San Francisco Club Scenes ~ 1960s to 2000!

There was a bar-restaurant called Romeo's and on Sunday they had Jose doing the entertainment during brunch.  This was during the age of Free Love on Haight Street!   He was a Latino man in his 40s then.  He would dress up in operatic garb and impersonate the entire opera cast.  Our favorite was his rendition of Carmen with the fan and appropriate Spanish dress and dancing on the stage which was about ten feet square (sometimes he fell off if he danced too energetically!).   I remember one weekend we were asked to an after bar closing party by three women roommates.  We got to the apartment and had to laugh, three rooms and no furniture, only one bean bag chair, not that many of you remember such a thing.  So we ate and drank and danced and ended up sleeping on the hard wood floor!  Ah, to be young again!

One other bar on the water front was named 'On the Levy' and the first time I went there on Easter Sunday their in-house entertainer, David Kelsey, was on the stage performing while people had brunch!  He always had a piano on one side and an organ on the other side of his stool.  He would play both of them at the same time, one hand on the organ and the other on the piano.  To celebrate Easter, his hat was a bird cage tied to his head with a real live canary flying around in it!  I knew I wasn't in Kansas any more!  He used to laugh as he was asked to entertain in Honolulu and he always dictated that they had to ship his 'organ' to Hawaii or no performance.  He must have been good to have a heavy organ or piano shipped to Hawaii for his performances.   Later he performed at the Polk Gulch on Polk Street of course.   The bar tender from the Trap in the Tenderloin eventually bought the bar so we always wondered where he got the money to buy such a big place - or rent at least. 

The Trap was downtown and was something.  So popular, we would go in on Friday night after work and there would be 100 so so patrons and we would  drink and dance until two a.m. and then hit the after hours clubs, have a meal, crash someplace and do it all over again on Saturday and Sunday - the bar opened at six a.m. and by nine a.m. it was almost one third full.  As my doctors said after I quit drinking so much, why was my liver and kidneys were still in great shape.  They said genetic for one thing.  The crowd always had a good laugh, I could be in the back of the bar carrying on and someone would come into the front of the bar and say, Chuck must be here as we can hear him over the crowd!  He should be on stage (I thought I was!)  One time they had a big party celebrating one of the bartenders who was from Hawaii.  A friend and I were invited and we stood around and acted like we needed something special for the party.  Well the bartender had relatives in Hawaii and he called them and had special leis made up and flown to San Francisco for us to wear at the party!  Wow!   My friend had the traditional floral leis but I had a special one composed of leaves that supposedly they had to go inland to find a special plant to get the leaves, he said it was a warrior type leis! 

We used to go to a bar on Sunday in Marin, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  A Russian woman owned that bar and she used to regale us with stories about Russia and her life as a 'princess', aren't they all.  She wore long dresses and tons of beaded necklaces, so Russian.

Another bar was the Two till Two bar.  It was owned by a woman in her 60s and she always dressed up and looked great.  We became friends and she had a Cadillac and we would drive around to visit other bars and I always had the best as I was a friend of hers!

In the 1960s and 1970s there were many bars and also great shops on Polk Street. At that point in time the area was a high toned place to live and shop.  Years later it became run down and was a mess.  It has come back to a degree and there are lots of clubs and restaurants on the street now.  There was a bar called the Web and we used to go in there.  The bartender was around 50 or so.  I of course was around 30 so 50 was getting older!   He was a mess, had a pimply face and a bad attitude behind the bar.  I heard he liked to dress up as a show girl in the Vegas lineup.   I thought, excuse me, this mess.  Well one night he came in all dressed up in very high heels and the most fantastic show girl outfit and a big blond wig, great makeup and looked like a million dollars.  I thought to myself, how can this be!  Live and learn they say!

Then of course, Sally Stanford and her bar in Sausalito.  During and after World War 11 she ran a house of ill repute in Pacific Heights.  It was visited by all the politicians and the diplomats working to create the UN which was founded in San Francisco.  So it pays to know the right people and she was always with the 'in' crowd.  She eventually closed her house in the City and moved to Sausalito where she opened a bar and we used to go there and have more fun.  But then she decided to run for Mayor of Sausalito even though she was a madam!  Well of course, she won and was mayor of Sausalito!  Only in the Bay Area.  The bartenders said she was a terror to work for.  She would sneak in after the bar would close and mark the bottles of booze.  Then the next night would calculate now many drinks were sold and if the level of the booze in the bottle matched the number of shots.  If she thought the bartender was miss pouring, he was fired.  No wonder she ended up having a lot of money!   

