(This story first appeared in the SF Weekly)
We’re hanging out in Martuni’s, the last great gay piano bar in San Francisco. Once, these majestic animals roamed the hills like mastodon; now, they are nearly extinct. On a good night, it seems like every professional singer in town will show up and open their mouths for free, belting out music like a drunken chorus of angels, as if salvation is guaranteed us all. Then they scatter back to what little of the theater world has managed to remain in the era of Netflix.
My friend Jessie wants to know how I can be so cynical. “Why do you even write about nightlife if you’re so hard on it?” I’ve disappointed her again, but I’m too drunk to care.
The problem is this: The more experienced you are, the easier it is to lose the magic. Tourists don’t get jaded about San Francisco; locals do.
San Francisco’s nightlife, at its best, is a war by a dedicated cadre of locals to extend the magic: to keep ourselves living by keeping it alive. The Beats bled into the hippies, whose bullshit fertilized the ground for an explosive gay culture in the ’70s, which inspired a vital scene in kink. The Suicide Club died out in the early ’80s, but the Cacophony Society rose from the ashes, leading to Santa Con and the Billboard Liberation Front and Burning Man. Veteran Burners returned from the desert and decided to fight the war at home, leading to the Odeon Bar and clown burlesque troops and Camp Tipsy, which in turn inspired the All Worlds Fair, as extraordinary venues shone and vanished in back alleys like fireflies in spring.