Google buses, art studios replaced by tech companies, Ellis Act evictions, studios for $2000+, Valencia turning into a soulless upscale dining playground for the rich, Mark Zuckerberg buying and gutting a house on your block, and on and on. We’ve read all the articles, heard all the anecdotes at parties. The San Francisco that drew us from all corners of the world is shrinking at a neck-breaking pace. It’s one thing to understand this intellectually, but quite another to feel it emotionally.
Maybe none of your friends have been forced out of their apartments, maybe your favorite bookstore is still standing (for now), maybe you can afford $13 drinks. But there will come a time when you reach your own priced-out moment, something that pushes you from “there’s nothing we can do” to “we must do something!” For me, it’s this: Esta Noche to be replaced by a “New York style lounge featuring the best local House music DJ’s in a […] sexy den of wood, leather, red velvet, and glowing candles.” Not to mention a “very competitive bottle service program.”
Something about this news feels personal. A bar dedicated to the gay Latino community in what used to be a predominantly Latino neighborhood is wiped away for a vaguely pornographic-sounding cocktail lounge for fancy straight people who like house music. It’s a slap in the face, like when they replaced Cafe Gratitude, the beloved meeting place for vegans, with the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. More and more, it’s starting to feel like whoever is holding the San Francisco marionette strings is trolling us all.
Why is the closing of Esta Noche so personal? I grew up as a first-generation closeted gay kid stuck in an all-white Catholic school. When I first discovered Selena, I became obsessed with her joie de vivre and her dedication to being exactly who she was. She was proud of her heritage, a feeling I hadn’t come to yet. I kept all of this secret from the kids at school; their mocking me for not taking the same communion was enough. The idea that there was a place where you could be exactly who you are and jam out to Selena was inconceivable to me.
Years later, I had arrived! An entire night dedicated to Selena drag numbers at Esta Noche. Three drag queens of all ages mimed Selena’s Tejano pop, a vortex of bedazzled curves, baby hair, and mascara tears. I saw the white light; there was a heaven. Looking around the space, the spirit felt snatched from a dream, one of inclusion and celebration and diversity, the primary tenets of San Francisco. In that moment, I was overcome with gratitude that we all made it past whatever challenges to get to this safe haven. And now the venue that made that memory possible is being replaced with bottle service and house DJs. Where are the kids like the younger version of me supposed to go when they grow up?
This feels like a tipping point, if not for the entire city, then at least for the LGBT community. From here, we either careen into a future where some start-up will buy your building and turn your studio apartment into an arcade for its millionaire employees. Or maybe this is when a movement of underdogs rises up to stop San Francisco from becoming a gated community packed with slick new lofts and Teslas. Only time will tell which direction we’re headed, but one thing is for sure: time is running out.