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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At the Adonis

posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Adonis Theater, NYC
The Adonis Theater (photo source: back2stonewall)

The history of the popular 1970s/1980s gay porn theater, the Adonis Theater - the setting and subject of the classic Hand in Hand Films release A Night at the Adonis (Jack Deveau, 1978) - is discussed in an article we recently came across at back2stonewall. The article states that the Adonis Theater was originally built as the Tivoli Theater in 1921. Initially a vaudeville house, it then became a movie theater before its final incarnation as a porn theater/cruising palace. The Adonis was such a hot venue in the 1970s that, the article states, “it was hard to find a seat... but that was all that was hard to find. Patrons would literally avoid the seats under the balcony's edge at busy times for fear of being showered with semen from high above.”
 

Adonis Theater interior
Adonis Theater interior (photo source: back2stonewall)

Adonis Theater balcony
Adonis Theater interior

Deveau's film (which Bijou is excited to announce that we are currently finishing re-restoring for a new and improved re-release next week) is an incredibly well-made, hot, entertaining, and historically intriguing look at this venue. The film does an excellent job capturing - in attractive photography that roams the building as it follows its ensemble cast - the physical layout of the space and the atmosphere created there, as well as featuring the theater's actual staff (their real ticket taker appears in the film in a memorable cameo) and detailing its cruising and sex rituals.
 

A Night at the Adonis poster
Adonis Theater sign in A Night at the Adonis
Adonis Theater ticket taker in A Night at the Adonis
Queue of men waiting to get into the theater in A Night at the Adonis
Men cruising on the balcony in A Night at the Adonis
Theatergoers and staff in A Night at the Adonis

An insightful IMDb review points to some other notable ways the film illustrates some of the nuances of New York City gay culture in the 1970s. Characters bump into each other and have roundabout connections at this particular night at the Adonis, and, through this, the film deals with “both the very local, small-town 'everyone knows everyone else' nature of the then queer community and the odd coincidences and synchronicities that can happen when cruising takes place.”

One of the lead characters (played by hunky Malo, of porn and mainstream film), passes up a pick up attempt by his boss (porn superstar Jack Wrangler) with the intention of staying home to read a hefty volume, Gay American History, but, as this review says, the book only “tells him tales of sodomites of fallen times who were persecuted, tortured, and murdered by the state; Malo's subsequent visit to the Adonis makes a new kind of American gay history, which is... itself a vanished, historical past now."
 

Malo during the filming of A Night at the Adonis
Malo during the filming of A Night at the Adonis

The review points out that Deveau's film manages to “communicate the ways in which human beings locate themselves in history and space, therein creating themselves through a shared culture” and how an ambitious new employee character embodies “a bit of a prophesy of the future, wherein gay normative self-images in the West will be shaped by business-studies kids out to make bucks from the new gay communities.”

A Night at the Adonis played at the Adonis Theater, itself, and the back2stonewall article quotes an internet posting about the unusual experience of watching it on that very screen: “it was rather odd to be in the exact theater that was being depicted... sort of a movie coming to life all around you. What was happening on the screen was also happening in real life as you were watching the film.”
 

Guys cruising in the theater seats in A Night at the Adonis
Guys cruising in the theater seats in A Night at the Adonis

A Night at the Adonis is one of NYC-based studio Hand in Hand Films' productions set in and about a specific gay New York City sex space/landmark. Another is Times Square Strip (1983), set at the Gaiety Theatre, which focuses on the on and off stage antics of the dancers at the Gaiety Male Burlesk.
 

The Gaiety Theatre exterior
Gaiety Male Burlesk ad
The Gaity Theatre and Gaiety Male Burlesk ad

Times, like Adonis, is an ensemble piece set over the course of one night, full of breezy, quippy dialogue, and - though it isn't as full a portrait of its location as is Adonis (it occasionally ventures outside the building for sexual escapades) – it spends considerable time depicting the performances taking place on stage.
 

Dancers performing in Times Square Strip
The MC in Times Square Strip
Dancers and the MC in Times Square Strip

Wikipedia notes that The Gaiety Theatre was open for nearly 30 years, from 1976 until 2005, and, according to a 2005 New York Times article, attracted mainstream attention “after photos of Madonna and some of the club's dancers were included in her book Sex (1992).” These visitors included John Waters, Divine, Andy Warhol, RuPaul, Diane Keaton, and Shirley MacLaine. The club had an “unrivaled ability to survive, despite the strict zoning laws instituted during the Giuliani administration, thanks to a location just outside a restricted area.” Wikipedia also mentions a few well-known dancers who performed at the theater, including porn stars Joey Stefano, Johnny Harden, Kip Noll, and Leo Ford.

The Adonis Theater, however, did not survive New York City's changes to Times Square, with Mayor Ed Koch “using the AIDS epidemic to clean up Times Square” and “trying to get the theater closed down to tidy it up for the building of the monolith Worldwide Plaza, soon to be built on the next block.” The Adonis attempted to relocate to another theater building at this time, but did not last long there and this second Adonis was closed “in 1994 by the City's Health Department after a raid revealed high-risk sexual activities taking place among patrons.” The original Adonis was demolished in 1995, though a vivid portrait of what it once was remains in Deveau's classic film. In watching it, you almost feel as if you are there.
 

Bathroom sex in A Night at the Adonis
Jayson MacBride and Malo exiting the theater smiling in A Night at the Adonis
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