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[whitespace] Club owner Larry Hashbarger's Asian odyssey

By Millie

ON A TRIP THROUGH SOUTHEAST ASIA, Larry Hashbarger first felt the inspiration. His grand ideas were refined over dinner at Lucky Chang's, the famous Asian drag supper club in New York. And it was during another tired crawl through San Francisco's gay club circuit that Hashbarger finally decided to act.

"San Francisco has the highest Asian population of any city in North America," says Hashbarger. "One little bar on Polk Street catered to Asian guys and that was it. Surely this was an untapped market."

So three years ago Hashbarger opened Club Asia, a twice-monthly mega-dance club located at King Street Garage, 174 King St. With pulsating techno music, scantily clad muscle hunks and go-go dancers gesticulating wildly, Club Asia looks a lot like most of the large, weekly gay-boy dance parties in San Francisco. The difference is the clientele. "We have an international clientele," Hashbarger says. "I've met people from all over the world at my club."

This may be true, but the bulk of the crowd is homegrown. In Club Asia, San Francisco's queer Asian sons finally had a big-league dance party to call their own. The club has been enormously popular, consistently drawing guys from all over the Bay Area. "And not just Asian guys," Hashbarger is quick to point out. "If you want an intense dance experience on Friday nights, Club Asia is the place to be."

Yet some in the gay Asian community are put off by what they see as Hashbarger's objectification of Asian men. "In the beginning, it [Club Asia] was cool," says a lapsed Club Asia fan, who prefers to remain anonymous. "It was nice to have an alternative to the N'Touch. But somehow the whole thing started to feel creepy. You've got Asian boy dancers with white guys stuffing cash in their crotches. It screams, 'Thailand sex-vacation.' "

But it's hard to argue with the numbers. Club Asia still packs them in every first and third Friday of the month. In fact, the club has been so successful, Hashbarger plans to open a new bar-lounge restaurant-dance club called Asia SF at Ninth and Howard. "A landmark entertainment venue," he says. "The premier nightlife experience in the city. The most extraordinarily fabulous destination spot in San Francisco."

Hashbarger is a man who speaks in superlatives. At a recent pre-opening party, Asia SF mostly lived up to the hype. The interior designed by John Lum is all high gloss and international glamour. The upstairs lounge is dominated by a set of wall screens providing an ongoing light show, bathing the tastefully adorned room in soft shades of yellow, red and ocean blue. The downstairs dance floor gets a more typical treatment--exposed brick, a low ceiling and hardwood floors. With high-energy music blaring, you almost wish Hashbarger had opted for a smooth, underground hideaway feel with plush couches and dark corners. But kids pack the dance floor, their white tank tops soon to be soaked through with sweat.

As with any success, Hashbarger's clubs have spawned competition. Here's an overview of the gay Asian club scene:

1548 Polk
A Polk Street institution, this dingy bar has been the unofficial queer Asian party spot for years. With pulse-pounding old school house on the weekends, karaoke, strippers and benefits during the week, N'Touch offers something for everyone. It's not high gloss and glamour, but it's typically packed and sweaty on the weekends. Long lines out the door most nights testify to the N'Touch's down-to-earth staying power.

Sol y Luna, 475 Sacramento
This once-a-month Sunday night party is a relative newcomer to the gay Asian dance party scene. Bangkok offers a classy, intimate experience in the financial district. With lots of giveaway stuff on hand--CD singles, cigarettes, lube--the hosts keep it simple and to the point. Good dance tunes, great space and no annoying midnight show or go-go boys. A decidedly adult alternative.

Transmission Theater, 1501 Folsom
"Slanted and Enchanted" says the little club card with a picture of a geisha on one side, Bruce Lee as Kato on the other. Jaded, like most predominantly girl clubs, has a sense of humor--something entirely lacking in the gay-boy clubs in the city. Jaded happens once a month, bringing Asian dykes and a smattering of boys together for a kooky high-school-dance-like party. Run by two Asian dykes, Jaded offers music, dancers and video projections that look askance at stereotypical Asian roles. Fun and edgy all at once.

On the Flipside
Big Heart City, 836 Mission
Slated to open Gay Pride weekend, Flipside offers a unique monthly party with cool funk, R&B and special performances. (Check out local diva Pinay on opening night, Friday June 26.) Funky, fresh and familiar, Flipside already lives up to its name. It's produced by a trio of Asian gay boys hoping to take the scene to a whole new place--home.

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From the May 4-17, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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