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Straights Astray

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Greg Roden

Gay clubs have become oases of tolerance for night crawlers of all sexual preferences and, some say, a happy hunting ground for all persuasions

By Traci Hukill

Foxy Lady

CROUCHED AMID DECREPIT industrial buildings, its neon sign glowing like a cat's eyes in the shadow of the San Jose Arena, the Foxtail makes its home in a neighborhood better known for its homeless population than its night life. Foxtail moved in when the gay-popular Greg's Ball Room moved out, and now shares a street with two homeless shelters. But the thudding dance music inside, the Tina Turner videos on mounted monitors and the procession of gorgeous young drag queens dressed to the nines and parading in and out of the bathrooms actually look pretty rich.

Two particularly attractive queens, all done up in black halter tops and hip huggers, with exquisitely polished makeup and stupendous hair, slide Cleopatra eyes up and down two young straight women walking in the door. Of course the newcomers pose no threat. Not here. Apart from the queens, the atmosphere around the Foxtail bar tonight has a distinctly truck-stop vibe to it: just a bunch of guys being guys, not particularly interested in the women. The two breeders crane their necks in vain search of a boy who doesn't like boys.

The truth is, they stand a better chance of being picked up by the 50-ish lesbian couple making out in the corner than by any of the guys here. One or two straight couples have walked in the door, but they're couples. Packs of straight predatory males on the make--or even lone wolves--are noticeably absent from the scene tonight.

Richard Velarde, the big sweet guy behind the bar, has only worked here a short while but says it's a vast improvement over the sports bar gig he just left. "Straight men don't know how to tip," he confides. And he knows why the two female breeders are here. "I think that women feel a lot more safe in gay bars--they can come in and feel like they're not going to get harassed," he says. He definitely cannot promise them any love tonight. He just hasn't seen any straight boys scouting out girls at Foxtail.

Not like the old days at Hamburger Mary's, anyway. In its heyday as a gay bar, straight (and obviously nonhomophobic) men would go there to meet straight women trying to avoid the meat-market scene of many other clubs.

Norman Delise, a sweet-faced, blond security staffer at the new Club Ecco, occupying Mary's spot, remembers those days. "Straight women used to come in here to get away from the testosterone assholes. But then the guys [at straight clubs] would say, 'Where's all the women?' "

And yes, Delise says, the men eventually found their way to Hamburger Mary's.

And Delise thinks an overkill of heteros might have been exactly the reason Mary's slid out of business.

"Gay people want exclusivity, they don't want to be around breeders all the time," Delise says. "They want to go someplace where they can go up to any guy and pick up on him."

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Liquid Account: Two women go looking for looks in all the wrong places.

Blues in the Cruz: Santa Cruz's only men's bar is all but arrow-straight.

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If Hamburger Mary's was no longer that place toward the end, Club Ecco is less so. The name no longer carries the gay signature Mary's did, except for 'gay night' on Wednesdays and an up-and-coming lesbian night the first Tuesday of every month. All other nights, the crowd is either straight or mixed.

But 75 percent of Ecco's staff remains gay, and on gay night on Wednesdays, the straight women still flock--"I'd say about 20 percent of the crowd on Wednesdays," says Delise. Even in this reduced environment, the trend continues.

Straight women even show up at lesbian bars. Says Annette Owens of the Savoy in Santa Clara, "We do get a lot of straight women coming in because there's not a lot of ogling. But we haven't had the follow-through with the straight men coming in. We do have them sometimes, and I welcome them, but we want our clientele to feel comfortable," she adds, knowing we will catch her drift here. "A lot of our patrons look at the establishment as their own."

Dennis Andrews, owner of Foxtail and Cupertino's Silver Fox, hopes to pick up Mary's old clientele. He doesn't view straight infiltration as a problem, but he does say that "we have a lot of straight couples in here, especially for our drag shows." From the sound of it, he'd be happy with a mixed crowd. "We want a combination club," he says, "like in the old days."

"Combination" can mean a few things. It can mean gay revelers and straight people mingling peacefully and successfully. Or, as in the case of the Blue Lagoon in Santa Cruz, it can mean that sometimes gay people go there, and sometimes straight people go there, and rarely the twain shall meet.


Metro reporter Cecily Barnes contributed to this report.

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From the October 29-November 4, 1998 issue of Metro.

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