Esta Noche (gay bar)

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Side view of Esta Noche from March 2008

Esta Noche "Tonight" in English, was the first Latino gay bar in San Francisco. It was located at 3079 16th & Mission Street in San Francisco, California (37°51′27″N 122°24′29″W / 37.85746941419939°N 122.40809885090044°W / 37.85746941419939; -122.40809885090044). It notably contributed to queer Latin culture in San Francisco. It was attractive to many Latin individuals in the community because it provided a space to drink, party, engage in hookup culture, organize and perform.[1] Esta Noche was also a place where people of other races could embrace Hispanic culture and engage in interracial relations. The bar first opened in 1979 and was the last Latino bar standing on 16th Street by 1997.[1][2] After 30 years of operation, Esta Noche closed in 2014 as a result of increased rent and property taxes caused by gentrification.


Esta Noche was founded by two openly gay community members, Anthony Lopez and Manuel Quijano.[3]

It is historically placed as the first gay Latino gay bar, and it has significance due to the discrimination LGBT people of color faced in traditionally popular white gay bars, especially in the Castro district. LGBT people of color often experienced racial slurs, microaggressions, and fetishization, as the bars where LGBT people were able to socialize and party were mostly dominated by white men.[2] LGBT people of color were often asked to show multiple forms of identification in these spaces.[2] In addition, Latino men in those spaces would experience racist remarks as well as being overly fetishized for their culture.[2] These experiences led to the creation of Esta Noche.[2] The co-founder of the group Gay American Indians (GAI), Randy Burns, said that the frustration at this discrimination was also what led his group to form, and members often met at Esta Noche.[4]

Lopez and Quijano struggled to open the bar at first as a result of discriminatory practices. Minorities in the area found it very difficult to obtain liquor licenses and/or permits. The pair hired an attorney to dispute the unconstitutional practices and were able to secure the needed permits to open Esta Noche.[5]

Esta Noche also has its roots in the Gay Latino Alliance (GALA), as one of the GALA members sold their house to buy the bar.[2] GALA and Esta Noche worked together in advertising the space as the gay Latino bar of the Mission District in San Francisco, which ultimately resurfaced tensions that the organization was dealing with.[2] With the establishment of Esta Noche came the shift of gay Latino representation from GALA to the bar life.[2]


Adela Vázquez passing on her crown of Miss Gay Latina in 1993

Esta Noche is defined as a "working-class" bar.[6] The bar served more than people looking for a good time and party; it also provided an important space for those seeking to network with other LGBT people of color. Esta Noche has been defined as a "community organizing center and host to many fundraisers for health clinics, people with AIDS, and other lower-income populations."[7]

The bar gave room for comedy nights where famous Latina comedian Marga Gomez starred.[8] The bar held Mr. and Miss Gay Latino contests and a Mr. Latin Leather competition that began in 2007.[9] However, la reinas de la noche, the queens of the night, were the drag queens.[10] Esta Noche was famously known for their drag shows; there were sometimes even six shows a week.[11] A popular drag show was the Selena nights, in which drag queens dressed and performed as Selena.[12] Adela Vázquez, a popular Cuban American transgender performer, activist, and local to San Francisco's gay scene was crowned Miss Gay Latina in 1992 and was often seen at Esta Noche. Another notable person that Esta Noche collaborated with was Diane Felix.[2] People who went to the bar recalled it as a space where people of color, Latinos in particular, could come together and have a space where they would not receive racist discrimination or homophobia.[2][13]

Contributions to the LGBTQ Community[edit]

Communal Impact[edit]

Adela Vázquez performing at Esta Noche

Esta Noche has a rich and important history to Latinos and gays in San Francisco. As one of the first public spaces for gay Latinos, it holds a special significance to many community members. It was a space where queer Latinos could be themselves, speak their language, and listen to their music. A San Francisco native and regular at Esta Noche notes the bars popularity to new immigrants in the area looking for places where they can feel like themselves and the attractiveness it had to young lost Latinos as a place to have fun and come out in the night time.[14] It was also attractive to those seeking cross-racial interactions. Even non-members of the Latino community recognized the distinct atmosphere provided by Esta Noche. Tim Speck, a gay white man living in the Mission district speaks about his experience living in the Latino district after being sick of living in predominantly white neighborhoods. He explains his frustration being surrounded by the anglo gay lifestyle and his attraction to the exotic and sexual energy provided by Esta Noche.[15]

Esta Noche served as a place for Latinos to embrace and be open about their sexuality and gender preferences. Vivian Lopez in an interview from the GLBT Historical Society describes her first time at Esta Noche and her first time seeing a man dressed as a woman. She was a mere nineteen years old and saw her first performance at the bar. Seeing the transsexual dancer reminded her of her childhood fantasies and when she would dress in secret. She too wanted to look like the performer. Just one night at Esta Noche inspired Vivian to begin her transition. Vivian's story is one of many in the impact Esta Noche had on closeted and afraid LGBTQ people of color.[16]

Response to the AIDS Crisis[edit]

As Esta Noche was opening, San Francisco was already seeing a significant spread in HIV among the gay community. Quijano recognized the lack of education and difficulty and stigma around the topic particularly for Latinos. Esta Noche promoted safe sex by distributing condoms and held AIDS fundraising events. Esta Noche even started hosting Mr. and Miss Safe Latino competitions to advocate for safe sex practices.[17] After being crowned Miss Gay Latina, Adela Vazquez quickly began her outreach surrounding health disparities among the trans community. Vázquez collaborated with other drag queens to form Las AtreDivas, which organized and performed at Esta Noche. They highlighted safe sex practices bringing awareness to AIDS and to raise funds for local organizations.[18]


