Beyond the ‘Stro is a new Queerty/GayCites series exploring the popular San Francisco districts outside the Castro where LGBT folks mingle with our straight counterparts.
San Francisco’s iconic “Summer of Love” had its beginnings in one neighborhood, Haight-Ashbury. The free love movement that started in the Haight in the 60s also paved the way for the area becoming a bohemian gay enclave. The free love philosophy wasn’t discriminatory and the sexual revolution swept us all.
“I called the Haight ‘the outer Castro,’” said Evans, a 68-year-old well-mannered intellectual who has lived in the area since the 70s. He recalls that gays and lesbians were initially attracted to the Haight because it was the epicenter of free love and sexual exploration. The Haight’s free-lovin’ vibe continued well into the 70s and 80s, but it was tragically cut short by the AIDS epidemic.
“Everyone knows that the Castro was decimated” by AIDS, Mr. Evans said. “The same actually happened to gay men in the Haight,” he continued. “The Castro mostly recovered its gay population. The Haight did not.”
Even though it’s been decades since the Haight’s “lost gay heyday,” as Mr. Evans calls it, there are many hotspots that have kept the neighborhood’s love for all things hippie very much alive.
1. To re-live the Haight’s heyday, you must look the part: vintage bohemian
Thankfully, the Haight is still a mega-hub for vintage shopping. There are several thrift boutiques right on Haight Street where you can get your hands on “recycled fashion.” Buffalo Exchange is a safe bet for a casual vintage outfit, and Held Over might have more rock n’ roll finds at a reasonable price. If you’re looking for a wild, eye-popping look (think amateur drag night) then the Piedmont Boutique is easy to find. Just look for those giant legs swinging out the boutique’s window.
Once you have your boho-chic gear on, head over to Amoeba Music, the venerable vinyl record store popular with music lovers of all ages. In recent memory, Amoeba has hosted intimate live performances by indie artists with big queer followings, like Robyn and Lana Del Rey.
2. Urban hiking through the Haight becomes actual hiking at nearby Golden Gate Park
San Francisco’s version of Central Park only bigger houses the De Young Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, the California Academy of Sciences, the AIDS Memorial, Hippie Hill and Kezar Stadium, where the first Gay Games were held in 1982.
3. The Haight is full of casual places to grab a quick bite to eat, from pizza to Ben & Jerry’s
But there are also more formal places if you’re in the mood for a sit-down dinner. Bambino’s Ristorante is a 30-year-old Italian institution in nearby Cole Valley with favorites such as pumpkin ravioli and hand-tossed pizza. If you’re visiting the Haight earlier in the day, stop by Zazie for a French-inspired brunch al fresco.
In terms of nightlife, Trax Bar is the last remaining gay bar in Haight-Ashbury. As such, this laid-back dive and its cheap cocktails attract all types, making it for an eclectic night-out.
Another popular hotspot at night is Milk Bar, a modern lounge that hosts local live bands and DJs. On Haight Street but not technically in the Haight-Ashbury, Underground SF is just a few blocks away from Trax and just as dive-y. During one of its popular weekly parties, this happening club gets packed with sexy locals who cram inside hoping to burn up the dancefloor.
Main Photo: Charles Law