Say goodbye to yet another institution: the Tea Room Theater, one of San Francisco’s oldest gay porn theaters, is calling it quits.
Blame goes to the usual suspects: the internet, hookup apps, and a more open culture that no longer forces queer people to hide. These days, porn is practically something you can find out in the open — especially in San Francisco.
There was a time when porn theaters like these were one of the primary ways that men hooked up. You’d spend a few bucks to slip into a grubby theater, or loiter in a hallway, or watch a live dancer. If theaters weren’t your thing, you could also poke your head into certain bathrooms; or hide in the bushes down by the ocean. Half a century ago, for a lot of men, there simply weren’t any good clean wholesome ways to meet each other — and for some people, that was just fine.
Time have changed, though, and the guys still going to porn theaters are the real devotees from a bygone era. You’d have to be intensely devoted to such an establishment to keep coming back, especially at a time when it’s far easier to meet people online. They remain important internationally, though, in countries where oppressive regimes still make it difficult for LGBTs to congregate.
Most of the Tea Room’s clientele is elderly, reflecting the slow waning of interest in going to a store for sexual gratification. It’s tucked away in the Tenderloin, which was once the epicenter of SF’s queer culture but is now mostly the epicenter of crime and poverty — especially as the rest of the city is converted into corporate housing for Silicon Valley.
A few other options remain for naughty gay men: There’s the Nob Hill Theater, which is unfortunately quite a schlep up the hill from Union Square. And there are also a smattering of porn shops and leather establishments sprinkled around SOMA, though their days are probably numbered as well.
So now what’s to become of the Tea Room? A few bits will probably be sold off, and then it’ll likely become home to a fancy coffee shop, or maybe a place to buy sofas that cost more than most people make in a year. Every now and then, someone will find out what it once was, and giggle about it.