PHOTOS: Take A Tour Of San Francisco’s Forgotten Gay Bars


PHOTOS: There was a time when men — and some women — wore suits while drinking 35-cent whiskeys in bars with names such as Connie’s “Why Not?”, Cissy’s Saloon and The Purple Pickle. That time was San Francisco some 50, 60 years ago — before Ellen, before Elton, before Stonewall.

Mike Stabile from the Pop-Up Queer Museum set about mapping out these bars after pouring over the withered pages of defunct gay rags like Vector, After Dark and David, resulting in the Lost Gay Bars of San Francisco.

While we certainly don’t yearn for the impromptu police raids and a life lived in the shadows, there’s something to be said about the gay old times depicted in these ads and photos from that “lost” era.

And there’s also something to be said for this drink menu:


Those kids must have known how to party back then because a dollar and some change could probably get you wrecked.

Check out more photos from the San Fran’s queer history and to find out more about the who, what, where and werq of the city’s forgotten gay bar scene, visit the Lost Gay Bars of San Francisco project.





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Photos: Found SF, The Pop-Up Queer Museum

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  • Elaine Lancaster

    How wonderful to look at those who helped to pave the way………Wonderful. Tks for this post.

  • watching1

    Fantastic. Really beautiful, thank you.

  • Peter

    whoa. this is so cool.

  • longpastdue

    This is really cool and it does kind of make the time seem a bit glorified, that being said I hate to be the immature asshole but I have to ask… “catburger?”

  • Taurox

    Love these. Anyone know what a “Catburger” was? I tried looking it up but just came up with a ton of lolz cat stuff. No wiki on it.

  • Chris-MI

    I found one reference to a catfish sandwich as a catburger, but nothing definitive. I’d go for the fish and chips instead.

  • gppm1103

    They forgot the Pacific Exchange, on Upper Fillmore and Numbers down the street.

  • timelord89

    North Beach used to be filled with lesbian and gay bars, and had quite a few drag acts. Well Mona’s was certainly one of the most popular places. It made San Francisco a tourist destination. San Francisco’s Queer Neighborhood wasn’t always the Castro, prior to that it was the Haight Ashbury, and prior to that it was North Beach, and prior to that it was along waterfront.

  • sanfranca1

    That (quite long) list of bars brought back a lot of memories. The Frolic Room was my first gay bar way back in ’68 or ’69.

  • Wilberforce

    I actually remember Toad Hall. What a bad name, unless there’s a double meaning that I’m missing.

  • reesielover

    I sure miss the good old days in the late 70’s when I first came out in lovely San Francisco. My 18th birthday was spent in a wonderful bar where you could be with as many guys as you could handle and have endless encounters in dark corners of the bar. Much safer and carefree back then. I sure miss those days.

  • niles

    @Taurox: the “Black Cat” was one of the oldest gay bars (I believe also quite notorious) anyway hence, the “cat burger” at that establishment.

    Isn’t Toad Hall still around?

    I seem to remember some seedy bars on Market Street, wonder if they are still around.

  • Benz

    The Golden Gate was one of the oldest gay bars in St. Louis

  • tookietookie

    Hello bartender!

  • Nakdndfw

    What bar had naked bartenders? Nes hot

  • Bob LaBlah

    This is a bit off subject but for those of you who remember San Francisco but no longer live or visit there might remember her.
    May “she”

  • HopeSpringsATurtle

    How could it be that “Clementina’s BAybrick Inn” is not on this notorious list? Certainly the most fun and genre-changing establishment for lesbians ever in San Francisco! 1190 [email protected] 7th St.

  • Victor_in_PA

    I’m just old enough (52 as of this past Saturday) to remember the “good ole days” when it was still fun to go out to a gay bar. These pics bring back a lot of memories and a lot of sadness at the culture lost. We’re now mainstream and can line up to buy a minivan with the other breeders. Equality is good but, I’d prefer the fun of the past. It’s not that fun anymore. I never wanted to have to deal with a family, marriage, in-laws, etc. I might as well just go to a PTA meeting. Oh well, progress happens.

  • jmmartin

    I recall meeting the great Peter Berlin in one of the S&M bars. He was a nice guy, no pretentions, but quickly implied he was looking for someone at least as hot as he was. San Francisco was where evil L.A. people went to be wicked.

  • Kenny1948

    @longpastdue: The place was the “Black Cat” a catburger was it’s specialty. Not made of cat or catfish, just their signature burger with all the fixins.

  • Kenny1948

    I enjoyed going down “memory lane” here, as many of these bars were old hangouts. Especially Toad Hall. Named after the story ” Wind in the Willows”. I guess the younguns aren’t familar with the Disney cartoon movie of the same name. The guy who did the woodwork and stained glass was a very good friend of mine. It’s a shame they gutted it, and turned it into a stainless steel monstrosity.

    Re: The Balcony, it is not “now the Cafe Du Nord” the Cafe Du Nord is a Basque restaurant that was there long before, just on the same block. the Bal ony, is next door to it. Too bad that wasn’t mentioned. That was it’s nickname. The C fell of the sign shortly after the place opened. Now that name, had a double meaning! It was one hell of a fun place, and always packed. They also made the best drinks in the Castro, which were served in red plastic cups.

  • lkeels

    @longpastdue: Really? The name of the place was the Black Cat!

  • lkeels

    @Taurox: You can’t be serious. The name of the place was the Black Cat!

  • streeteditions

    Toad Hall was also referenced in the Firesign Theatre’s routine “Toad Aweigh.”

  • trabster

    Does anyone remember The Cabaret? It seems to have been missed on this long list of lost bars.

    It had three levels: (1) dancing [huge], (2) entertainment [the actual cabaret] and (3) eating [small restaurant area] … and, of course, a bar on every level, if I remember correctly.

    It was on either Kearny or Montgomery Street, the first block off Broadway, not far from Columbus … and I believe the Playboy Club was just a few doors down on the same side of the street.

    It was probably the first of its kind, an incredible club, and well before cover charges came into play.

  • Mhb1954

    It wasn’t a bar and I see other sex clubs like ritch street and others mentioned so how could we omit the 1808? This was at 1808 Market and I and other men left quite a bit of DNA in that place over a ten year period before it closed and they tore it down to build the LGBT Center. Our DNA serves as the foundation of the easterly part of that building. Literally!

  • atseainaraft2

    @trabster I recall The Cabaret; it was the first huge disco I went to (circa 1972 or 1973). Still in college and a bit underage, they let me in anyway. It was awesome. And, yes, I believe it was on Montgomery St. headed up a hill from the straight strip clubs.

  • Sammy Schlipshit

    So glad to have been young, dumb and full of cum back in the good old days.

    Are there still any ‘communities’ these days that can offer the human to human interaction that we all found in bars and bathhouses?
    Internet sex and Grindr don’t count.

    I pity they young’uns. It seems that a lot of them are trying to hard to normalize their lives.

    Life was better in most ways when we were outlaws.

  • Buddy7591

    Thanks for the info on The Bal ony, Kenny! I was there every weekend in the early 80’s and have lots of fond, wild memories of the place…

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