Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Gay burlesque venue proposed for the Castro

(Photo: Rick Gerharter)

(Photo: Rick Gerharter)

A group of investors is proposing to launch a chain of gay gentlemen’s clubs in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro district, with expansion plans for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas.

The new company, called RR-SF, which stands for Randy Rooster, is in the process of buying 400 Castro Street for $7.7 million. The historic building has housed the clothing chain Diesel and sits adjacent to Harvey Milk Plaza and the Castro Muni station.

Initial online reports that a male strip club would be moving in were inaccurate, as the owners told Castro merchants there would be no nude performers when asked about it by the Bay Area Reporter.

“It will be an upscale restaurant and nightclub,” said co-owner Stephen Jones. “We want to bring a gay gentlemen’s club to the Castro.”

Jones later added that the entertainment would be in an “upscale burlesque style” that caters to the tastes of gay men.  He likened it to the Crazy Horse in Paris, which opened in 1951 and bills itself as an “avant-garde cabaret,” and the gay nightclub The Abbey in West Hollywood.

While the famous Parisian nightspot features half-naked female performers, the San Francisco venue will not involve nudity, said Jones, adding that the business will be run with “dignity, honor and respect.”

A press release from RR-SF describes the planned performances as “tasteful burlesque style entertainment for gay gentlemen.” It would appear to be a gay-male-oriented version of the Supperclub chain, which has locations in San Francisco and Amsterdam, that provides an evening filled with cocktails, multi-course meals and over-the-top performances while patrons lounge in all white beds.

There is a reason why there are no gay strip clubs with nude dancers in San Francisco, or other major California cities, as the state has a lengthy list of rules that forbids establishments with liquor licenses from having any worker reveal their genitalia. Doing so would be “deemed contrary to public welfare and morals” by the state Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control.

Go-go boys are allowed, as long as they do not remove their underwear, according to the agency’s rules. But no employee, whether a dancer or hostess, can wear or use “any device or covering, exposed to view, which simulates the breast, genitals, anus, pubic hair or any portion thereof,” according to the ABC.

The rules also prohibit patrons’ actions at establishments that serve alcohol and have live performers. According to the ABC, that business could be in violation if it were to “encourage or permit any person on the licensed premises to touch, caress or fondle the breasts, buttocks, anus or genitals of any other person.”

Venues with live performers can also get into trouble with the state ABC depending on the type of acts they showcase. The rules forbid such things as “sexual intercourse, masturbation, sodomy, bestiality, oral copulation, flagellation or any sexual acts which are prohibited by law.”

Also not allowed is “the touching, caressing or fondling on the breast, buttocks, anus or genitals” under the ABC rules.

Certain clubs have gotten away with a skirting of the ABC prohibitions. During its long run at the Stud bar in San Francisco, practically all of the weekly Trannyshack shows were in violation of at least one ABC rule.

While that drag burlesque show may have gotten away with breaking the rules, other clubs have tangled with the ABC over the restrictions. Back in 2009 the DNA Lounge and the ABC were at loggerheads after state regulators labeled it a “public nuisance” due to nudity and simulated sex acts occurring at club nights marketed to gay Latinos and lesbians.

That club’s straight owners were forced to close for several weeks in 2010 and was put on probation by the state agency in a deal to avoid having its liquor license be suspended.

Should it receive the green-light to open, RR-SF and its performers are sure to face intense scrutiny from the ABC and its undercover investigators, especially opening at such a high-trafficked intersection in a residential neighborhood.

RR-SF is billing itself as a “socially responsible business” with a “philanthropic approach.” It plans to funnel a portion of its proceeds to local nonprofits.

Jones said that patrons of the club would be able to choose from a list of five charities to designate the donations to and the selected nonprofits would rotate on a regular basis.

The restaurant would be open for lunch, dinner and brunch on weekends and be open to anyone, according to the owners. Entrees during the day would be priced in the $20 range, dinner would be higher, while cocktails would range $12 to $18.

There would be a cover charge for the nighttime shows, and VIP memberships are being planned.

Build out of the space is estimated to cost $6 million and would need to navigate the city’s permitting process. Due to the initial rumors that the business was a male strip club, reaction from the neighborhood has been overwhelmingly negative, said Jones.

“The first email we got said we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell,” he said.

The club has a bare-bones website that has not helped address rumors about it.

The club has a bare-bones website that has not helped address rumors about it.

Today marked the first time that the investor group, whose members so far have not been disclosed, made a public presentation on its plans and released a statement to the media. The B.A.R.‘s requests to speak with the investors last month were not returned.

“The rumor mill has already started, so we are here to clear up the air,” Jones told members of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro this morning (Thursday, May 2).

His presentation proved to be vague, however, and left many questions left unanswered. Jones said they have been meeting one-on-one with Castro leaders, as well as gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, to discuss their plans.

He said they expect the approval process to take a year to 18 months. Despite the difficulties many businesses run into in trying to secure permits and open their doors in San Francisco, Jones said they specifically picked the city for their first location of RR-SF.

“We want this to be our flagship location,” he said. “Many people have said we are crazy to start here. The answer to that is if we can get it open here, everywhere else will be a whole lot easier.”

— Matthew S. Bajko, May 2, 2013 @ 12:04 pm PST
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