The Stud: Decade by Decade
from the original 1994 article by Mark Freeman, updated 2016 & 2020
THE ‘60s: Birth Pangs
The Stud’s beginnings can be traced back to Beirut, Lebanon. That’s where George Matson, who was working as a pantomime entertainer met up with former acquaintance Richard Conroy and the two made plans to open a cafe in Las Vegas. The location later changed to San Francisco and the idea evolved into a bar— a place with a beer and wine license opened up on Folsom Street whose owner had to unload because he’d been busted for selling to minors. It had previously catered to a motorcycle club, the Gypsy Jokers. “We had chains to hang your jacket on and tried to do everything as cheaply as possible,” is how retired founder George Matson recalls it in a 1994 interview he sat for in his quiet farmhouse in Sonoma County.
The Stud opened on May 27, 1966. “I was becoming a hippie, I guess, when I came back from Europe. I put up psychedelic posters in our place and people came in and seemed outraged to see this guy with long hair behind the bar. A year later, though, they’d come in with own hair long. We ran it as a bar for people, not just pretty bodies,” is how George puts it, “and coincidentally, a lot of love affairs started there. A lot of women also came, and said it was the first gay men’s bar that they felt comfortable in.”
Among the innovations that made The Stud different from other bars was the type of music played. “Its jukebox played ‘French rock ‘n roll and some sappy tearjerkers, so I substituted comedy records without changing the old listings.” People thought they were getting rock, but out would come “Caro Nome” from Rigoleto or Beatrice Lillie singing “There Are Fairies at the Bottom of My Garden” or a Gracie Fields song. Then, they removed the jukebox entirely, “which almost caused riots, since it was a meeting tool” and began to program tapes, an innovation even without the last-call piece, Vaughn-Williams’ “The Lark Ascending“, “that sent patrons home with a quiet smile.”
But George never really liked the bar business and sold his half to his partner in the early ‘70s. “Richard is still alive, but under different circumstances; she is now Alexis. She sold the bar to the owner of Hamburger Mary’s and left to live in a 35-room mansion in Mexico.”
What about The Stud does George miss? “Maybe the Saturnalias. Since Christmas stole a lot of its glory from the pagans, we decided to celebrate Saturnalia. We’d close early and completely redecorate the bar. The first year it was psychedelic and the second year it was all country—we brought in trees and live birds and made the rear exit the entrance. Then we stayed up all night putting it back together the way it had been. No photos allowed. So it existed only in the memories of those who were there.”
THE ‘70S: In With the Out Crowd
The Stud has occupied a remarkable place in this city’s gay history. There were always bigger and better places to dance, it’s true. At one point that honor would have gone to the Mineshaft on Market St. (once picketed for carding only minorities and women) before it became Alfie’s. For a while, Oil Can Harry’s filled the need for excellent Black music and a racially mixed clientele. When the Midnight Sun moved around the corner from Castro Street it stopped being home base for “genderfuck queens” and became the first video bar. The Alley Cat in the Tenderloin had a few too many fights involving dykes and/or drag queens and finally closed, as did Union Square’s Rendezvous, catering to a Sweater Queen clientele, and which used to keep go-go boys in sailor suits dancing in cages. The I-Beam became the new “in” place (particularly its Sunday tea dances). And there were the Trocadero and Dreamland, and then Boy Parties, in a Larkin Street venue that is now an evangelical church. Later venues included fun, surreal Klubstitute, run by the Popstitutes, and the Underworld underwear affairs, world beat Fridays called N’Zinga at El Rio, hip-hop Thursdays at Page Hodel’s The Box (it was a real sweatbox), and a handful of lesbian dance party clubs that began with Club Q.
But from the golden days, The Stud was often the first and favorite mixed gay bar for all the children. There was never a line to get into the old Stud in the ‘70s—not even a door charge. All it took was a walk through the neon glow from Hamburger Mary’ s across the street, through a heavy door, and then past two big, seemingly always stoned bouncers who sat against the wall.
