DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Badlands

By Will Seagers

 

I am very excited to begin this new series with my co-author Josh Eliot. Readers of the Bijou blogs should be quite familiar with Josh's excellent writing style and accounts of gay history past. This new series will be delving into various neighborhoods in San Francisco during the 1980s. Our first look will be in the Castro... a perfect place to start!

My knowledge of The Badlands and its sister bar The Phoenix will be coming from the perspective of a DJ. That was my job in both of these bars. It would not have been right to skip over the Phoenix, as that was actually the first of three bars that I played in the Castro. Also, in its original iteration known as Toad Hall, it was one of the most famous and history rich spots in the district. Many a famous face (and body) waltzed in and out of its doors during the heydays of the mid 70s. People such as Al Parker appeared there frequently. You never knew who you were going to bump into. But, you were always guaranteed a good time!

 

Toad Hall exterior and advertisements, 1970s

Toad Hall exterior and advertisements, 1970s

 

After my brief but pleasant stint playing at Dreamland, I realized that I was not cut out for playing the very long hours that were required. My hat is off to those who could play those sometimes twelve-hour shifts! Luckily I had been approached by the manager of the Phoenix and Badlands who asked me if I would be interested in playing. Without hesitation I said yes and soon started at the Phoenix.

This was a very different kind of place for me. It was a Castro St. bar with a very regular and dedicated clientele. They seemed to take to my eclectic mix of R&B, disco and jazz. My only complaint about the bar was the booth. It was more like an aerie! One had to climb what appeared to be a ladder straight up the wall and enter the booth through the floor. Bringing up crates of records... well, you can imagine what that was like! The view and the sound were great. But, you certainly had to put on a long song if you wanted to take a pee break! Lol. My tenure at the Phoenix was only a few months, as I was suddenly moved "across the street" to The Badlands!

But before leaving the Phoenix, I need to mention a neighborhood spot just two doors down on the corner of Castro and 18th: the Star Pharmacy with its celebrity Jackie “Star.” She was loved by everyone in the neighborhood.

 

Star Pharmacy

Star Pharmacy

 

Moving on, one afternoon the manager of both bars, Ben, came into the Phoenix to ask me if I wanted to play at The Badlands. Once again without hesitation I said yes. I was pleased to find out that he had become a fan of my music and thought it would be an even better fit at The Badlands. I guess I should also mention that this move had something to do with my popularity in L.A. Tool & Die! The booth in The Badlands was in the back of the bar but was visible to most of the clientele. It was shortly after this that I met the owner of both bars, Ron Holmes. Ron was always very quiet and a bit shy. He seemed to like me and always treated me with respect. When I least expected it, I would find him in the back of the booth smiling and enjoying the music. Sometimes it actually startled me!

 

L.A. Tool & Die poster

L.A. Tool & Die poster

 

This was a great job and a great house to play. I remained there for four years! At first, it was a bit daunting in that some of the very best DJs in the city played there: Timmy Rivers, Johnny Hedges and my very dear friend Jorge Martinez (who formerly played at the Boom Boom Room as discussed in one of Josh's previous blogs). For the first few weeks I followed Timmy Rivers' "Church." Timmy did an amazing and soulful mix on Sunday afternoons that got the whole bar swaying! I would come in at 8PM to relieve him and continue until we closed at 2AM. My biggest challenge and goal was to seamlessly blend into his last record and keep the feeling he had created intact for as long as possible. After a bit, I would segue into something more energetic with my signature thumping bass line! After about a month or so, I was given Saturday nights. These were my most cherished memories of being a DJ. I loved to take the room on a trip by taking popular tunes and building momentum to a point that the crowd would scream with joy when a new peak was hit during the night. One of my fondest memories/compliments was when a patron came to the booth with a shot for me and told me that my music made him feel like he was on cocaine! Their only complaint was that they could not dance... it was a stand up bar!

It was a treat and a privilege to have worked with the great and sexy bar staff that that provided the drinks and visuals that made this bar a legend. Its iconic cedar shake interior with license plates from all states and years adorned the walls. Most iconic were the "do not" placards. They resembled stick figures in various positions. Two of my favorites were the figure holding a pot to his mouth and a red circle and a line through it indicating - no pot smoking. The other was in one of the two men's rooms - the open men's bathroom. It had a bathtub AND a trough style urinal! This sign had two stick figures - one kneeling in front of another with the red circle and red line running through it. (I let you figure out what that one meant! Lol.) Regardless of the signs, hot little incidents would have to broken up from time to time. Men will be men! I look back at all of this and think "what a great time to have been alive!"

 

Badlands bar in its later era

Badlands bar (1975 - 2020) in its later incarnation

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

 

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

 

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