The first weekend was so exciting that they threw a party before cutting the ribbon. New queer bar Jolene’s opened last Friday on 16th Street and Harrison with the relaunch of popular pop-up lesbian party: UHAUL SF. So women-positive was the space, and so nipple-heavy the wall art, that they found themselves briefly blocked from Facebook.
The Mission District’s newest addition may be going against a trend of disappearing LGBTQ+ spaces, but its location brings back memories for the senior queers in the neighborhood. Even before The Lexington’s 2000s run as the lesbian bar of choice, the Mission was a queer mecca, and 16th Street was the main corridor of gay life.
Noted for its Latino community and its resistance to gentrification, there is little surviving evidence of the neighborhood’s background as a welcoming space for the creation of communities at the intersection of Latino and queer identities.
“The legacy of 16th Street as a queer Latino corridor of bars and organizations is in danger of getting lost,” said Tina Valentin Aguirre, chair of the board of directors at the GLBT Historical Society. The vibrant gay scene is depicted in Aguirre and Augie Robles’ 1994 documentary Viva 16, filmed when Los Portales, Eagle Creek, Esta Noche and La India Bonita were all still spaces of pilgrimage and communion. The latter two were noted for being especially welcoming of the neighborhood’s lesbians, who otherwise gravitated towards Valencia Street’s bars and businesses.
Escalating rents have forced both Latinos and lesbians out of the city, which has turned the so-called “gayborhood” into an increasingly male-dominated place. However, parties like UHAUL SF — also created by one of Jolene’s co-owners — and spaces like the new bar are now pushing back. Accounts of Jolene’s opening weekend centered on it being an inclusive space for everyone who falls under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.
Aguirre has no hopes of a revival of the old LGBT corridor on 16th, but also acknowledges the evolution of the community and its need for dedicated spaces.
“People used to come together around politics, groups or bars, and hook up in real life,” Aguirre recalled. “This has changed in ways that are impossible to undo. Gentrification has also promoted the disintegration of our community in ways that cannot be undone.”
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Baby queers’ rites of passage do not necessarily go through such spaces anymore, and Aguirre is fine with that.
In fact, the documentarian says, the question is much broader: “It’s not about a place, but about the act of coming together.”