Here were seen the first of the NY-style hip chicks in tiny black dresses and high black boots, as well as drag queens who didn’t even try to pass for female, and all genders in between. All the regular patrons were known as Studettes.
In the old days they crowded the place on any night of the week with all the glitz and glam that ‘70s San Francisco could offer. Down a long carnal tunnel the crème of deshabille nightlife rubbed shoulders (and torsos, did I mention it was very crowded?) with: random tourists in button-down collars and even some clones in Izod-wear; bearded or longhaired and fringed hippies and ‘fro-topped pool sharks like Ric Mavrick; Sal Mineo lookalike Eddie Reyes before he became known as Jamal and bellydanced as part of Al Fellahin at Hibernia Beach–the area in front of the bank at 18th Street and Castro)– and then worked filling short orders at Hamburger Mary’s across Folsom Street from the Stud.
And the sexual atmosphere of the place was not to be denied. This was no stand and drink only with friends kind of place. In the back were men, boys and women in hippie garb or tank tops dancing freeform to music that was always introspective, far out, or at least ahead of its time. And making out. There was even the occasional slow drag number the DJ would play for couples dancing.
Behind this tiny “ballroom” area– the dance floor was made of uneven wooden planks– was a coat-check boy who shared space with a urinal open to public view and two half-door semi-private toilets, which were used almost exclusively for drug and deals. The “stage” was maybe 4 feet by 4 feet. Camp paraphernalia hung from the ceiling and eclectic artwork adorned the walls. The decor featured an extensive collection of Art Deco lighting globes.
The circuit from the back went around the far side of the central bar, through another narrow passageway filled with friends, or posing artwankers, past the pool table– an elite corner of trash and trade—and came to an end at the pinball niche that guarded the office. Always this same great circle route; I never knew anyone to do it counter-clockwise.
Larry Holloway, or LaRue, as he was always known to Studettes, began work at the bar as a janitor, a short while after George had sold his half to Richard (Alexis), who sold out to Jerry “Trixie” Jones along with Heidi Steffan (she was a RG) and Jan Hill. Trixie, along with a man named Pooh and Toulouse (Lips) Mulvey, also owned Hamburger Mary’s across the street. The Stud was later bought out by Jim (Edie) Fleckenstein in October, 1974.
Larry and Jim were together for 15 years and friends for three more. “He’d been a deejay at Hamburger Mary’s while I was a janitor at The Stud,” as LaRue tells it, “and he used to come over and play pinball. Then we’d challenge each other at pool. One day the prize was my bootie. And the rest is history.”
The first deejay hired was Chrysler Shelton (known by her drag name Borora Borealis), who bucked the then current disco craze by playing lots of funk. Music at The Stud continued to be eclectic. Favorites included The Pointer Sisters, Al Green, Eddie Kendricks, Suzie Quatro, David Bowie and songs like Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n Roll Animal. Then one night, as LaRue puts it, “I replaced another deejay who wrote an article about punk rockers and how rude they were.” And so of course Larry played punk music.
THE ‘80S: First To Go Punk
“We weren’t just the first gay bar to play New Wave music—we were the first bar of any kind in San Francisco to do that. It was almost demanded of me,” said DJ LaRue. Punksters who made the art scene and lived South of Market used to find their way to The Stud every Sunday afternoon for the free (if you bought a drink) spaghetti feed. “They were my friends and they started bringing in new records—like Patti Smith—and insisting I play them.”
“Mondays became Punk Nights and they were always exciting, some even more than others. White Night [the riot at City Hall after Dan White got minimal sentencing for shooting Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk] was one of the most memorable because they all came to party after the riot at City Hall, and it just happened to be on a Monday. I don’t recall anybody bleeding, but there was a lot of slam dancing. I played all the revolutionary music—you know, the Stones’ [“Street Fighting Man”], the Sex Pistols.”