Another local, Wyneda, was a friend of Sally Stanford but they had a falling out after many years.  She had a bar restaurant in Sausalito on an old river boat but one night we went to have dinner there and the place was burned to the ground.  Of course since most of her places of business burned down, it wasn't too surprising!  So she next moved to Sonoma and the wine country.  There she had a bar restaurant in the woods with cabins to rent.  It was a wild place where you could get a full steak dinner for $10.  I mean a steak as big as a dinner plate! The Hells Angels used to come up on their motorcycles, whirling around the courtyard while everyone else sat there eating their steaks and having drinks galore!   But after a few years, we went there for dinner and guess what, burned to the ground!  She then moved to a house in the East Bay and we went there many years later.  Well she recognized us even after many years!  She then had to take us on a tour of the house, into her bedroom.  It was scary.  Clothes all over, lace, dust, boxes, and so on.  And on her shoulder was a Bantam Rooster.  She said she liked to have a c..k on her shoulder!  Well I have to admit, after the tour I found it hard to eat lunch there but it was popular and even the conservative East Bay people liked to come just for the atmosphere!  She passed away years ago but was one of the last of many personalities that are now missing from the local scene. 

I also knew another bar, the Blue Swallow on Polk Street owned by a woman named Linda.  She was great and we became good friends.  One day in 1968 she asked me if I wanted to go to Hawaii!  Well of course, I said "Yes!"  So off to Honolulu for two weeks of fun.  It was rather strange and now I cannot remember why she asked me to go along as she had her young piano player go with us.  I did have my own room so not sure what was up but I did have two weeks in Hawaii, one week in Honolulu and one on Maui!   The beach in the day time and dinner cruises in the evening watching the sun set over the mountains!  I haven't seen her in over 30 years now but was told she just sold another bar on Mission Street named the Phone Booth.  She must be over 80 now but still looks good.  Her secret she told me over 30 years ago, "I use Preparation H on my face, around my eyes, it tightens up everything!"  Well someone told me the other day, Linda is still using Preparation H to this day!  The only problem is if it gets in your eyes, lots of tears!  But then, anything to look young!

We also went to an after hours cabaret in the tenderloin named the Glided Cage, downtown San Francisco, where all the actors from the Broadway plays would stop by for a drink and be entertained by the locals on stage between two and six AM.  This way one never had to stop having fun!  We saw many famous people there.  Charles Pierce, the famous impersonator worked there doing his rendition of Bette Davis!  He eventually even had a show in Las Vegas!  

Then another impersonator was so funny, looked like an old English man in a sports coat when at a bar but, put a dress on him and high heels and he looked like a million.  They put a swing on the stage and he would dress up like Scarlet O'Hara in Gone With the Wind and he would sing and swing out over the crowd to cat calls and jeers.  He/she and the crowd loved it!  I heard later, he had one of the first breast implants, big ones!  Talk about scary.   This took place in the 181 Club downtown and I, of course, coming from the mid-west, was slightly naive!  The first time friends took me there, the waitress asked if I wanted a tea or a coffee.  I very loudly announced I wanted a Cutty Sark!  I was told to shut up and order the correct way!  Tea was vodka and coffee was whiskey!  So goes life in the fast lane!

I have many other stories about the 60s and 70s and into the 80s and will add more of them as I remember the 'good' old days!

How I got into dancing in 1959 and what happened because of it years later!

When I was in college at Rockford College in 1959, I went to Arthur Murray's Dance Studio and asked if they would teach me to dance and become a teacher at night for pay. I figured being on the farm and not really knowing how to dance, getting a good background in dance would be good for my social life and in the business world. Of course I am sure my family thought, there he goes again! Little did I know 30 years later I would be dancing and teaching classes in San Francisco in my spare time while doing consulting on software development. Well the owner of the studio in Rockford Illinois said I could take lessons to become a teacher and not get paid! Huh! I said excuse me, I expect to be paid one way or another. Get this, the owner thought if I was so up front and pushy, I would be good as a teacher and sales rep for selling dance courses. I was the only one who was paid for three months while learning to dance. You can't beat that!

