will and Tommy (L), Tommy (R)

 

I could easily write a porn script around the first night we spent together. Suffice it to say, it was hotter than hot... I remember tearing off his clothes and tossing them on a coffee table. Under the glass top of this coffee table was a recent centerfold of me. (Who says "You Can't Always Get What You Want"!?) Within a month or so we were living together in our little "Mouse Palace" apartment on 10th St. near Howard. We remained there for thirteen years in the SoMa neighborhood well before it became chic. BTW, this was the Hamburger Mary's house... employees lived in four of the twelve apartments, including the Super of the building, Gregory. He is pictured below with his legendary red ponytail. That building was a hoot!

 

Painting of original Hamburger Mary's exterior

Painting of orignal Hamburger Mary's (Gregory in doorway)

 

Also, "Mary's" was know for music. Their DJ booth was at the end of the bar just before a small game room. The two DJs were Tess, whose fare was classic rock, and Lee, whose forte was disco and new wave music. Every once in a while I would venture into the booth and play a mini-set. They both encouraged me to enter into the music world. I started my musical life soon after. My main musical attachment to Mary's was being their sound tech. Although the system sounded good with its JBL speakers and McIntosh tube amps, the playing console needed an update. With my connections in N.Y., I brought in a UREI mixer, Technics Quartz Lock turntables and Stanton cartridges. The sound system really popped and my DJ friends appreciated the new detail in the audio. While doing Mary's sound I was invited by Jimmy, the manager of The Stud (just across the street) to come and be their sound guy.

This is where I part from Mary's. Next episode will center on The Stud whose fame and history spanned not only the decades but two locations!

 

Exterior of The Stud, SF

The Stud, SF

Bio of Will Seagers:

Will Seagers (also credited as Matt Harper), within his multifaceted career and participation in numerous gay communities across the country in the '70s and '80s and beyond, worked as a print model and film performer. 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.

 

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!"

 

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DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre

By Josh Eliot

 

“Deep Inside” is a series in four parts that Will Seagers and myself are writing. The first in the series focuses on San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, where Will and I both spent a lot of time during the 1980’s. Although Will Seagers and I have never met formally, I am convinced that he sold me my first VCR at Eber Electronics in 1984. I can’t say for sure, but that photo of him at Eber’s from his blog “The Stereo Maven of Castro Street” convinced me, because he looked very familiar. After purchasing the VCR on a payment plan I remember running across Market Street to Captain Video to rent a couple of VHS tapes, most likely a horror movie and a porn.

In 1984 my friends and I were incredibly lucky when we found and rented our flat at 629 Castro Street. It had three bedrooms, was located just above the corner of 19th and we paid $750 per month. Our landlord Marlene got sole ownership of the three level building and a nearby house in her divorce settlement. Our unit was located on the middle floor with an artist (painter) and his roommate above, and a leather couple below. The neighborhood had so much to offer with bars and restaurants on every block. 18th and Castro was the main intersection; to the right was your coin-operated laundry and Cala Foods Supermarket, to the left was The Midnight Sun video bar and Moby Dick (where Will Seagers was known to DJ).

 

Will Seagers and Eber Electronics

Will Seagers and Eber Electronics

 

Near the Corner of Castro and Market Street was The Castro Theatre, which is my focus for this blog as it was truly the heart and soul of the neighborhood. This landmark represented a place where the gay community could come together and show appreciation for their favorite films and icons. They hosted premieres like Milk, the story of Harvey Milk, and more recently The Matrix Resurrections, complete with cast and crew appearances. There was a constant array of new releases as well as classics that were shown, providing quite a wide variety of constant entertainment for the neighborhood. Inside this majestic palace the architecture was astounding and much was coated in gold leaf. There was a balcony, of course, and the main level consisted of three sections, the right side being the “smoking area.”

 

Milk and The Matrix Resurrections premieres at The Castro

Milk and The Matrix Resurrections premieres at The Castro

 

Suddenly Last Summer was the first movie I saw there. I was surprised and delighted when, prior to the beginning of the movie, the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ rose from the floor on a platform. The sound quality was amazing and when the player finished his performance with the song “San Francisco” (open your golden gate) the crowd sang along from the top of their lungs. What was this place? This experience was already so much more than just going to a movie house. Suddenly Last Summer was my first “real” introduction to Montgomery Clift and Katharine Hepburn, but it was Elizabeth Taylor with her 22” waist and pointy bra that stole the movie for me. I’d only ever seen her in films like Night Watch where she was, what?, late forties? Well in Suddenly she looked stunning from the moment she graced the screen in her insane asylum uniform. Even though the gay undertones in the movie were “way over my head,” just being in the packed house with a mostly gay audience was a thrill. The place exploded in applause when the real nut, Katharine Hepburn, rode up the private elevator in her gothic mansion at the movie's end. I’m sure they could hear the cheers and applause down the block!

 

Suddenly Last Summer and the Castro Theatre interior

Suddenly Last Summer and the Castro Theatre interior

 

There was always something going on at the Castro Theatre. We saw the premiere of Lust in the Dust with Divine and Lanie Kazan, and though the audience was every excited, the movie was a bit disappointing as we really expected a John Waters classic, but he didn’t direct it, Paul Bartel did. Joan Collins came there in person for An Evening with Joan Collins, a live on stage interactive event. I’m not sure if she was pushing a book or just riding the Dynasty wave, but it was incredible and we all thought that her head looked too big for her body. When her car drove off after the event, the street was so packed with queens screaming her name and banging on her car it could barely move down the road.

I even sat through four consecutive nights of Berlin Alexanderplatz (A 15 ½ hour , 14-part West German crime television miniseries, set in 1920s Berlin and adapted and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder) with Fritz, my boyfriend at the time (though he never admitted it). I thought he would see how invested I was in our relationship by showing my commitment to his viewing choices, since none of his other friends would sit through 15 hours with him. It didn’t really work, as you might have read in my recent blog, “Everybody’s Free To Feel Good.” I actually was blown away by Fassbinder’s work and became a fan, seeing a lot of his movies.

The best time ever was seeing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, it would play there a few times a year and we would always go again and again and again. All those classic lines, which of course the audience all knew and yelled out! And that face, those Bette Davis eyes surrounded by all that white make-up on that giant screen! Nothing could beat that movie with a live audience!

 

Lust in the Dust, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane & Berlin Alexanderplatz

Lust in the Dust, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane & Berlin Alexanderplatz

 

Today I just so happened to go to the Castro Theatre’s website to see if they are still going strong and I am happy to report that they are! It looks like APE (Another Planet Entertainment) was chosen to partner with the owners of the Castro Theatre to implement significant improvements to the sound, lighting, customer and artist experience. They acknowledge the Castro Theatre is an icon of the LGBTQ+ community and a treasured space for film, music and live performance. It looks like they’ve got An Evening with Elliott Gould, a screening of A Mighty Wind (got to love Catherine O’Hara and Parker Posey!) and a performance by Shangela, made famous from RuPaul's Drag Race. The diverse schedule of events is in full swing. It’s great to see some things never change, they only get better!

 

 

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

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