“Wayland Flowers used to come in with his ventriloquist doll Madame all dressed up as a punkette on Monday nights, and Siouxsie Sioux comes in when she’s in town and plays pool.”
“It was on another Punk Night that Dianne Feinstein came in. She was campaigning, shaking hands before the election the next day—it was brave of her to show up on a Monday. And all the girls yelled, ‘Hi Diane, love your hair.’ But when I put on the most popular dance song of the day—the Ramones’ hit ‘I Want to Be Sedated”—a cheer went up, and poor Di thought it was for her!”
LaRue was the bar’s best-known disc jockey through the ’80. He also made cassette tapes for a number of other bars in the Castro and South of Market, and eventually became a nationally influential reviewer whose Top Ten list appeared in Billboard. “I often put gay groups on top of my list and tried to push Third World [artists of color] sounds, like Ziggy Marley. I put the B-52s at the top this week. Richie, their 4-string guitarist died a few years ago and the group almost broke up over it. Now they do a video with [ancient lavendar-haired British queen] Quentin Crisp!”
And there were always celebrities. “One night after Gay Day there was a concert with Two Tons of Fun and Sylvester. On our tiny stage they did a show that sent shivers down your spine—this was before Sylvester got real big,” tells LaRue. “Once when Etta James played here—on a whole bottle of Remy Martin and who knows what else—she wouldn’t get up onstage until her coiffeur was perfect. We had a hairdresser just for her who had to do it over and over.”
Ephemera displayed at the Haight Street Art Center later show a “contract” for Etta from 1987, and also that admission to a show by Sylvester was an entire $1, about the cost of a single beer. On an April schedule was a Tuesday night appearance by “Lester Chambers Group,” featuring one of the Chambers Brothers, a great California funk and soul duo originally from Mississippi. According to his son Dylan Chambers, “my dad was surprised and said that it was mostly all men in the crowd, except some were dressed as women.” It is unknown if Lester’s girlfriend accompanied them– at one point that could have been either Linda Ronstadt or Janis Joplin.
The bar moved to Harrison Street in 1987. Ushering in the ‘90s with “fierce queer fun” was Junk, with DJs Zanne and Jennifer “Junkyard” Morris (also co-director of Frameline Film Festival during its heyday), playing everything from Dolly Parton to Motorhead. Once they even had a klezmer music mosh pit! The old venue had a sign on the door proclaiming “All Welcome.” Junk reaffirmed the tradition of The Stud bar as an inclusive venue.
During the years at the height of the AIDS pandemic, for the ten years from 1985 until the “HIV cocktail” arrived in 1995, many clubs and gay businesses and allies (especially women) in San Francisco provided a sense of community and real support. This was the DIY San Francisco model of fighting back, in the face of the federal government’s criminal inaction at the rapidly rising death rate.
THE ‘90s: Death, Can We Just Dance Around It?
For many, the clubs became “church.” Deep House music and a new sound system arrived with the Saturday Club Sugar, featuring DJ Ellen Ferrato and brought by hosts Kevin and Kevin.
But it was Trannyshack on Tuesday nights that most epitomized San Francisco as a phoenix rising. Hosted by Icelandic queen Heklina presenting local genius drag performers who worked for peanuts, plus special guests Ana Matronic and RuPaul before they became international names, and Charo– long after she had.
In Deena Davenport (the founder of Glamarama Salon) and Sean Muller’s amazing documentary, “Filthy Gorgeous: The Tranny-shack Story” an unusually quiet Heklina recalls 1995 as the height of deaths of her friends, “Trannyshack rose out of the ashes of all that grief.” Plus rage at the Do Nothing And Hopefully They’ll All Just Die policy of President Ronald Reagan. The film opens with a performance by Dear, and yes, it’s the one that involved a full-sized American flag being slowly pulled out of her anal cavity. It was a must see, sadly taken down by YouTube due to music rights issues. A clip from its interview with The Steve Lady is still online.
