I live in the Castro with my girlfriend, most of my friends are queer, and I was the managing editor of a lesbian magazine. You’d think this homo trifecta would make me the expert on all things locally lez. But the truth is, beyond frequenting The Lexington Club (“The Lex”) and Wild Side West – the only lesbian watering holes in the city – I don’t really know where to find the girls.
When I go out, it’s usually to bear bars or predominately straight music venues. So when it comes to finding the dyke clubs, I’m often not much better than lez tourists who come toting their Damron guide to the city. And like those ladies who are led to believe San Francisco is a lesbian mecca (it’s really more gay), I often end up disappointed by the generic girl nights that feel like circuit parties in any city.
But this isn’t just any city. This is the city with a larger rainbow flag than an American one; the city that queer kids run away to; the city where every Saturday before Pride, Dolores Park is a sea of gorgeous muff diving head first into champagne slip ’n slides. So I set out to find the city’s real girl clubs – the ones you won’t find in the guidebooks.
Prepubescent dykes tend to identify with one of three fictional characters: Scout from To Kill a Mocking Bird , Sissy Hankshaw from Even Cowgirls Get the Blues , or Ponyboy from The Outsiders . So, it’s no surprise that a dyke party held the last Wednesday of the month is called Stay Gold.
By the time we arrived at the Make-Out Room it was almost 11:15 and the club was just starting to fill up. We paid our $3 cover and threw a few extra dollars in the donation bucket to help save Lyon-Martin, the affordable lesbian health care center that announced earlier in the day it would have to close due to lack of funding.
Stay Gold is ultra local. I knew almost everyone there, just from house parties and The Lex. In fact, Stay Gold feels more like a house party than a club. It’s like, if you threw a party in your living room – only your living room was maybe three times larger than it actually is. And instead of a couch and a rug, you hung taxidermy on the walls and mismatched streamers and Christmas decorations from the ceiling. And instead of just putting on a Pandora dance mix, you asked your geekiest audiophile to make a mixed CD of all her favorite ’90s jams.
And she and her entourage showed up in pink mesh tights and oversize jumpsuits, and even though you weren’t sure if they were being ironic or not, they still looked hot. And in this living room, you built a little stage so that you and your friends could lip-synch to Paula Abdul. And even though the neighbors complained about the noise and you were forced to turn down your vintage tunes, you still danced your ass off for hours.
That would be Stay Gold.
Underground SF has long been one of my favorite local joints. I’m a sucker for dive bars, especially dive bars with small dance floors, good beats, and bartenders with heavy pours. So when I found out that once a month, the normally sweaty boy bar would be filled with dykes and their friends, I couldn’t wait to check it out.
Ships in the Night is held on the third Thursday of the month and it serves as a dance party as well as a benefit and community-organizing event. Tonight the door went to Expect Respect San Francisco, a nonprofit that teaches local youth how to have healthy relationships. The kids who throw this party are as committed to social justice as they are to mixing beats. And they know how to mix some beats!
We danced up to the bar for a drink. Cip, who owns the joint, was in his usual uniform –low-hung pants and no shirt. And because tonight was Glitter Night, his hairless chest was shimmering. He poured tequila shots to girls with glittery eyes who winked at one another across the long bar.
Like the martini I was sucking down, the music at this club was dirty; the kind of hip-hop and mashups that make even shy girls get nasty. But even with the sexy music, there wasn’t anything sleazy about the night. Like Stay Gold, this felt local, inclusively queer, and fully San Francisco. This was not a spot for tourists. Hell, there wouldn’t even be room for them if they wanted to come.
I’m not usually the first one to charge the dance floor, but 10 minutes into the party, my legs were itching. I downed the last of my martini, grabbed my girlfriend by the hand, and disappeared into the sweaty, glittery, grind-y dance floor.
Aysha Cromeenes is the mayor of San Francisco’s Dyketown. She worked as a drink-slinger at The Lex for years, bartends at QBar’s monthly C U Next Tuesday (get it?), and just relaunched her own party – Flourish, held quarterly, near the end of the month.
I’ve known Aysha for years, since our time as…um…performance poets in Seattle. But she’s come a long way since her innocent college poet days. Today she’s a fully tattooed fierce businesswoman with a knack for putting on parties. Housed in the newly opened Public Works off 14th and Mission, Flourish is a party for fancy girls. Or a party where ordinary girls get fancy. Aysha told me to dress to impress, which basically meant my nice black jeans, my favorite black vest, and some bling. But I wasn’t even close to matching the other partygoers at Flourish.
Outside, girls in tiny cocktail dresses shivered. Beside them, the film crew of The Real L Word prepped their equipment before heading inside to film. We edged around two girls in animal print dresses who were making out, paid our $10 (it’s $5 before 10:30 p.m.), and walked inside.
In front of us, dykes dressed to the nines had their photographs taken in front of the GLBT Historical Society logo (part of the night’s proceeds went to the nonprofit). Above us, photos of lesbians from the past scrolled across the massive walls, while today’s sexy dykes danced below. This was by far the fanciest San Francisco lesbian party I’ve been to.
Unlike Aysha, I still have a closet full of my Seattle plaid shirts, so I wouldn’t have thought Flourish would be my scene. But it was surprisingly refreshing to go out to a new club night, at a new venue, and see new people. And when “Get Yer Freak On” came on, I couldn’t help but dance along – in my worn-out cowboy boots. I was, after all, a Sissy Hankshaw fan.
After two weeks of dyke dance parties I thought I’d be satiated. I thought I’d want to just watch a movie at home or go to a show at a straight club. But I didn’t. I felt proud to be a dyke in this city – a city where many of the ladies nights are also benefits for our community. A city where you can dress up for a glamorous night, dress down for a ’90s house party scene, or dip yourself in glitter for a raunchy dance party. I imagine I’ve got some more research to do.
More interested in the retro jams? Stay Gold holds its monthly party at the Make-Out Room the last Wednesday of the month. It’s only $3 and gets started around 10:30. If hip-hop, mashups, and social justice are your style, head to Underground SF for Ships in the Night, held the third Thursday of the month. Check out the website to learn about the party’s theme – it starts at 10:00 and fills up fast. $5 at the door.
Feeling fancy? Flourish is held every three months at Public Works, usually near the end of the month. The next one will likely be in April, so you have a few months to find the perfect dressy outfit. $10 at the door and $5 before 10:30.