Taking a walk in SF’s Wild Side West bar 

click to enlarge Wild Side West
  • Juan Pardo/Special to the S.f. Examiner
  • The Wild Side West, originally opened in Oakland in 1962, moved to Bernal Heights in 1976.
Three straight guys step into a lesbian bar. ...

That could be a good start to a bad joke, but instead it was a positive thought I had going into a recent Saturday night.

“The odds are with us,” I told my boy Vinny B, a Bay Area rapper in baggy white jeans, a lavender collar (because it’s spring) and a white 49ers beanie.

“This place should be popping!,” said my other friend Carlos, who couldn’t have been more excited.

Turns out a Saturday night at the Wild Side West could be a Tuesday night somewhere else.

No more than a dozen people were in the dimly lit place where portraits of nude women, throwback advertisements and tons of heirlooms decorate the walls.

Not what we were expecting, but it was all good.

The Wild Side West was originally opened in Oakland in 1962 by a lesbian couple, Pat Ramseyer and Nancy White, and named after the Barbara Stanwyck film “Walk on the Wild Side.” In 1964, the bar moved to Broadway in North Beach and became a refuge for gentleman’s club dancers getting off their shifts.

But when the bar moved to its current Bernal Heights home in 1976, the idea of a lesbian bar in the neighborhood didn’t go over well at first.

The front of the bar was shot up and some neighbors had left broken toilets and sinks outside the door. Instead of trying to move again, Ramseyer and White took the incidents in stride, turning the discarded items into art and planters for the beer garden downstairs.

Though both women are now deceased, the bar was passed down to their longtime friend Billie Hayes, whose nephew Mike from Detroit tends bar a few days a week.

On my second visit, I headed downstairs and sat in Pat’s Magical Garden, the full moon peeking through the trees, sipping my $3.50 bottle of Radeberger. A “ONE WAY” sign is tacked to a tree, pointing up to the sky. Abalone shells serve as ashtrays.

Just as the Wild Side West has been a refuge through the years for lesbians, Broadway strippers, musicians and just about anyone else, I too found refuge for a moment in that magical garden.

The water fountain trickled behind me as the lady with a trumpet blew a few more notes before heading back upstairs. The soft aroma of spring flowers, honeysuckle and jasmine carried through the breeze. Lights from neighboring windows shut off one by one as the night carried on.

I’m sure it’s everything Pat intended it to be.

I stepped back onto the patio and into the main bar area. A woman with a pool cue stood stumped at a table, trying to find her way around a bad break.

Before I headed out, I raised my glass to the last gulps of beer as a couple in matching sneakers, washed-out blue jeans and polo shirts took in the music, two-stepping to the soft refrain of The Carpenters’ “Close to You”.

“Just like me, they long to be / Close to you.”

About The Author

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado is a cocktail enthusiast and sucker for soul and sweet reggae music. A food and drink blogger since 2009, Rhys has sipped his way from Hawaii to Santa Barbara and up the coast to San Francisco, where he's found a glorious wave of craft concoctions and expert drink-makers.
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