After a few months of teaching the guys were all after this tall dark haired gorgeous dance teacher who had been working there for a while. One evening while we were all sitting in the coffee room she ran in and hugged me and gave me a big kiss. Well everyone wondered what was up with Nancy. She told me she had been in school with me at the one room school in Pecatonica, she was in the seventh grade and I was in first grade! I vaguely remembered her and she told me she had a boy friend (she sounded like she was a gun molChuck at the Black & White Ball in San Francisco! l as far as I was concerned), and was moving to Los Angeles and she wanted to talk to me before she gave notice and left for the West Coast. Well I was unhappy, she was getting out of town and going to Los Angeles and here I was - stuck in Illinois. Well little did I know within five years I would be on the West Coast in San Francisco! I eventually would be flying to Los Angeles and Beverly Hills on a regular schedule for several years while working part time for my friend Viviane in her Senior Residence in Woodland Hills plus visiting just for fun. I always wondered what happened to Nancy - could she still be there?

I started to take West Coast Swing lessons around 1985. It is very difficult and combines swing and almost has a Cha Cha feel to it. I believe it was developed during the 1940's in Los Angeles during the War Years. The dance floors would be so crowded that the leader stayed in one spot and the partner would be spun around him on a more or less straight line - or back and forth. I met a partner who was about five foot five and 100 pounds so I could do almost anything with him! I used to drive from Sunnyvale after working as a consultant on computer applications to a local bar and dance until almost eight P.M. The bar had free dance lessons during the week nights and many times they would let us dance on the huge dance floor alone for up to two hours as people really liked to see us dance. We did western and ballroom but mainly West Coast Swing and that irritated many purists as they said this wasn't really western dancing. We decided having the word West in it was enough reason to dance it.

I also taught at a local dance bar on upper Market Street called the Corral! It was mostly western and I also taught line dances and west coast swing! I also danced nightly at the Rawhide during the week, a dance bar south of market for over ten years. Chuck at the Black & White Ball in San Francisco! I was working in Silicon Valley, consulting at major corporations and would drive back to the City and meet my dance partner and dance from about 6:00 P.M. until the free dance classes started at 7:30 P.M. We were so good that many times we dance alone on the floor, doing west coast swing and the two step but with lots of turns which infuriated the so called purists. If in Texas, one just flew around the floor on the two step, no fancy turns for those butch numbers. But guess what, many times 60 or more people would just stand and watch us and some nights we danced into the actual class time!

The Black & White Ball is one of the biggest events in San Francisco and I attended it in the 1990s with a dance partner from a dance bar called the Rawhide. The Black & White Ball is held every two years and is very expensive but worth the price. Everyone wears black and white and diamonds or what ever one can afford. The entire Civic Center is closed off and bands play in the Symphony Hall, the Opera House, the State Office Buildings, the Marines Memorial Building (Where the United Nations Charter was signed), the City Hall and also in many tents set up around the streets. Thousands of people attend and drink champagne and eat great food and dance the night away until early in the morning. Then it is time to go home and rest up for the next Black & White Ball! Here am I looking spiffy in my tuxedo and some rhinestone jewelry.

I joined a dance group, Partners For Peace, in the late 1980s while I was dancing at the local bars in the City. The group, Partner's For Peace was a lot of fun and we had about ten people in the group. A man who taught dance in Oakland asked if we would like to create a group of dancers and perform around the City. We danced different places around the City and one of our nicest was an Aids benefit in the Marine's Ballroom on the top floor of a their hotel building in the downtown area.

The following is how we decided on what to wear as we wanted to do a presentation entitled:

Dances Around the World

We discussed what dances we would include in our Dances Around the World. Perhaps we would have a waltze, a country western and a cha cha as part of the dance routine. We were talking about the waltze and how nice it would be with the women wearing those nice ball gowns and the men wearing tuxedos. Well the first thing we heard from two of the women was, "I have never worn a dress and will not be wearing one now!" There were about eight women and six men. Suddenly a 'queen' said he wanted to wear a dress and so did another man. The women said they would love to wear the tuxedos so it ended up having everyone happy with their dress desires and no one had to be left out of the waltze! You have to love it!

Two women made copies of our dancing at a benefit in Olives in 1991, a bar restaurant near the San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately they forgot to bring the lights so the movie is rather dark but still one can see we didn't look too bad for amateurs. I had a video company cut out the portion of my west coast dance and it lasts about three minutes! When I look at it I can't believe I knew so many steps in the dance. I uploaded the video to Google and my dance number may be viewed by clicking on the following link.

Click on the Youtube video of Chuck's West Coast Swing - 1992. It is slightly dark as the 'girls' who video us doing our dances, forgot to bring the spot light so it is rather dark and was orignally on video tape. I had a company redo the video and now at least you can see us and our specially made costumes to delight the audience! That is our story and we are sticking to it!

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  Charles Walter Buntjer

San Francisco California
Created on: 2011.03.22  

Updated on: 2015.07.28