“We were one of the few bars I know that got paid vacations and health insurance. Some of the bars were known to fire people if they got sick with AIDS,” reported LaRue. Few of the old Stud employees were still around by the mid-‘90s, though Sherrie Beth Reese, their first female bartender, was said to still be seen driving Rainbow II, her second VW bug convertible (disclosure: I sold her the first). Bartender Brian Egg—his real name—hadn’t been heard of for some time. [Until 2018 when his headless body was found in an aquarium in his apartment, a murder that remains unpunished.]
Jimmie Even and Paul “Gidget” Sinclair, who made the Stud collector buttons, were both lost to AIDS in the ‘90s, as was the popular Black bartender Walter. A lot of the thrift store finds on the walls like the Art Deco lamps came from his collecting. Trixie, then co-owner of The Stud and Hamburger Mary’s, also passed away.
In the spring of 1994, The Stud staff held a memorial service in the bar for owner Jim “Edie” Fleckenstein, who died after “falling” off his Potrero Hill balcony. “Nobody witnessed it,” his surviving ex-spouse LaRue tells. “Or if they did, they’re not talking.” LaRue and longtime accountant Ben “Fiesta” Guiborg inherited the bar from Edie. Later, Fiesta became partners with new owner Michael McElheney, who finally built a real stage to replace the makeshift one made of beer cases, and on occasion even performed with his own dance company on the new Stud’s much larger dance floor.
LaRue also recalled one death that actually took place at the bar. “It was on an Oldies Night and he was a heavy drug abuser with a heart condition. He was using poppers and had a heart attack right on the dance floor. A doctor happened to be there and pronounced him dead at the scene. But you’re not supposed to move the body ‘til the ambulance arrives. Eventually people just danced around him.”
“I don’t really care for the Yuppie thing that gay young people have been going through. Gay people have always been leaders, not followers. All this materialism…. yuppier, closeted Stud goers coming from parties, even Society people mixing with people who only have enough money for for a couple of drinks—if that! We don’t see as many [industrial South of Market] arty types anymore. Of course, we’re selling a lot more Calistoga Water these days, which is good, instead of raising another generation of alcoholics like we were.”
LaRue considered himself co-dependent with drug and alcohol use. “A strange thing happened when I turned 30, getting old and working at the Stud where everyone is young. And I asked myself: Can I be an old disc jockey? And then I asked: Can I be an old drunk disc jockey? The answer to the first was yes, but not the second. Being old is OK, being a mess isn’t.”
Larry “Larue” Holloway passed away of AIDS a few years after this article’s publication in the Bay Area Reporter of June 16, 1994. Sylvester was already gone by then, as was Eddie Reyes the Hibernia Beach belly dancer. Each died too soon to benefit from the new 1995 “cocktail” of multiple medicines in lower dosages that changed AIDS from a fatal diagnosis to HIV, a condition you could live with.
THE 2000s: What Can You Say?
The Stud had a national reputation as many peoples’ Most Fun Gay Bar. Lady Gaga was seen there. More importantly, and with barely any announcement, Bjork would show up with her then boyfriend Matthew Barney, and DJ a set for the few hundred lucky souls who’d managed to hear about it in time, along with back-up from the group Matmos, made up of locals Drew Daniels and Martin Schmidt.
