It’s been eight months since a high-heeled shoe strutted across the stage of Esta Noche. Known as San Francisco’s only Latino gay bar, open on Rondel and 16th Streets since 1981, the illustrious bar was a favorite hang out, a cultural institution, and a home away from home for many. It closed in May when new owners took over the bar’s lease.
Esta Noche will return—at least, in spirit and for one night only.
Under the direction of famed Mission artist Rene Yañez, drag queens from the infamous bar mount Las Chicas de Esta Noche: Living la Vida Evicted at the Brava Theater Friday night. Part drag show, part agitprop, the performance hopes to recreate the spirit of Esta Noche’s Saturday night drag shows with a little bit of politics mixed in.
“Basically, what we’re doing is keeping the spirit of Esta Noche alive by doing these events,” said Lulu Ramirez, a drag queen who had hosted shows for seven years before the bar closed.
“There will be a little bit of dancing, some Telenovela, and drama between songs,” she said. “You never knew what to expect from our shows.”
Ramirez, along with fellow Esta Noche performers Vicky Jimenez, Mitzy Lee, and Persia, will dance, sing, lip-sync, and crack jokes in English and Spanish. Having lost a place where they performed together for years, they’ll also share a word or two about the Mission’s ever-gentrifying character.
“We want to make a political statement about all the changes that are happening, because we were also a victim of it,” said Ramirez.
This is the second time these queens have been reunited since Esta Noche closed. In July, they performed at the de Young Museum in conjunction with the opening of the museum’s Anthony Friedkin exhibit.
The performance came about when the de Young approached Rene Yañez for input on cultural programing that would be appropriate for the Friedkin exhibit, whose photographs document aspects of San Francisco’s queer history. Yañez immediately called Ramirez.
“When Esta Noche closed, I was very upset, I felt it was a cultural institution…I’ve worked in theater, and I’ve seen so many Latino theaters leave the Bay Area,” said Yañez. “I thought the artists that performed [at Esta Noche] were quite good and funny.”
Ramirez gathered her Esta Noche compatriots and the performance they gave to a crowd of an estimated 600 people at the de Young reportedly tore down the house. According to Yañez, the room which had “a Mission crowd, a Castro crowd, a Museum crowd” gave the queens a rousing standing ovation.
“Performing together brought back so many memories,” said Persia, whose thumping anti-gentrification anthem ‘Google Google Apps Apps‘ was first performed at Esta Noche.
“We thought maybe the de Young was the last time we’d work together… but I’m so excited to not only be working together again but to bring back what so many people miss,” she added.
For Las Chicas’ show at the Brava, Yañez promises a few new twists to stir up conversation about displacement and gentrification.
“I don’t want to give away the surprises, but there’s going to be suitcases, there will be literature that we’ll pass around the audience,” he said.
In addition to the bar’s closure, the team behind Las Chicas have experienced their own displacements. After living in his home in the Mission for 35 years, Yañez received an Ellis Act eviction his July of 2013. In the last year of Esta Noche’s existence, Persia faced a huge rent increased that pushed her to move to the East Bay with her partner.
“The reason why ‘Google Google Apps Apps’ exists is because of the stress we were feeling,” said Persia. “Yes it’s political, but it’s what we were experiencing. We did that song out of frustration.”
Yañez, who is still in his apartment and in legal talks with his landlord, hopes the show will encourage the audience to be more politicized around housing issues.
He says this week’s news of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer striking down proposed legislation that would have increased the amount landlords pay to evicted tenants came as an unwelcome surprise. Not only would that legislation have meant $30,000 dollars in relocation fees to Yañez, he says its existence made him more optimistic that his landlord would eventually drop the eviction.
“It’s a constant battle to stop the hemorrhaging of artists, teachers, the working class, and cultural institutions,” said Yañez. With Las Chicas’s show, he hopes to “put a little bit a life into the situation, so it’s not all depressing.”
Ramirez says she’s just happy to be reunited with her fellow queens to revive the spirit of the lost gay bar. Given Thursday’s news that longtime queer destination the Lexington Club is up for sale, gay bars are feeling like an especially endangered species.
Having come to San Francisco at age 18 from El Salvador in 1996, Ramirez says Esta Noche felt like the first place she could safely feel gay and connect with her Latinos heritage.
“It was the place I was like: ‘Oh my God, they’re playing music in Spanish!’” said Ramirez. “But is was not just the music, it was also the men holding hands. It felt like home.”
Las Chicas de Esta Noche perform Friday, October 24th at 8p.m. at the Brava Theater. Tickets are $15-20, more information here.
Correction: An original version of this article misstated Lulu Ramirez’s name. It has been corrected.