San Francisco

The Must See SF Venues… That Have Closed Down

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San Francisco has a reputation as one of the most eclectic cities in the world, and we have some of the most thrilling places to see. From strip clubs, to bars, to shops, we are any weirdo’s wet dream. But times are changing, and the perverts have started to migrate. So here are some must sees of San Francisco that have since closed down.

The Gold Dust Lounge was one of the best worst bars in the city. They had champagne happy hour, mimosas if you were feeling zesty, and for better or worse they had all the vodka you could drink. Once we were kicked out because we asked the table next to us for money to tip our waitress. They were perfect! They had a fixture band that played there each night while the strange mixture of individuals danced with drinks in their hands as if on permanent vacation. The band’s keyboard player wore a keyboard neck tie. Everything was gold and red, like a Pimp Your Ride version of The Black Lodge from Twin Peaks. The atmosphere was almost eerily friendly, the energy soft and slow, as if it wasn’t crawling with busy, obnoxious tourists and the colorful undomiciled just outside. It was as if you traveled to the 80s every time you stepped inside. It was perfect and we just let it slip dust lounge

Clothes Contact and La Rosa Vintage Clothing were owned by the Retro City Fashion people. The same ones who own Mars in Berkeley, and Held Over on Haight Street. Clothes Contact was basically Held Over’s leftovers in the Mission District. They sold their vintage by the pound, which was unlike anything we had ever seen before. They even had their own little scale to weigh everything you had. It was ten dollars a pound, but this price seemed to vary throughout the years. Everyone who worked there seemed too cool to actually work there, and went out of their way to not actually do much work. It was genius and possibly the best job, ever. You would walk up to the counter with your massive pile of broken vintage clothing that would undoubtedly end up banished to your “to mend” pile, and you would throw your clothes on the scale, and they would knock down the price for you a couple dollars. You left with a massive bag of rags and felt like you just won the lottery. Sadly this feeling can never be resuscitated in today’s vintage world. You now pay full price for your broken goods. La RosaLa Rosa was on Haight Street, and it was a completely different story from Clothes Contact. It had clothes from the 60s or earlier, and they were actually in really (mostly)great condition. Once we were even able to find a mint condition pink leather travel purse that looked like it belonged in a beautiful set of Samsonite luggage. Just a block away now, Oran, the old shop manager of La Rosa now runs his own brilliant shop called Relic Vintage.

Lusty Lady, SF

Lusty Lady was the first unionized strip club, a fun little performance where the dancers seemed quite a bit like sorority sisters. Located in North Beach, it was more of a peep show as opposed to a traditional strip club. The way it would work was you would enter a small room with a covered window and a machine to put your dollars in. Once you put in the dollar the window shade slowly rose up and a whole other world was revealed, as if the women are encased in a glass playhouse… With a stripper pole. One dollar lasts a few seconds and you could put in as many dollars for as many seconds as you could possibly want. They had a vending machine in the hallway that produced lube, condoms, snacks and drinks, and a feminist zine that was put out by the dancers. All the goods you could think of to need so that you could haul yourself up in one of the rooms! Lusty Lady is a landmark which will be missed, from the perfect neon sign outside, to the beautiful women inside. Lamentably if you’ve got a lust for life, you must now keep it to yourself.

One of the biggest areas of the city to change is The Castro. One of our favorite, often overlooked spots was Lime. Lime was an adorable bar in on Market Street in the Castro. It was a great space, served cocktails and food, and the employees were an absolute delight. Unfortunately everyone barfed in their bathroom, or if you were really special, on the tree outside. Occasionally we would work alcohol promotions there, and once when we ran out of the product we were promoting, we drank the rest of the “complimentary tastes” (never free samples) and the bartender had food made for us. It was a perfect space of fabulous people, and top notch places to vomit. We aren’t sure exactly why it was the greatest place to toss your cookies, but it really hit the spot.

When you were doing a quick vintage fashion loop of The Mission, Foxy Lady, although not actually vintage, was always on your map. Foxy Lady was a fabulous, let’s call it a novelty shop, in the heart of the Mission District. It was as if all the workers of Lusty Lady coordinated to buy a number of their sweet outfits there. If you wanted sparkle stripper heels, faux leather pants, or any number of ostentatious costumes for a very reasonable price, Foxy Lady would have been like heaven. But now you are stuck finding all of your novelties on Haight Street with every tourist, ever.
Marlena'sWe stopped in the doorway to watch a drag queen perform “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and the bouncer told us to go on in. Marlena’s was a drag bar in Hayes Valley that we had our very first underage drink in. We ordered gin martinis which were too much for our 18 year old stomachs, but we drank them anyway. Marlena’s was awesome. They had a semi-indoor smoking section and the indoor performances were always spot on. Now in its place is another faceless hipster bar.  We can stomach the gin martinis, but nothing can compare to the loud, sometimes obscene character that was Marlena’s.

Empress of China was an amazing five stories tall landmark of Chinatown that had been around since the 1960s. It featured beautiful views of the city, and deliciously terrible food. Some of the workers had even been working there for over 30 years. It has been called “simultaneously average and exceptional” and we think that hits the nail on the head for this restaurant. We really lost something special when we let this one go.

lexingtonThe Lexington Club was a safe space geared toward girls who love girls and we can’t believe it’s gone. It seems like just yesterday we were listening to Radar’s reading series for LitCrawl, moving closer and closer to an attractive stranger. It breaks our hearts to know that there isn’t even a meaningful replacement for The Lex, that the changing neighborhoods have displaced groups of people that the city owes much of it’s identity to.

So as San Franciscans what are we to do? Hold protests? Join up with the tech industry so we can put the money we make back into the city? Become better citizens and vote in every election (we hope you are already doing this)? Move to Oakland? Or do we just accept it, and try to adopt the mindset of out with the old and in with the new? It’s hard to keep up with this shifting cityscape, but we have hopes that it will retain its weirdness in spite of some of our favorites closing.

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Sarah Schwitkis

Sarah Schwitkis

Sarah Schwitkis is a writer, makeup artist, and aerial silks obsessed weirdo who has lived in San Francisco for over a decade.


  1. Suzy C
    October 18, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Damn this is a great article. Makes me nostalgic for the good ol’ days. Pouring a few out for my fave haunts (and by pouring out I mean pouring down my throat…)

  2. M-SF
    October 18, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Gold Dust relocated to the Wharf, but the Wharf tourists aren’t as fun as the Union Square tourists. I’d add Trad’r Vic’s to the list, although it’s been gone for about 20 years, along with the Condor, before they added “Sports Bar” to the name.