But more regularly, to the opening song from The Muppet Show, Tuesdays continued to be ruled by Trannyshack, which had a different theme each week. There was “Weapons of Ass Destruction Night,” a “Serial Killers Night” and “When Nellies Attack.” Among the classic Trannyshack queens providing acts to fit the theme are:
Kielbasia Fudgie Frottage Jordan L’Moore Nikki Starr Squeeky Blonde Johnny Katt Cricket Bardot Portia 666 Peaches Christ Electro Becky Motor Lodge Rusty Hips Pippi Lovestockings Suppositori Spelling Timmy Spence Lou Reed The Steve Lady Kallisto D’Amore Leigh Crow Laurie Bushman Putanesca Jenny B Precious Moments Foxy Steven LeMay David Hawkins Jazizi Cappuccino Silk Worm & Brittany Flynn deMarco Adriana Roberts Wendy Plains Rentecca Princess Kennedy Rusty Hips Mx Justin Vivian Bond Birdy Bob Watt Dear Fauxnique Holly Woodlawn Birdy Bob Watt Doris Fish Miz Ana Matronic Dean Disaster Dulce de Leche Peggy L’eggs Ana Conda D’Arcy Drollinger DJ Pinkyring Juanita More Rahni Nevermore Profundity Mr. David/Glamamore Eric “ShutterSlut” Stein Mutha Chucka Javi En Rose and last but not least, the lovely and inimitable Phatima Rude
In the midst of a kerfuffle over terminology— a time when the term “tranny” came to be seen not just as an affectionate greeting among queens, but also an actual red light for violence against transgender women— Heklina finally ended the ‘Shack at The Stud in 2008. But when one door closes, another orifice opens up, no? She went on to start “Mother” at Oasis, a new and successful nightclub and cabaret at Folsom and 11th Streets that she opened with original co-owners Geoffrey, Jason and D’Arcy Drollinger in 2014.
Meanwhile, the House of More continues the themed drag night tradition at The Stud. On Fridays, Some Thing benefits from the mentorship of Glamamore (couturier Mr. David) and Mica “VivvyAnne ForeverMORE” Sigourney, with frequent hosts Rahni Nevermore, Mutha Chucka, Dulce de Leche and a whole new slew of outrageous drag stars.
Meow Mix, a sit-down cabaret, now anchors Tuesdays, and Sing Til It Hurts is on Thursdays. Monthlies includes Frolic, a full-on furry party, the slippery Polesexual, and the ‘80s alt/goth Club Bodice. Then two weekend monthlies bring The Stud back full-circle to its origins. Every last Saturday Dark Room blasts electro, punk & post-punk. And at Go Bang on each first Sunday DJs Sergio Ferdasz, Joe Prince Wolfe and Steve Fabus (ex of the Trocadero) soulfully bring back classic disco and EDM.
Current employees behind the bar include Charlie Triano, who started in the mid-‘80s (but has been a Studette since 1974!), Kristo Valle who began in 1990, and the ever-energetic Bernadette F, who started working at the bar in 2005. Holding his own at the bar once a week is Brian Feagins who has worked at The Stud for 27 years.
After Orlando, the value of clubs to our community’s very existence is clearer than ever.
- updated 2016 by Mark Freeman from his Pride Month historical feature “The Stud: A Dreamspace for Queer Angels” in the Bay Area Reporter, June 16, 1994
- here is an addition in Summer 2020 for Queer4Decades.com:
The 20-TEENS: “Bless the children, they abide and they endure.” (Lillian Gish in “Night of the Hunter”)
Facing difficult times, the Stud Bar was bought and run by a heroic collective of 17 new co-owners starting in 2017. But inevitably the Stud had to lock its door due to the citywide pandemic closure in mid-March of 2020. With monthly rent of $16,000, online activity could not stop the economic hemorrhaging, and the collective sadly had to request that their lease expire on May 31. A virtual drag funeral was hosted by two of the Stud’s co-owners– Honey Mahogany (also founder of the Tenderloin Transgender Historic District) and VivvyAnne ForeverMORE, along with Jillian Gnarling . Go to www.studsf.com to follow virtual clubs, podcasts and news of the collective’s plans for a new venue.
