Finocchio's Club

Coordinates: 37°47′54″N 122°24′21″W / 37.798419°N 122.405827°W / 37.798419; -122.405827
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Finocchio's Club
Finocchio's Club (1958) in San Francisco, California
Restaurant information
EstablishedJune 15, 1936
ClosedNovember 27, 1999
Previous owner(s)Joseph "Joe" Finocchio,
Eve Finocchio
Street address506 Broadway Street, San Francisco, California
Coordinates37°47′54″N 122°24′21″W / 37.798419°N 122.405827°W / 37.798419; -122.405827

Finocchio's Club was a former nightclub and bar in operation from 1936 to 1999 in North Beach, San Francisco, California. The club started as a speakeasy called the 201 Club in 1929, located at 406 Stockton Street.[1] In 1933, with the repeal of prohibition, the club moved upstairs and started to offer female impersonation acts; after police raids in 1936 the club relocated to the larger 506 Broadway location.[1][2] Finocchio's night club opened June 15, 1936 and was located in San Francisco, California, above Enrico's Cafe at 506 Broadway Street in North Beach.


The term finocchio is Italian for fennel, but is also a negative slang term for homosexual.[3] Finocchio are described as young male prostitutes, often underage, working at brothels.[4] In New York City, the Italian word finocchio was common derogatory slang for homosexual men, equivalent to fairy or faggot.[3][5][6]


Joseph "Joe" Finocchio, the creator of the club,[7] had the idea of a nightclub with female impersonators in costumes when a patron jokingly went on the stage of his club and did a routine that the crowd enjoyed. The club was not advertised as a gay club; it was advertised as a place for entertainment and fun. Both gay and straight performers worked there. The acts included varying ethnic-inspired performances such as geisha-style performances, which may have helped encourage tourists and contributed to the diverse, often racially diverse crowds, which was unusual during this time of segregation.[1][2] In the days before gay liberation, female impersonator clubs provided semi-public social spaces for sexual minorities to congregate.[2]

Finocchio's often featured traditional drag, with performers in gowns singing or lip-synching to top 40 ballads.[8]

Finocchio's was "off limits" during World War II, not due to the entertainment, but rather for selling liquor to the military outside the authorized hours of sales. On December 31, 1943 the ban was lifted after Joe Finocchio and other bar owners signed an agreement to limit liquor sales to military personnel between 5 pm and midnight.[9]

Finocchio's was a huge favorite with tourists from the 1930s to the early 1990s. Joe Finocchio died in January 1986.[10] Eve Finocchio, Joe's widow, decided to close the club on November 27, 1999 because of a significant increase in the monthly rent and dwindling audience attendance.[9]

Some other notable female impersonators acts and nightclubs of the era include The Beige Room in San Francisco; Club My-O-My in New Orleans;[11] Club 82 in New York City; and the traveling Jewel Box Revue.[11]


Finocchio's nightclub combined entertainment with sex trade and prostitution.[12] With the criminalization of prostitution, there was a general trend away from commercial brothels and towards nightclubs.[13] While some nightclubs had rooms rented by the hour, Finocchio's did not have these.[13]

In 1936, Finocchio's nightclub was subjected to a police raid. Five female impersonators were arrested, along with the owners of the club.[12] The owners were arrested for employing entertainers on a percentage basis. This was reputed to lead to entertainers mingling with male customers, trading attention and sexual favors for drinks at an inflated price.[12] Following the police raid, the owners moved Finocchio's to a different location, hired more entertainers, and stopped employing the entertainers on a percentage basis.[12] Following the police raid on Finocchio's, the 201 Club had its dance permit revoked for employing female impersonators on a percentage basis.[12] The entertainers were known to mingle with guests, soliciting drinks.[12]

In the 1950's, Harry Benjamin began administering estrogen-based hormone replacement therapy to prospective transsexuals in San Francisco. He relayed information about the prostitution infrastructure for female impersonators at Finocchio's nightclub in the 1950's:[14]

As to Prostitution, she says: "they [female impersonators] are all available or at least 95 percent." Since here at Finnochio's [sic] the performers are not allowed to mingle with guests, the dates are made thru the waiters. If a customer gives the waiter less than two dollars for delivering the note, this note is never delivered or remains unanswered. A 5 dollar tip to the waiter means the customer is willing to pay $50 or more for the date including sex of course.

