When the Randy Rooster, a male striptease club, wanted to take over the former Diesel store space at Castro and Market streets, local residents were at first apprehensive — is this the sort of thing we want in the now-family friendly, no-public-nudity gayborhood?
When the owners of the proposed club promised an upscale, burlesque-type experience, the neighborhood totally lost it — do we want a bunch of drunken sorority girls and bachelorettes cock-blocking the streets?
Whether it would be too raunchy or too mainstream, the Rooster faced opposition. So earlier this month, the owners scratched the idea, leaving the building vacant.
"Some people can never get beyond the 'dancing in underwear' element of burlesque. It's not for everyone. And it's easy to knock something one doesn't understand," said Max Barnaby, the founder of the local SF Boylesque performance troupe that disbanded in 2010.
Although it's impossible to predict the vibe and clientele the Rooster would have attracted (the club's PR firm, Singer Associates, did not respond to requests for comment), it's disappointing that a local, gay-owned business did not have the opportunity to thrive in the Castro.
"When something sexy appears, we're quick to judge it, because didn't 'lax sexual moral-tude' bring about this [AIDS] pandemic to begin with?" Barnaby said, echoing commonly perceived concerns. "We seem to have given up our sexuality in exchange for societal approval."
And yet, with societal approval comes a fear of displacement — that with the gentrification of the Castro the bachelorette parties will stumble down on our parade. Just like what happened in North Beach. Just like what happened on Polk Street.
But despite such judgments, the queer community has been generally supportive of the male burlesque revival in San Francisco. During its run, SF Boylesque was asked to perform by various local organizations, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation. The troupe also booked legendary venues such as Bimbo's and the Castro Theatre. And Barnaby and his boys even tried out for "America's Got Talent."
"I think there's a real hunger in our culture for something original and really exciting having the whole spectacle of it all," Barnaby said. "It loosens up a room and helps people relax into their own skins."
Barnaby developed the idea of SF Boylesque after seeing a circus cabaret show in Berlin. He wanted to subvert gender roles in a show where men danced in their underwear and the women felt safe. Eventually, SF Boylesque extended its residency at Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, but when the factory closed its doors in 2010, the group had a difficult time securing rehearsal space.
Luckily, several SF Boylesque dancers continue to perform locally as the Bohemian Brethren, the first all-male burlesque review west of the Mississippi. Max's stage brother, Bobby Barnaby, is the new ringleader.
The Brethren will be part of a burlesque extravaganza Thursday at The Parlor, 2801 Leavenworth St. The show, titled "United We Shimmy," will benefit funeral costs for the recently deceased burlesque phenomenon Dixie Evans.
And for those of you who dreamed that the Randy Rooster would be a gay Hooters of sorts with servers in jockstraps bringing you french fries ... we already have that in the Castro: it's called Hi Tops.
Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company. Email him at email@example.com.