Neon Comes Out: San Francisco’s Gay Bar Signs

An illuminating talk on the 1960s/70s era when San Francisco gay bars went above ground and turned on their neon lights.

Gay bars were often hidden, unmarked enclaves for only those in the know. Often veiled behind tinted glass, with narrow entrances to allow doormen to screen patrons, they needed to hide the goings-on within from the general public, and the police, as a matter of survival. In the late 1960s they started coming out of the dark, announcing themselves with neon signs. 

These photographs, chiefly by Henri Leleu (from the GLBT Historical Society’s online archives) capture a dawning of San Francisco’s gay bars and clubs, circa 1960s-1970s. Plan to share your personal histories of some of these long-gone (as well as a few surviving) sites.

P.S. bar neon sign, San Francisco

Photos from the Henri Leleu collection, GLBT Historical Society Archives.