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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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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