Friedman writes that this method of arranging "dates" had precedent in the "messenger boy" culture of New York City and Chicago in the 1950's.[14] Rates of $20–50 were at least twice as expensive as rates by cross-dressing street prostitutes during that same era.[14] In 1972, an article in Lee Brewster's Drag magazine mentions the practical aspects of prostitution found there, and $50 for sex with an attractive female impersonator:[15]

The 'stars' of the show are paid about $60 per week, half of which is in cash. If the performer misses one night during the week she doesn't get the cash half of her salary. Can you imagine such an unfair arrangement? As a result, most of the performers are forced to hustle their male customers to earn a living—not that most of them don't enjoy what they're doing (on stage and off). Some of the better-looking 'queens' won't even talk to a male customer unless he guarantees a $50. And so the performer soon learns how to make a living, and the act on stage becomes little more than a showcase, a parade of what's available.


A 14-page program, "Finocchio's: America's Most Unusual Nightclub", was published by Zevin-Present, circa 1947. The Finocchio shows published playbills. After Finocchio's closed, they donated the costumes, photos and programs to the GLBT Historical Society.[16]

It is thought that Finocchio's was the catalyst for the art of drag.[17][16] Celebrities who attended shows at Finocchio's throughout their many years of operation included Frank Sinatra,[17] Howard Hughes,[17] Ava Gardner,[17] Tallulah Bankhead,[17] David Niven,[17] Errol Flynn,[17] Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Lena Horne, Joan Crawford, Barbra Streisand, Mae West, Carol Channing, William Haines, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Roddy McDowall, Liza Minnelli, Cher and Bette Midler among others.

After the closure, another San Francisco establishment called Harry Denton's Starlight Room started a drag show in 2006 called "Sunday's a Drag," a female impersonation show modeled after Finocchio's.[8] These shows are hosted by Donna Sachet.[8]

Notable acts[edit]

Artists who performed at Finocchio's included (in alphabetical order):

See also[edit]

  • Pansy Craze, prohibition-era popularization of drag queens within the LGBTQ community
  • Club 82 – New York City nightclub (1926–1973) featuring female impersonators
  • Club My-O-My – New Orleans nightclub (1933–1972) featuring female impersonators.
  • Black Cat Bar – San Francisco queer bar (open 1906–1921; re-opened 1933–1964).
  • The Beige Room – San Francisco gay nightclub featuring female impersonators (1949–1958)


