Bar Reboot

by Matt Baume

Brando looks on approvingly at Rebel’s pole dancers. photo: Matt Baume

You know what’s hot right now? New. New shoes, new hair, new boyfriends, and most importantly, new parties and bars.

San Francisco’s gay scene has seen a wave of renovations lately, from massive construction projects to smashing new after-hours clubs to a hot new attitude sweeping South of Market. Everywhere you look, there’s something fresh.

And of course, there’s still a place for the classics. It’s called the GLBT History Museum, and it’s open Wednesday to Saturday from 11am to 7pm, and Sunday from noon to 5pm. (By the way, it’s new.)

Nobody panic: Chaps II may have left us, but its spirit lives on. After a raucous closing party, the SOMA bar at 1225 Folsom Street wrapped up three years of leather last month and then began a dramatic transformation. Now, it’s finally re-opened and ready to show off a sexy new attitude and a sexy new name: Kok Bar San Francisco.

“Darker, durrtier, cruisier,” boasts David Morgan, owner of both Chaps II and Kok, “that’s the tagline for our new space.”

It’s not that Kok is ditching leather — on the contrary, leather is still more than welcome. But, Morgan says, the SOMA community is so diverse that he wanted his bar to feel welcoming to all. He rattles off a list: “Jocks, punks, bears, twinks, leather daddies, muscle studs, skins, biker dudes. … Kok Bar is the epitome of the new SOMA today.” Look for cosmetic upgrades like new decor, plus more fun and games in the form of a pool table and pinball machines.

There’s also a fresh face on the old Triple Crown, which re-opened last month as Rebel. Yes, it’s got sexy butch decor, with vintage motorcycles and helmets. Yes, they sunk a ton of cash into an awesome new body-shaking sound system. And yes, there’s poles for dancing and plush seats for watching. But the biggest highlight: they’re open ’til 4am.

Saturday’s do-not-miss party at Rebel (1760 Market St.) is Stallion, thrown by Joshua J of Big Top (at Club Eight) and Booty Call Wednesdays (at Q Bar). The formula is simple: “I wanted an old-school vibe of dudes, big room, DJs, and go-go boys,” Joshua J says. “The most stripped-down recipe, but quality quality quality.”

Unlike see-and-be-seen Booty Call, the fashion at Stallion is strictly come-as-you-are. And there’s less emphasis on pageantry and spectacle than at Big Top. Instead, you’ve got two dance floors full of sweaty guys flirting and dancing and having a good time.

An officer of the law enjoys The Cafe's colorful new lighting. photo: Matt Baume

The brand-spanking-new Rebel just a quick skip away from the Castro bars and from Underground SF (424 Haight St.) – which is itself looking for new owner – so it’s the perfect destination when all the other bars shout “last call.” The booze may stop flowing at 2am, but now you have two more hours to dance off your buzz and drive home safely.

And speaking of Castro bars, there’s plenty of newness to be found in the city’s gay heart.

Take a peek inside the new Cafe (2369 Market St.) if you haven’t already. It’s dramatically more open, with a roomier floor plan and higher ceiling. Crucially, the restroom facilities have increased in number from four to seventeen. That’s a relief.

And because this is San Francisco, you may be delighted to hear that they’ve made the switch from incandescent bulbs to LED and CFLs, moved their refrigeration equipment to the roof, and installed low-flow toilets. They’ve reduced their utility usage by about thirty percent, estimates manager Louis Caputo.

They were also one of the first bars in the Castro to switch from glass cups to acrylic, which don’t shatter and can be re-used 2000 times before being recycled.

But it’s the spacious new layout that really draws the crowds, just like at recently-revamped Toad Hall (4146 18th St.). And the Castro’s freshest new face has a beak: we’re talking about Blackbird (4121 18th St.), which lives somewhere between artsy and neighborhoody, hipstery and taverny. No flashing lights or flat-panel TVs, just cozy warm lights and a pool table and long friendly benches for making new friends. If you need a drinking game, try taking a shot every time a young thin man with thick-framed glasses and a beard walks through the door.

Change, of course, is scary, but Kok’s David Morgan points out that for a bar to stick around, it has to be agile enough to keep up with its changing clientele. “We don’t have to do things because they used to be done a certain way,” he says. “It’s all about having fun.”

CAPTIONS

Brando looks on approvingly at Rebel’s pole dancers.

Photo: Matt Baume

An officer of the law enjoys The Cafe’s colorful new lighting.

Photo: Matt Baume

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