For the second time this year, an iconic Castro bar is turning to patrons and fans for help, as it once again sits closed and without a source of revenue for an indefinite span of time.
Twin Peaks Tavern, which previously turned to the public for help in the spring, is once again during this second lockdown asking for donations to stay afloat from all those who have warmed its stools and tucked themselves into its corners with an Irish coffee over the years.
"In any other year, a holiday stroll through the Castro would include a visit to the incredible Nutcracker display at the Twin Peaks," the owners write on a GoFundMe campaign. "This year, our windows are once again darkened due to the second lockdown in our city, and we are taking every precaution to make sure our customers and employees stay safe and healthy through 2021 and into 2022. Unfortunately, the cost of remaining closed is taking a strenuous toll, and without an immediate infusion of funds, our doors will close for good."
Standing at the gateway corner of Castro and 17th (and Market), Twin Peaks Tavern is a landmark in the city's historically LGBTQ neighborhood, and a sit-down hangout spot in a neighborhood not known for bars you want to sit down in. The place has been a bar for at least a century, beginning as an Irish pub with shutters on its street-facing windows, but it became a gay bar in 1972 when two lesbian owners took over. Designed as a fern bar with Tiffany-style stained-glass lamps, the place retains the same vibe it's had for five decades — along with its huge windows that led to its landmark designation by the city in 2013.
Historically, gay bars across the country were walled off the street, with no windows that allowed prying eyes to peek in and spot someone still in the closet. This is still the case in many towns, and was still the case with a few bars in SF until recent years — Midnight Sun was the last bar in the Castro neighborhood to open up its front walls in the last decade. In the early 70s, as the Castro was increasingly becoming a mecca for gay men and lesbians, the bar's shutters that used to prevent heterosexual wives from peering in all came down, and Twin Peaks became the first gay bar in the city — and likely the country — to let the daylight shine in and the pride reflect out. (The big windows and its often gray-haired clientele have also earned it the unkind but often lovingly used nickname "The Glass Coffin" around the 'hood.)
A documentary about the bar's history and its place in the neighborhood, titled Through the Windows, premiered at Frameline last year, and it's been online for on-demand screening for most of this year — with proceeds from virtual screening tickets going to help the bar. Filmmaker Bret Parker announced in July that the screening had raised $1,150 for the bar, which she donated through the GoFundMe. "Let's keep it going!" she said.
In particular, the bar plays a vital role in the lives of many seniors in the gayborhood, who congregate at its tables in the afternoon and evening hours — before the space becomes a catchall drink spot for passersby, people coming from or going to shows at the Castro Theatre, or anyone looking to be able to talk with friends over a table rather than screaming over loud music in one of the other bars in the area.
But Twin Peaks is a special place to many regulars, and a touchstone for those who are both aging out or have long sense aged out of the club scene but who still want to socialize with other LGBTQ people in a bar. For a few months this year, after outdoor dining became allowed, the bar partnered with Orphan Andy's, the diner next door, to serve drinks and foods at outside tables on the sidewalk and along the edge of Jane Warner Plaza. When they will get to do that again remains unclear, though hopefully by the time the weather improves in February?
San Francisco icon and activist Cleve Jones — a longtime fan of the bar who says that he, too, referred to it as the "Glass Coffin" in his "impertinent youth" — told SFist in 2016 that while he's happy that everyone feels comfortable hanging out in the Castro, he still "feels a pang" when he walks by Twin Peaks and sees straight people congregating there. "There are so few places in the world where old gay men are welcome," he said.
As one regular says in the documentary, "I think one of the things that Twin Peaks has done is to help normalize 'gay.'... One of the reasons they had all this glass was to be open to the world. You know, 'We're gay, and we're not that much different than anybody else.'"
If, like many people, you don't want to see this bar close and would likely have been spending money there this month during normal times, donate here. The bar has almost reached the halfway mark in its $100,000 goal as of this writing.
And you can expect this will not be the last bar to reach out for help, as the weeks of stay-at-home orders — and increasing COVID hospitalizations — drag on.