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    The Stud: Come As Who You Are

    By Dr. Bill Lipsky–

    During the Golden Age of queer San Francisco, when people went out to meet each other instead of simply ordering in, the city seemed to have a club for almost every taste and talent. There were leather and Levi’s bars South of Market, sweater bars in Polk Gulch and Pacific Heights, clone bars in Castro Village, and bars for free spirits in the Haight. Blessed were they who had cars to carry a large choice of wardrobe in their trunks that was appropriate for every opportunity.

    In those long-ago days, one bar was different. People at the Stud could wear anything they wanted and still be dressed for the occasion. When it opened at 1535 Folsom in May 1966, it was another “western-oriented dance bar” on what was becoming San Francisco’s Miracle Mile—Fe-Be’s opened down the block the same year—but it welcomed everyone from leather men, jocks, women, and bears to drag queens, trans people, and disco bunnies of any size, background, or color.

    Image from Wikipedia

    Whatever the original plans of its founders, George Matson and Alexis Muir, then known as Richard Conroy, by 1970, according to QQ Magazine, the Stud was “a turned-on, spaced-out super groovy bar where heads meet.” Muir, a great-niece of naturalist John Muir and possibly the inspiration for Anna Madrigal in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, became sole owner a few years later; she also owned the No Name at 1347 Folsom and the Folsom Barracks two blocks away, but sold her interests in all three a few years later.

    It may not have been the first club in the city to have bartenders with long hair and beards, but in 1972, the Stud became one of the first two to hire Black bartenders; not surprisingly, the No Name was the other. Even when it changed ownership several times during the decade, it remained true to its eclectic and embracing traditions, the “headquarters for the iconoclastic gays,” its devoted regulars known as Studettes. According to 1981’s Advocate Guide, it attracted “a little bit of everything: hippie, leather, punk, clone—and slumming heterosexuals.”

    By then it was like no other dance club in the city—or anywhere else on planet Earth. Featuring a psychedelic black light mural created by legendary leather artist Chuck Arnett, it showcased music’s newest of the new. For pop chronicler Adam Block, it was where “the gutsy, rambunctious alternative flourishes.” Mondays at the Stud featured “the most radical and inventive playlist in the city.” Wednesdays and Sundays it was “rock spiked with disco.” Even Mr. Marcus, first Emperor of San Francisco’s Imperial Court, proclaimed, “It rocks! It rolls! It sways.”

    In additional to its famed playlists, the Stud also presented live entertainment on Sundays and Mondays, with performances beginning at 10 pm. Among the favorites were the all women rhythm and blues combo Sweet Chariot, “the reigning funk band of the East Bay”; the Lester Chambers Group; Pearl Heart; Pristine Condition; Ways of Meringue; Sylvester; Jumpin’ Jupiter; and Etta James. For “Booze Bash” Tuesdays, well drinks were 50 cents from 9 pm to midnight. Wednesdays were “Cheap Beer Night.” The rest of the week was for “dancing, good music, and good vibes.”

    Image Courtesy of the

    Long before Rolling Stone included her at #22 on its list of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” in 2008, James was a favorite at the Stud. In her autobiography, Rage To Survive (2003), she remembered it as “a gay dive so small that I had to dress across the street at Hamburger Mary’s.” (She also remembered that, in the bar’s restroom, “the urinals had mirrors for comparison shopping.”) Even so, she performed there at least once every year, often for Valentine’s Day, during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    James always had a great love for the city and its loyal following. She wrote in her autobiography that, during a time of personal and professional difficulties, “San Francisco was my only salvation. My strongest fans are there, many of them gay men and lesbians. I’m not sure how that happened. I like to think they’re responding to my honest emotions. They know what bigotry is about. They understand hard times and heartache; they like it when someone lays it on the line.”

    During the 1980s, the Stud became the first bar in San Francisco “to go Punk,” the first to play New Wave music, and certainly the first to have a Punk Night Monday. When puppeteer Wayland Flowers visited with his dear friend and very foul-mouthed alter ego Madame, she was dressed in the highest of punk fashion. Other visitors included Siouxsie Sioux of the British rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees, and even Mayor Dianne Feinstein, shaking hands with the regulars, now known as Punkettes, on a Monday before an election.

    Around the time the Stud moved to the corner of 9th and Harrison Streets in August 1987, it began holding themed events and dance parties. Among the well-remembered were Frolic, which featured giant stuffed animals as decor and revelers wearing realistic full-body faux fur and lifelike heads; Funk Night; Girl Spot; Junk; Sexy Stepping; Freak Show, which featured sideshow performances, exotic dancers, and “circus surprises”; Phat Phree; and Drive, “a queer electrofunk breakbeat dance club.”


    Possibly the Stud’s longest running and certainly the most influential club was Trannyshack, which began in 1996 when Heklina (né Stefan Grygelko), one of the Stud’s bartenders, was asked to create an entertainment for Tuesday nights. Challenging and often defying all concepts of what was drag, shows with themes that included “Weapons of Ass Destruction Night,” “Serial Killers Night,” and “When Nellies Attack” often featured some of the biggest stars in drag. It was staged every week for more than 12 years without ever losing its popularity.

    The Stud closed its 9th and Harrison Streets venue in 2020, but will return at 1123–1125 Folsom this month. In two years, it will celebrate its 60th anniversary, making it the oldest LGBTQ bar in San Francisco. Across its long, legendary history, the Stud had one guiding principle: everyone who went there, in whatever clothing they chose to wear—clone, hippie, glam, punk, drag or anything else—could be whoever they were or wanted to be, even their authentic, fabulous selves.

    Bill Lipsky, Ph.D., author of “LGBTQ+ Trailblazers of San Francisco” (2023) and “Gay and Lesbian San Francisco” (2006), is a member of the Rainbow Honor Walk board of directors.

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