By Denise Mattia
My two Jet Blue tickets covered my fare to Long Beach, where I’d stayed at the Hotel Maya and the Queen Mary and also squeezed in a couple nights at the stunning Chamberlain in West Hollywood. Months went by and all too soon my second ticket was due to expire. Since Jet Blue has an inexpensive connecting flight from Long Beach to San Francisco I made the decision to visit the city I’d become enamored with years before.
Before leaving, I planned excursions to Chinatown, North Beach and the Napa and Sonoma Valleys and a performance at the San Francisco Playhouse as well. What I hadn’t planned was to meet fantastic people in a great city who continue to have an impact on America.
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Getting Around the Bay
Even though my friend offered to put me up at her home in Orinda, I elected to stay in the Bay area. CityPASS proved to be a wise investment. In addition to admission to various attractions, it allowed me unlimited rides on the muni transportation system. Busses, trams, bicycles and “shanks mere” proved to be an excellent way to see this city at ground level.
The view of the Transamerica Building, Telegraph Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz and beyond from my window at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel located on the top 11 floors of a 48-storey office building was a stunning way to see the heart of the city from on high. It was difficult to venture from my suite in the sky.
Kevin Thomas, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Mark Twain Hotel in the Union Square district was able to arrange a few nights there as well.
Not as palatial as the Mandarin, my room was none-the less generous in size, clean, comfortable and had all the amenities I’d need for most of my San Francisco experience. Kevin, himself a bear, has initiated special year-long rates at the hotel for bears and drag queens. “Actually,” he confided, “they [the rates] aren’t available from the toll-free center. Anyone can call the front desk directly and get a discounted price.”
Relaxing in Union Square
On a sunny afternoon Kevin and I walked over to Union Square for coffee and pastry and joined the people on their afternoon breaks. I asked Kevin about the hotel’s new Hummingbird Garden with plants and flowers that attract its namesake. The garden is another tranquil oasis in a busy city. To accommodate the ever-growing demands of tourism, the owners plan to add more deluxe rooms and junior suites by the summer of 2014.
When asked what well-known personalities stay at the hotel, Kevin told me, “We have most of the RuPaul Drag Race contestants stay here and we frequently welcome smaller film companies to the hotel.”
An Unexpected Pleasure
The more I talked with Kevin, the more impressed I became. In addition to his duties as sales and marketing director of the hotel, he’s a GLBT arts’ writer for Examiner.com and covers the Frameline Film Festival, the oldest film festival devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender programming in existence. He has access to various shows including those performed by Peaches Christ. “Peaches started movie screenings every Friday and Saturday night 17 years ago during the summer and now does ten screenings per year,“ he said, and arranged for me to see a show that evening.
“Return to Grey Gardens” at the Castro Theatre starred cult legends Peaches Christ, Mink Stole and RuPaul Drag Race winner Jinkx Moonsoon. The theatre was packed and, when the ensemble appeared, the audience went wild. “Tea for Two” brought down the house.
The Movers and Shakers
Two muni busses brought me near the Castro the following day. I was to interview Paul Boneberg, Director of the GLBT History Museum. On my way, I watched residents slip in and out of their well-manicured homes and apartments while tourists crowded streets and flocked into shops, which capitalize on the 1967 Summer of Love with displays of psychedelic paraphernalia. Gentrification arrived in the 1990s. I arrived at the only museum in the U.S. that addresses GLBT issues.
“What makes the exhibition ‘Our Vast Queer Past, Celebrating GLBT History’ special,” said Paul, “is the creative energy of the curators.” Selected for the venue from the Society’s extensive archives are posters, prints, photographs, books, newspaper, and magazine clippings of men and women who had an impact on society. The front gallery takes the viewer from the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978 to the present day struggle for equality. The accompanying displays in the inner gallery raise awareness about the GLBT culture.
“Attendance at the museum is about 70 percent tourists,” said Paul, “first encounters by those who know little of what transpired decades before and after the film, Milk. Two audiences visit the museum,” he told me, “those who are interested in the movement and those who’d lived it all.” Paul mentioned that since GLBT history is part of the mainstream of American history in California schools, new and exciting challenges are created for students who submit papers about their visits to the museum, and that the terms GLBT and LGBT are interchangeable and might be known by another appellative in the future.
“The archives and research rooms are located at Mission Street and are open to scholars, film-makers and artists,” he continued. “A crew spent six weeks pouring through material before making the film, Milk. There are hundreds of items, artifacts, films, and audio clips we included in this exhibit, and five new shows are scheduled for the future, he added. I left the museum admiring the pioneers, many of whom continue to work to advance gay rights today.
Meeting an Old Friend
On my last day in San Francisco, I met Lori, whom I’ve known since the early 80s. I didn’t realize how much I missed her until we flew into each other’s arms. We hopped on the trolley from Union Square up California Street to the Gramercy Towers in Nob Hill, where the chic Deco-style Osso Steakhouse opened in May 2013. We shared scrumptious yellowtail carpaccio, soup, a steak and a rare tuna for dinner. Now a mother of three, she and her husband are bisexual, enjoying and sharing their alternative lifestyle with close friends.
We ended our meal with a decadent dessert and promises to stay in touch. It had been wonderful to meet friends and to visit a city, which had changed the conventional way of thinking in American life.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.