BARchive: The Elephant Walk
Feeling in the spirit of the holiday season, Luc suggested we meet Joelle for cocktails in the Castro. In the 1970s Castro at Christmas was real, like gays and Hollywood make things real. The only thing missing was snow, and that was carried often enough in small plastic snifters like snuff boxes for 18th-century merry gentlemen.
Luc and I arrived early to stake out a window seat at the Elephant Walk. The bar was on the corner of 18th and Castro before Harvey’s. This was the place Fred Rogers (not the PBS kids show host) opened in the neighborhood. It was where soul and disco queen Sylvester would later perform on Sunday afternoons. It was the bar that was trashed by cops during the flip side of the White Night Riots. It was the bar named for the classic Elizabeth Taylor movie.
The Elephant Walk was an elegant perch for people-watching at any time. During the holidays it was spectacular. The entrance was on an angle at the corner. Outside, flower boxes hung below big windows through which one could see and be seen. Inside, the atmosphere evoked reruns of Cheers with tables and bar. Behind the bar hung a great stained-glass masterwork of a charging elephant, done by glass-worker Michael Palmer. During the holidays it was cozy and gay with glitter and tinsel that dressed-up its fern-bar décor.
Luc, decked out as an Edwardian dandy, flirted with the waiter as he ordered a snifter of brandy. I, in my professorial elbow-patch tweed, settled down for a bottle of Bass Ale and a lingering look at the bulge in the waiter’s black tux trousers. Was that real or just stockings stuffed for bigger holiday tips? Strains from Christmas Medley accented the holiday mood.
We looked out the window. People of varied genders and sexual persuasions paraded by to see what the Castro offered, the way New Yorkers flocked to Macy’s or Chicagoans clustered by Marshall Field’s, mesmerized by holiday displays.
Across the street by the bank stood Castro’s Christmas tree, dwarfing the people below. Under the tree sat various Santas with accommodating laps and sometimes a goose for Christmas.
"There she is!" Luc said as he handed me the vial of holiday snow.
I looked out. Joelle stood on the sidewalk, debating between venders of mistletoe or chestnuts. She wore her linen dyke-y chic suit and sensible shoes. Her short blond hair and whisper of makeup said she’d been around, elegantly.
"Merry Christmas, guys, " she said. She held the mistletoe over Luc and then me for our holiday kisses. The handsome young waiter was there in a flash. "Bring me a Cutty straight with a beer back," Joelle said.
I grabbed the mistletoe and held it over the waiter’s head. Luc gave him a holiday kiss.
As the evening wore on, the crowd increased, as did the decibel level. "Dancing Queen" replaced the holiday tunes. Midnight approached. Cruising increased. "Don’t Go Breaking My Heart" set the mood. Joelle took a taxi to Maud’s. Luc left with the waiter’s phone number and headed up 18th to the Pendulum. Outside I stood at the corner inhaling the earthy aromas of the chestnut roaster. He accepted my offer of a ride to Folsom Street. It was the holiday season, December, 1976.
Copyright 2012 Jim Stewart. For further true gay adventures, check out the award-winning "Folsom Street Blues: A Memoir of 1970s SoMa and Leatherfolk in Gay San Francisco" by Jim Stewart.