Heads up: There’s a terrific article in the San Francisco Bay Times that provides a fabulously detailed and personal history of Wild Side West, Bernal’s truly fabulous neighborhood-lesbian bar on Cortland Street.
Arguably, Wild Side West may be the last lesbian bar in San Francisco.
But did you know that Wild Side first opened in Oakland in 1962? Did you know that, at the time, it was illegal in California for women to work as bartenders? Did you know that Wild Side West then moved to North Beach in San Francisco, before coming to Bernal Heights in 1977?
In 1977, Pat and Nancy moved WSW (including the actual physical bar and mirror) one last time … to San Francisco’s still untamed blue-collar neighborhood, Bernal Heights. Further than the miles on the map from the ever-growing crowds of downtown, they bought an 1890s Italianate two-story and settled down. More than just a place of business, WSW at 424 Cortland was their home.
Less than two days after the bar opened, the neighbors welcomed them by throwing a big rock right through the front window as people were in the bar. Pat and bartender “Uncle” Bill Owens just sighed and covered the window with a sheet of wood, which remains covered. But that didn’t stop the welcoming committee. A couple of nice broken toilets were also tossed in the other window. Pat and Nancy, and their renegade group of backyard gardeners, turned the porcelain fixtures into lovely flower pots in WSW’s incredible “secret” garden. If ever there was a way to take someone’s ugly intention and turn into a living retort, they nailed it.
Head over to The Bay Times to read the whole thing.
PHOTO: Wild Side West by Telstar Logistics.
One thought on “1977: Remember When Wild Side West Arrived in Bernal Heights?”
I was lucky enough to meet Pat and Nancy during their heyday. I also played pool with I think Pat on the notorious pool table. For those who think that GBLT businesses were always welcome, guess again.
The kind of problem they experienced was typical of a lot of GBLT businesses during that era. During that time I owned a mailbox rental company (mailboxes, wrapping shipping, etc) and at one point someone broke into the shop, apparently with a key, and placed child porn above the drop-ceiling. The next day I happened to notice small crumbs from the tile on the floor, which was very odd, so I looked up in the ceiling found the stash, removed it and threw it far far away.
A couple days later, SFPD officers came into my shop and did a thorough search of my shop on the basis that they had gotten “complaints” about illegal activity in my store. I allowed them to look around, including removing the ceiling tiles. They were miffed that they didn’t find anything illegal. I asked them what was wrong and one of them said, “Oh, nothing. There’s been some kind of mistake.”
A day later was the election that got Harvey Milk elected to the Board of Supervisors. Later I learned from another policeman that the SFPD had planted all kinds of “evidence” to try to discredit the gay movement and turn voters away from Harvey. What was strange was that he didn’t even represent the district where my shop was, and I couldn’t have voted for Harvey anyway.
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