The SoMa restaurant and drag performance venue announced it will shut down the day after March 31, International Day of Trans Visibility.
The storied restaurant’s co-owner, Larry Hashbarger, 72, told the Chronicle that he had to make the difficult decision so he and his business partners could retire. Hashbarger also mentioned that AsiaSF hadn’t fully recovered after it took a pandemic-related hiatus. The owners are reportedly putting all the business’ operating assets, including its restaurant and nightclub equipment, plus two liquor licenses, up for sale, but will retain AsiaSF’s “intellectual property,” including music, wardrobe and choreography numbers.
After 26 years in business at its location at 201 Ninth St, it feels like the end of an era. AsiaSF has certainly made history in the city since it opened in 1998. The majority of its employees are trans women, many of them trans women of color, opening up employment and economic opportunities for the historically marginalized group. Its performers even had a short-lived reality TV show, as we previously reported.
That’s not to say AsiaSF hasn’t faced criticism in the past for its narrow, at times exploitative presentation of trans people. As SFist reporter Joe Kukura wrote in 2016: “So, setting aside the exploitative and semi-offensive-in-2016 nature of AsiaSF, where birthday- and bachelorette-party-goers pack in and pay for prix-fixes and over-sweet cocktails in order to gawk in wonder at how well the lip-synching trans ladies pass for cis women, diners are going there for an overall good time. Dinner and a show, with the food not being the main draw.”
You can still catch a show for the next few weeks before AsiaSF closes its doors for good (although Hashbarger did leave the door open for pop-up events in the future). The restaurant-slash-club offers a three-course dinner menu most nights that costs $79 ($89 Saturday after 8:30 p.m.), and it’s hosting a special 4-course Valentine’s Day dinner show next week.
Feature image via Google Maps Street View.