BARchive: The Lost Bars

Ron, a Folsom Street Bartender in the 1970s. photo: Jim Stewart

by Jim Stewart

At a run on a ranch in Mendocino County I won a case of Olympia long necks from Playland, when it was a new bar at 1190 Folsom Street, long before the Cat Club.  I’d heard Playland was a sleeper.  The night I went for my case of Oly it was awake.

A body-harnessed doorman crossed his muscled arms over his hairy chest at the head of the line. A man came out, he let another in. The men were hot. It was worth the wait.

Some stood in spotless leathers practicing their S&M, Standing and Modeling. Others were in Levis well worn in the crotch. A whiff of poppers drifted down the line as disco blasted out the door. A fist passed a small brown bottle to me.

“Here!”

I took the bottle, inhaled deeply, and started to hand it back to Well Worn Crotch.

“Pass it along. It’s from the doorman. He wants us to stay.”

A poppers rush is short but can be intense. I saw an apparition. A bearded man in Gypsy-Hippie-rags.  His long robe and wide-brimmed hat were complemented by dozens of dangly necklaces and spangled bracelets. A tambourine hung from a cord around his waist. His dirty feet were bare. A miniature collie wearing a red bandanna trotted behind.  With a rattle of jewelry he picked up the collie and leaned toward me.

“Pot?” he said.

I shook my head.

“Hash?”

I shook my head again. He moved down the line. Bills were pulled from wallets. My poppers rush gone, Gypsy-Hippie-Man and dog remained.

“Who’s that?” I said to Well Worn Crotch.

“Jesus Christ Satan.”

“What?”

“Jesus Christ Satan.” He laughed. “He was a lawyer in New York and came here in the Sixties.” As if that explained all.

“He’s homeless?”

Chris, a Folsom Street Bartender in the 1970s. photo: Jim Stewart

“He declared his apartment an independent country and applied to the U.N. for aid to developing nations.”

“Nice if you can get it,” Leather Chaps said behind me.

We were nearing the door. The music was louder. Jesus Christ Satan crossed Folsom Street and headed towards The Slot.

Inside Playland I saw it was worth the wait. The crowd, half naked, swayed to the beat of throbbing pounding music. The DJ built the pulse as the closing hour of two approached. Some of the sweat-drenched men left, heading for the baths, others headed for the ongoing orgy in the back room. Great bartenders and back rooms could make or break a Folsom bar.

I fought my way to a hot bartender through the mass of bodies, groping and being groped. With beer in hand I headed for the back room.

The smell of booze and cigarettes, weed and poppers, sweat and testosterone, enhanced the dark scene of men moaning and grunting. Soon I was part of that critical mass of male flesh grinding its way to Nirvana. My body sang.

The din of disco stopped.

“Repent, you mother-fuckers, repent!” The sounds of a shaken tambourine were heard above the grunting and moaning. “Repent, you mother-fuckers!”

Silence.

“We’re not mother-fuckers. We’re father-fuckers!” a deep voice bellowed in passion.

A small dog barked.

Jesus Christ Satan!

“Last call, gentlemen. Last call. Drink up, please. It’s time.”

Another Saturday night, Folsom Street, San Francisco, 1976.

Copyright 2012 Jim Stewart. For further true gay adventures, check out the award-winning Folsom Street Blues: A Memoir of 1970s SoMa and Leatherfolk in Gay San Francisco by Jim Stewart.

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