Wild Side West’s Wild Life
The Wild Side West story reads more like fiction than fact, a tale that includes flying toilets, rock star goddesses, beat poets, folk musicians, strippers and a band of merry pranksters that held the whole thing together. Of course, if you were to read the story in a novel you would never believe it, which makes the whole thing even more magical.
The story begins in Oakland, where Patricia Ramseyer and Nancy White opened the Wild Side (named for the Barbara Stanwyck film) in 1962. Back in the early days of the bar, Joan Baez would stop by with "Bobby Dylan" as Pat called him.
In 1964 they moved the bar to Broadway, in North Beach near the Broadway tunnel, and since it was on the west side of the bay it became Wild Side West. It was a great place to see and be seen. Janis Joplin hung out in the bar, both before and after her career broke with Big Brother.
The bar was popular with writers as well. Madeline Gleason, who organized the International Festival of Modern Poetry in San Francisco (in 1947, in the decade before the Beats) gave readings at the bar with her friend the experimental writer ruth weiss (who never capitalizes her name as a protest against law and order).
At the time, Weiss was a bartender for Wild Side West. The bar became a refuge for strippers in North Beach as well, and Ramseyer made sure they weren’t bothered by their patrons from their daily bump and grind.
At Ramseyer’s memorial in 2010, Billie Hayes, a longtime friend, caretaker and the current bar owner, noticed a number of older women. Upon asking, Hayes was told that they were the performers from North Beach coming one last time to pay respects to their dear old friend.
In 1976 Ramseyer and White bought a building at 424 Cortland which predates the 1906 earthquake and moved Wild Side West there. The reception of a lesbian bar in Bernal Heights was not exactly cordial. The front windows of the bar were shot up and bathroom fixtures were thrown through the front window and left in front of the building. Ramseyer’s response (recounted in her Bay Area Reporter obituary) was, "You will never run me out of here."
In the spirit of taking lemons and making lemonade, Pat and Nancy took the porcelain fixtures out back into the bar’s garden and used them as planters. Many of them can still be seen in the garden. Aside from the planters in the garden, the other holdover from the bad old days is the front of the bar, which has had the windows blocked out with wood panels since the 1970s.
The Wild Side boasts an amazingly eclectic collection of fascinating history and art. You could spend days looking through the fascinating collection, with the added plus that unlike most history collections or museums, you can do it with a drink in your hand.
The back and front bar were brought by Ramseyer from the Broadway location. Behind the bar you’ll notice a door with painted art nouveau decorations. This came from one of the brothels in North Beach and was reclaimed by Ramseyer for the Bernal Heights bar. There are also several original paintings by Ramseyer in the bar (and she painted the woman on the front door as well).
The interior of the bar features a fireplace which is still used frequently on cold summer nights, and a piano where you will sometimes find Todd Manley playing. Manley is also the gardener for the two back patios and has sculptures there as well. "This one is my daughter," he said as he posed with a masked beauty.
Creativity doesn’t stop with the décor of the bar. The patrons and the bartenders are quite talented as well. Bartender Mister Nancy plays bass with the band Fabulous Disaster and has been working in music venues around town since the days of Page Hodel and the Box.