Of everyone I talked to, it was the straight guy who was the most broken up about the Lexington Club closing. He’s 34-years-old and sitting at the bar with his friend Blair Smythe. He doesn’t want to give his identity and prefers to go by his “stage name,” GuestUser.
“This is a San Francisco institution!” He says passionately. “It can’t close!”
The Lexington Club, if you don’t know, is the last lesbian bar left in San Francisco. In the mind of GuestUser it stands for a time when San Francisco was uniquely counter-culture.
“It made me happy to think I lived in a city where this existed,” GuestUser says, gesturing around the bar. Marginalized people could come together, he says, and could be totally comfortable, the norm even. It makes him sad to think that the San Francisco he loved is a thing of the past.
But the notion of San Francisco as a gay city is now a nostalgic look in the rear view mirror, says my friend who wishes to be called “Kimberley”.
That San Francisco “is for tourists,” she says, “not for people who actually live in the city.”
Kimberley says that San Francisco is no longer the mecca that people once flocked to so they could explore their identities, “unless it’s the identity of a tech entrepreneur.”
Kimberley moved to San Francisco in the 90’s expressly to explore her sexuality.
“I mean I had a job, but my real profession was being queer,” she told me on the phone, laughing. “I don’t think the city allows for that anymore, it’s too expensive.”
Kimberley points out that queers aren’t marginalized as they once were and so the days where an exclusively lesbian bar is needed may have come to an end. Queers have become mainstream.
“We can get married, have kids, be ‘out’ at our jobs,” Kimberley says.
But back at the Lex, 24-year-old Zahra Axinn disagrees. She came out at 15 and her sexuality was never an issue, but she still feels the need for a lesbian bar.
“As a femme, straight-looking lesbian no one in a straight bar would ever assume I was queer,” Axinn says.
And this makes it difficult to meet women. She doesn’t feel comfortable hitting on women in straight bars, and by the same token, women in straight bars don’t hit on her. She thinks lesbian spaces are still necessary.
“Being in a place like the Lex means I can feel comfortable being myself,” she says.
I make my way to the end of the bar to talk to Emilio Colocho, 44, and his friend Raul Escobar, 25. They came to the Lex tonight because it was the only gay bar around.
“His husband used to work at Esta Noche,” Colocho says. “But now that’s closed too. All the gay bars are closing.”
Escobar came from El Salvador not too long ago when he married his husband. He says in El Salvador having exclusively gay bars is a safety issue, because hitting on the wrong person in a straight bar could get you killed.
Colocho is a long-time San Franciscan. He remembers renting a huge three-bedroom apartment on 22nd and York in 1998 for $1,500.
It’s six o’clock, the bartender dims the lights and the 90’s Guns N’ Roses hit “Patience” plays on the jukebox as 90’s nostalgia makes its way across the bar.
GuestUser is missing the San Francisco he once knew. To him, the closing of the gay bars around San Francisco means the fabric of the city has changed for good.
“I guess there’s no such thing as a gay or a straight bar anymore,” he says wistfully. “Bars don’t have an identity now. They’re all generic.”
Like affordable rent in San Francisco, gay bar is possibly a thing of the past. We all wonder together if the word “queer” will go back to meaning odd, as it once did.
“The only truly queer bars left in San Francisco now are in the Marina,” GuestUser says and laughs.