The following are excerpts from "94114"---the unpublished recollections
and history of the early Castro by Ron Williams.
Am I going to die?
As the knowledge of AIDS disseminated through the community, gay men slowly began to understand the concept of what was happening---they were killing each other with their careless sexual activity. Many lapsed into total denial, while others chose to openly and totally ignore the warnings. As the demands of Safe Sex hammered on the community, another problem was beginning to pop its ugly head through the veil of denial.
The majority of gay men were forced into practicing safe sex through fear, but many were addicted to both drugs and alcohol, as well as unsafe sex, from 10+ years of heavy debauchery. This was a double edged sword and DiFi's closing of the bath houses in 1984, was not going to solve this problem. The gay community was going to have to pull this miracle off all by itself.
The men that have survived the twenty odd years of the Castro are truly miracles. If AIDS didn't get them, then drugs and alcohol probably did. It wasn't too many years ago when there were plenty of men walking up and down Castro Street with that "Freshly F****d" look on their faces. The Castro was young, the ideas were new, the "Summer of Love" had given us validation. Alcohol was no stranger to most of us, dope was socially unacceptable to some, but we tried it anyway. We were released from society's manacles of conformity. It gave us the courage to be ourselves, the very reason that many men came here to begin with. Once the closet door had been ripped off its hinges, there was no stopping the pursuit of happiness, the search for Mr. Wonderful, Mr. Right and of course Mr. Right Now.
My friend Norman once remarked, "I came West looking for Mr. Right Now!"
At the Missouri Mule, Vivacious Vivian (God rest her soul) played the piano on Sunday afternoons. What a scene---there was this wonderful older woman playing her heart out at the piano. The bar was crowded with gay men doing a sing-along, arms wrapped around each other, singing and swaying back and forth while slurping down large amounts of draft beer. In the back part of the bar however, there was a different little scene to behold. Those that weren't singing were usually on their knees playing on instruments of a totally different sort.
I seriously doubt that anyone can actually give a date to the birth of the Castro as a truly gay neighborhood. The Pendulum was the first popular bar in the Castro. The rush to OZ was on, bars and new businesses were popping up all over the Castro. Walking down 18th St. towards Castro, one day, there stood a cute "Bear" type guy wearing a sandwich board, the words on the board are not clear to me today, but this guy was drumming up business for a new bar that had just opened near the corner of 18th and Castro, The Midnight Sun. Next came Toad Hall, the original rough wood and fern bar, with the attempt at a dance license in the Castro. The local merchants were totally opposed to the dance license, and through time, more and more of the straight merchants were leaving the Castro and gay-run businesses were popping up like mushrooms. Many had visions of a "gay Union Street," others had a vision of Castro looking like the burned out neighborhood that the "Summer of Love" had left behind in the Haight-Ashbury.
The Midnight Sun was my second home, we called it "The Temple" this is where I first met Andy, the PLG (Polish Love Goddess). Our week-ends were iterations around the "Acid Triangle." Adult cocktail beverages of our choice at the Midnight Sun, up Castro to Toad Hall and back down Castro, around the corner and up 18th St. to the Pendulum. When the PLG walked in any bar in the Castro, heads turned and this 250 lb. big boy was immediately approached by those wanting their evening's supply of popular recreational pharmaceuticals. Discretion was his technique, always dressed in black -- except for 501's -- black cowboy hat, black leather vest and a western shirt, except on Halloween, guaranteed to be in a full face of serious make-up with a black pigeon feather boa. The PLG always carried a little army back-pack, it was know as the "first-aid kit." When the PLG walked into the Temple, carrying the kit, everyone knew the drug store was open.
The Midnight Sun became the "art bar," of the Castro. Management would close the bar for a couple of days and completely change the theme. The owners commissioned some very talented artists from the Upper Market Street Gallery to construct a circus theme. There were several other themes brought to life over the years, but the one that really made the bar famous was the interior of the art deco Flash Gordon spaceship, designed and executed by Jim Croker (possibly spelled wrong). All the walls were covered in red carpet and all the interior corners were rounded. It was an original concept and no expense was spared in its execution. Large TV monitors and a state-of-the-art video booth were installed and the "video bar" concept was born.
To unveil the new bar interior, the owners would always throw a private party for its regular customers. The free booze poured for several hours before the general public was allowed back in the bar. The PLG always attended opening parties keeping everyone well supplied with pharmaceuticals of their choice. The original bar is gone now and has moved around the corner. The present video theme and decor evolved from the Flash Gordon space ship decor of the old bar. Even to this day, long after all of the old regulars have gone, the bar still enjoys great success as one of the Castro's early icons.