Looking through now defunct gay magazines of the sexual revolution — Vector, After Dark, David — is a bit like finding a ticket to Atlantis (the sunken continent, not the gay cruise). But it’s not just the hand-drawn ads or 50 cent drink specials or the names — well maybe the names! The Purple Pickle, the Elephant Walk, the Gilded Cage, the Giraffe. Peke’s Palace, Connie’s “Why Not?,” Cissy’s Saloon. Mona’s Candlelight.  Paper Doll, Paradox, Old Crow, Nothing Special. A mixture of old queens and young bucks. One culture that ended in liberation, and another that fell in revolution.

I recently began a mapping project of lost San Francisco gay bars using ads from magazines, matchbooks from archives and mentions in gay papers to try and reconstruct San Francisco in the years before the epidemic. What struck me most is that —in a far more hostile era there seemed to be far less ghettoization. Certainly the Castro, Polk and South of Market were still gay centers — but there were also bars in traditionally “straight” neighborhoods as well — North Beach and the Haight, the Marina and the Presidio. The Financial District boasted nearly a dozen. I don’t have a good explanation, although I’d love to hear theories.

Recently, two historic San Francisco bars — Marlena’s and the SF Eagle threatened to close. In New York, the Rawhide just went belly up. In Los Angeles, La Barcita and the Other Side. With greater social acceptance (and Grindr) we’re losing the crucial spaces that helped define us our culture. It may be inevitable, but forgetting them is not.

You can view a Google Map of the Project below.:

View Lost Gay Bars of San Francisco in a larger map

(I’ve opened it up for other collaborators to add them in. Where possible, I’ve added the date the bar opened.)

Sources: Matchbooks of the GLBT Historical Society, the Cinch List of Taverns, old issues of Vector, After Dark, QC and David, this piece on Found SF.


I cannot begin to express how thrilled and grateful I am that this project exists.

This is fascinating. I’m so glad it exists.

I’d be interested to know if these were all gay men’s bars, or if some of these bars were more mixed (or even predominantly not-gay-men) in clientele?

Queers do a lot of segregating/separatism across orientation and gender lines, but queers also do a lot of cross-pollination/support/collaboration along those same lines. So.