  1. ^ a b c d "'Finocchio's – a nightclub' on A Gender Variance Who's Who, Essays on trans, intersex, cis and other persons and topics from a trans perspective.......All human life is here, blog by Zagria". 12 January 2010. Retrieved Sep 15, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "'Finocchio's, a Short Retrospective a Historical Essay' on Digital Archives @ FoundSF by Susan Stryker". Retrieved Sep 15, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Senelick, Laurence (2000). The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 381–382. ISBN 978-0415100786. Finocchio's in San Francisco had begun as a small Bohemian café managed by Marjorie and Joseph Finocchio, since finocchio (fennel) is Italian slang for faggot, it was clearly a case of nomen est omen when it reopened as a drag club with a company of sixteen in 1937.
  4. ^ Elledge, Jim (2018). Boys of Fairy Town: Sodomites, Female Impersonators, Third-Sexers, Pansies, Queers, and Sex Morons in Chicago's First Century. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press. p. 82. ISBN 9780415913898.
  5. ^ Beemyn, Brett (1997). Creating a Place For Ourselves: Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community Histories. New York, NY: Routledge. p. 93. ISBN 9780415913898.
  6. ^ Gregg, Ronald; Villarejo, Amy, eds. (2021). The Oxford Handbook of Queer Cinema. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 314. ISBN 9780190877996.
  7. ^ a b Summers, Claude (2012). The Queer Encyclopedia of Music, Dance, and Musical Theater. Cleis Press Start. p. 40. ISBN 9781573448758.
  8. ^ a b c Zinko, Carolyne (June 29, 2008). "Sunday's a Drag". SFGate. Hearst Communications, Inc. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
  9. ^ a b Hamlin, Jesse (November 4, 1999). "What a Drag: Finocchio's to Close, Cross-dressers have entertained at club for 63 years from". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  10. ^ "Joseph Finocchio Dies; S.F. Transvestite Show from LA Times". Los Angeles Times. January 16, 1986.
  11. ^ a b "Tracing the roots of Wisconsin's drag history, dating back to the 1880s". Radio Milwaukee. 6 June 2022. Retrieved 2022-10-27.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Boyd, Nan Alamilla (2005). Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. pp. 53–54. ISBN 9780520244740.
  13. ^ a b Boyd, Nan Alamilla (2005). Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. p. 77. ISBN 9780520244740.
  14. ^ a b c Friedman, Mack (2003). Strapped for Cash: A History of American Hustler Culture. Los Angeles, CA: Alyson Books. p. 124. ISBN 9781555837310.
  15. ^ Brewster, Lee G.; Gybbons, Kay; McAllister, Laura, eds. (1972). "Male Prostitution". Drag: A Magazine About the Transvestite. Vol. 2, no. 7. New York, NY: Queens Publications. pp. 18–19.
  16. ^ a b Miguel, Ken; Fuentes, Zach (2022-10-25). "Remembering SF's Finocchio's: LGBTQ+ legacy of 'America's most unusual nightclub'". ABC7 San Francisco. Retrieved 2022-10-27.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g "Remembering Finocchio's, the North Beach club that arguably gave birth to American drag". 2022-10-26. Retrieved 2022-10-27.
  18. ^ a b c "TransVocalizers, David de Alba, Part II". Transgender Forum. 21 May 2012. Retrieved 2015-11-23.
  19. ^ Webb, Dewey (1994-03-30). "Converting to Judyism Lions And Tigers And Garland Impersonators! Oh, My!!". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Bragman, Bob (February 10, 2016). "Finocchio's nightclub brochure reveals era when SF was more easily shocked". SFGate (see photo carousel).
  21. ^ a b c "Don Paulson and Skippy LaRue photograph collection, 1903-2000". Archives West Orbis Cascade. University of Washington Libraries. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  22. ^ "Ray's Story, Nightclubs and Broadway". Don't Call Me Madam, the Life and Work of Ray Bourbon. Retrieved 2015-11-23.
  23. ^ Brevard, Aleshia (2013). The Woman I Was Not Born To Be. Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1566398404.
  24. ^ Gates III, William H. (1999-11-08). "What a Drag". The Journal Record.
  25. ^ Gremore, Graham (2014-07-14). "PHOTOS: Step Back in Time with the Fabulous Drag Queens of Yesteryear". Queerty. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  26. ^ "Guide to the Paul Lavern Cummings Papers" (PDF). University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) University Libraries, Special Collections and Archives. Retrieved 2021-10-20.
  27. ^ "Transgender elder looks back on her life". The Bay Area Reporter / B.A.R. Inc. 2016-11-30. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  28. ^ "Mr. Tex Hendrix at Finocchio's (1942)". The Virtual Museum of The City of San Francisco. Retrieved 2015-11-23.
  29. ^ "David de Alba Interviews FI Brian Keith". Transgender Forum. 2014-11-24. Retrieved 2015-11-23.
  30. ^ "Harvey Goodwin Collection, 1913-1992". University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Center for Arkansas History and Culture. Retrieved 2020-01-06.
  31. ^ Brosnan, Kathleen A.; Scott, Amy L. (2013). City Dreams, Country Schemes: Community and Identity in the American West. University of Nevada Pres. ISBN 9780874178647.
  32. ^ "The Divas Diaries - February 7, 2018". SF Weekly. 2018-02-07. Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  33. ^ Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2007). Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America. Psychology Press. p. 833. ISBN 9780415938532.
  34. ^ Hamlin, Jesse; Writer, Chronicle Staff (1999-11-04). "What a Drag: Finocchio's to Close / Cross-dressers have entertained at club for 63 years". SFGate. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  35. ^ Miller, Johnny; Librarian, Chronicle (2009-02-08). "Drag queen Don McLean dies". SFGate. Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  36. ^ "I AM YOUR QUEEN: Holotta Tymes". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2015-11-23.

External links[edit]

  • Video from Finocchio's Club (November 24, 1943) featuring Michael Callahan and Forgotten Day
  • Video featuring Finocchio's Club and an interview with LaVerne Cummings from the television show "On The Town" (circa 1980) with Connie Chung
  • Various Finocchio's publications in the Digital Transgender Archive