Esta Noche was nominated for the San Francisco Pride Marshalls. However, they lost to the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose, California. They were running against the UCSF Positive Health Program.[7]

Esta Noche was featured in the HBO series Looking for 2 seasons.[19] By the recording of the second season in November 2014, the bar was already closed.[19]

Esta Noche was the focus of a 1994 documentary directed by Tina Valentin Aguirre and Augie Robles.[20] The film, "Viva 16" highlights the LatinX queer culture that was built in San Francisco against what was otherwise predominately white neighborhoods. It showcases the community of the Mission district from the 1970s to the 1990s pre-gentrification.[21]


In 2013, Esta Noche was threatened with closure, after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted new laws related to licensing and permit fees.[22] The club launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, but it was unable to secure enough funds to stay open.[12] In early 2014, it was announced the club was closing down.[23] The closing was treated as a significant loss to community members, and the bar was generally perceived as another victim of gentrification. Many efforts were made to stop the closing of the bar; for example the "queens of San Francisco drag queens, Heklina and Anna Conda spearheaded a fundraiser to try to save the venue in May 2014. However, they were unable to save the bar.[11] The closing of the bar has been tied to the increasing of property tax in the area, which has caused gentrification. Gentrification has also affected many other Latino bars, which have had to close.[1][24] By 1997, Esta Noche was the only Latino-owned bar standing in 16th Street.

Bond, another night club, now sits in place of Esta Noche.[25]

Esta Noche's important history and significance to gays and Latinos continues. In 2017, Esta Noche was part of an urban project by Sandra Ibarra. The Hook Up/Displacement/Barhopping/Drama Tour was an effort to revive 5 sites of queer displacement and gentrification in San Francisco.[26] A 4 minute video of clips from Esta Noche's past was projected onto the bar which replaced Esta Noche.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Press, Berkeley Electronic. """'Mira, Yo Soy Boricua y Estoy Aquí': Rafa Negrón's Pan Dulce and the Queer Sonic Latinaje of San Francisco"" by Horacio N Roque Ramirez". Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ramírez, Horacio N. Roque (2003-01-01). ""That's My Place!": Negotiating Racial, Sexual, and Gender Politics in San Francisco's Gay Latino Alliance, 1975-1983". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 12 (2): 224–258. doi:10.1353/sex.2003.0078. JSTOR 3704613.
  3. ^ "The Bay Area Reporter Online |". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  4. ^ "The Bay Area Reporter Online | Gay American Indians
    celebrate 40 years"
    . Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 2016-05-05.
  5. ^ "Remembering Esta Noche as queer, POC spaces shutter". The Bay Area Reporter / B.A.R. Inc. Retrieved 2021-03-21.
  6. ^ Ramos, Iván A. (2015-04-03). "The Dirt That Haunts: Looking at Esta Noche". Studies in Gender and Sexuality. 16 (2): 135–136. doi:10.1080/15240657.2015.1038195. ISSN 1524-0657.
  7. ^ a b "The Bay Area Reporter Online". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  8. ^ "The Bay Area Reporter Online |". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  9. ^ "Remembering Esta Noche as queer, POC spaces shutter". The Bay Area Reporter / B.A.R. Inc. Retrieved 2021-03-21.
  10. ^ "La Ultima Noche « Mission Mission". Retrieved 2021-04-25.
  11. ^ a b "Drag Queens Say Farewell to Mission Institution Esta Noche". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  12. ^ a b cl_admin (2014-02-27). "San Francisco Says Goodbye to Iconic Gay Latino Bar 'Esta Noche'". Colorlines. Retrieved 2019-11-15.
  13. ^ Hall, Donald E.; Jagose, Annamarie (2012-06-04). The Routledge Queer Studies Reader. Routledge. ISBN 9781135719449.
  14. ^ "La Ultima Noche « Mission Mission". Retrieved 2021-04-25.
  15. ^ Ramírez, Horacio N. Roque (2003). ""That's My Place!": Negotiating Racial, Sexual, and Gender Politics in San Francisco's Gay Latino Alliance, 1975-1983". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 12 (2): 224–258. ISSN 1043-4070.
  16. ^ "Vivian Lopez Interview Transcript - Digital Transgender Archive". Retrieved 2021-04-27.
  17. ^ "Remembering Esta Noche as queer, POC spaces shutter". The Bay Area Reporter / B.A.R. Inc. Retrieved 2021-03-21.
  18. ^ "Two queer Latinxs share their best Pride memories". Time Out San Francisco. Retrieved 2021-04-27.
  19. ^ a b "Looking Is The Only Action Esta Noche Is Getting These Days". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  20. ^ "Film Screening of ¡Viva 16! (1994)". ONE Archives Foundation. Retrieved 2021-04-27.
  21. ^ ¡Viva 16! (1994), retrieved 2021-04-27
  22. ^ "Save Esta Noche". Indiegogo. Retrieved 2019-11-15.
  23. ^ "Esta Noche Closing: SFist". SFist - San Francisco News, Restaurants, Events, & Sports. 2014-02-26. Archived from the original on 2019-11-15. Retrieved 2019-11-15.
  24. ^ "Esta Noche to Close. Nothing is Sacred". KQED Pop. 2014-02-27. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  25. ^ "Home". Bond Bar. Retrieved 2016-04-16.
  26. ^ "THE HOOK UP...DISPLACEMENT...TOUR". Xandra Ibarra. Retrieved 2021-04-27.
  27. ^ Boom, La Chica (2017-05-24), Vintage Clips of Esta Noche y La India Bonita for THE HOOKUP/DISPLACEMENT/BARHOPPING/DRAMA TOUR, retrieved 2021-04-27