When Harrison Street ended, the closing bar staff included John Cartwright (worker-owner), Hollywood Texas, Jasmine Johnson, Ben McGrath, Chloe Miller (the Chloe who re-did Gidget’s collector Stud buttons) and Chloe Lor— whose dad Suki Lor used to DJ at the old Stud on Folsom and ran the hippest hair salon back then, Architects & Heroes. And of course Bernadette “Bernie” F. (a worker-owner) and Brian Feigin who had both been behind the bar forever. The newest bartenders are Maritza Haller-Galeano and Elio Ervin. “Mr. Charlie” Triano died in 2019; he hadn’t worked at the bar since its transition to a collective.
Security staff during the last years included Lambert Moss (also a fine cabaret artist and jazz singer who channels Blossom Dearie and Peggy Lee, among other divas), Tastycakes, Saye and sometimes her partner Kia, plus Stud co-owner David Schnur, whenever he was needed to step in. The in-house Stud DJs were Marke B. (collective member and publisher of http://www.48hills.com), Oscar Pineda, John Cartwright & Siobhan Aluvalot (worker/owner).
Along with “VivvyAnne” Mica Sigourney (the night manager) and Terra Haywood (day manager) the collective’s co-owners not otherwise mentioned are Rachel Ryan (President), the political consultant Nate Albee, Jerry Lee Abram (who also did tech and lighting). Houston Gilbert, Paul Dillinger, Logan Thomas, Neven Raja Samara (their in-house graphic designer) and Maria David who also owns the slyly named St. Mary’s Pub, right next to church-sponsored St. Mary’s Park in the Outer Mission.
Vivvy and Jillian Gnarling hosted Drag Alive (and still do virtually at StudSF.com), which followed the wryly named VivvyAnne’s Grand Opening. There was a Latin-themed night Macho Macho with God’s Lil Princess. The monthly live punk band party Desperate Living was run by Seth Schulib aka Verruca Bathsalts always lived up to its John Waters-inspired moniker. The equally strange party Awooga was hosted by Cary Escovedo aka Katrina Rude (one of Phatima Rude’s two drag children). One night it featured the 6’6″-in-heels queen Abominatrix nude in a coffin of glass, but you had to part a sheer white filmy curtain to see that. Stereo Argento was a much anticipated quarterly horror- themed party brought by the ubiquitous Jillian Gnarling and Meredeath. Another club called itself Other Stranger and played only experimental sound art; it was not really for dancing. A trans-inclusive QPOC party Hoe Is Life was hosted by Nikki Jizz.
Known for her impeccable drag, club coat check maven Snow White has worked in clubs since 1985 and has quite a few stories. Though she will NOT be photographed, she offered this poster of her jeweled coat check tags. I say she deserves the last words here.
SW: I think my favorite night was Frolic, a furry party that had giant stuffed animals as decor, and everyone in realistic full-body fake fur with lifelike heads– you know those cost at least seven or eight thousand dollars apiece, don’t you?
MF: I knew they were a major commitment. And just like online avatars they can hold unknown quantities of gender expression.
SW: I loved that it was not only gender experimentation, it was cross-species as well! But it got so hot in those fur-suits that they’d go out to the alley to cool off. The poor security guard at that new building next door would have to chase a frolicsome coyote or a giant giraffe off the bucket-lifter or whatever heavy equipment. And then there were the kids who were not of age yet to get inside. I’d talk to them through the side door. One of my favorites said he couldn’t wait until he was old enough to get legally admitted. Then one day he turned 21 and bounced in and said hi to me in front of the coat check booth, he was so delighted! “I know who I am now. I know who I am! I’m a goat!”
SW: I saw it as part of my role in coat check to welcome and sometimes orient baby clubbers. And though I am a cisgender straight woman, by pure chance I happened to be at the very first Gay Parade in New York in 1970. We were always marching against the Vietnam War, for women’s rights, for Civil Rights. Me and my brother were living in Greenwich Village and we heard some chanting down on the street, so we went down to see what it was about. Though we had never heard of the Stonewall Uprising that occurred the year before, we started marching with the group and they told us the story of what had happened at the Stonewall Inn. It took a few years more before we really recognized the significance of it. You just never know when you are participating in history.