Mr. GAPA Christopher Romasanta on why he loves San Francisco, Dolores Park–and Mr. S Leather

Christopher Romasanta is on top of San Francisco. In the past year alone, the rising Salesforce employee was named Mr. Gay Asian Pacific Alliance and performed in the San Francisco version of Broadway Bares.

His office views are certainly on top of the world. Salesforce, where Christo, as he is known, is manager of the digital giant’s global renewal strategy, witnessed the opening of the new Salesforce Tower, where he enjoys coveted access to the apex of the 61-floor building with breathtaking 360-degree views of the city, from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate and beyond.

“In a typical office environment, the top floor would be dedicated to executives,” Romasanta says. “The company is taking this sought-after floor and shaping it as a hospitality and event space where we invite our employees, customers, partners, and community.” The floor is appropriately named the Ohana Floor, after the Hawaiian word for family. To check out the panorama 1,047 feet into the sky, book a Saturday tour.

To Romasanta, the view is a constant reminder of the glories of his hometown.

“The city is where I found myself as a gay man, and as a Filipino-American,” he says. “I knew I’d always live here ever since I was a kid growing up in the East Bay even though I’ve also lived in New York City and Las Vegas for a time. San Francisco is where you discover your true self. A lot of my friends have moved here from all over just for that reason. When you visit, you’ll feel that sense of familiarity of being ‘home’ but in a totally unique landscape like nowhere else on earth. SF welcomes every niche and embraces all your quirks, kinks, and eccentricities, and when you look across the skyline from the Ohana Floor you can almost feel the freedom of it.”

Romasanta agreed to allow a photographer to follow him for an afternoon starting downtown at Salesforce Tower and then heading west through the South of Market Area and Castro to visit a sampling of his favorite San Francisco hotspots…

1. Salesforce Tower

When you gaze across the city, I sometimes focus in on the neon Castro Theater sign and the huge rainbow flag atop Harvey Milk Plaza whipping in the wind. It makes me feel serene and energized, being able to see the city in an entirely different light than street level. It reminds me that I’m in the one place where I am free to be who I am, and that means: to enjoy a diverse community and help join the fight for equality with so many others who think the way I do in a difficult time for the nation.

2. Pabu

This Japanese restaurant and bar with a sexy ambiance and amazing drink menu is located in the financial district just blocks from Salesforce Tower. I order the Japanese cocktail Yakuza (made with Suntory Toki whiskey), which is dangerous if you have more than two but not as dangerous as it sounds since Yakuza is also the name of a Japanese gangster syndicate. It’s such a cool place that I decided a while back to make this is one of my regular date spots after work –assuming I’m lucky enough to go on a date. But I’ll probably take a break from going there after this interview. A few friends learned that I like this spot and could show up and spy on me. And I say that because I’ve been that friend spying on other friends when they told me where they were going to a particular spot for a date. That’s how much we care about each other–or maybe just enjoy spying!

3. Mr. S Leather

Only in San Francisco could a Mr. S pit stop be part of a grocery routine. I stop here for “basics” before heading into Trader Joe’s a few blocks away for different kinds of basics–spinach, etc. This huge store is a great place to casually browse the latest “fashion” trends. I got my first leather harness here and also had the honor of helping friends pick out their first harness (and other sexy things). San Francisco is the kind of place where you can work in a fancy building wearing work outfits but at the same time never fear wearing all kinds of other outfits outside of work.

I love hanging out with the masked mannequin by the front door.

The changing room offers only a fig leaf of privacy–probably the point! But on the other hand, it offers more privacy than changing in the open as everyone else does.

4. Skool

This Asian fusion restaurant in the Design District serves delicious food with creative plating, making it not just a treat for your mouth but for your eyes as well. I wouldn’t necessarily take a first date here, however. This is more for the second or third because you will want to linger. I love soaking up the sun with my friends on the patio on warm weekend afternoons. I used to go for lunch when I worked for the nearby Dolby Labs. I always order baby eryngii (mushroom) fries.

There’s also great furniture shopping in the Design District including Design Within Reach, which has reproductions of mid-century classics. My new place is not furnished yet, so I’m poking around a bit for great finds at a reasonable price.

This is the Restoration Hardware courtyard across the street. It is a beautiful store, too, in a unique space.

5. Dolores Park

The shadows point to the “gay beach” at the top of Dolores Park with astonishing views. No surprise the gays find the best location and make it their own. But on any warm afternoon, you’ll see every type of person in the city gathering here on blankets for a picnic, a bottle of cheap rosé and maybe the “treats” some vendors here peddle. They do a good business. I’ve got nothing but good memories from here–except maybe of the hills walking back from the park to my old apartment on Church Street. My friends dubbed those few blocks “Mount Sobermore” for being so steep after a few too many. I’ve had to pull many friends back up the hill like I’m a sherpa. The combination of beverages and sun and sexy people bring you to a new level of happiness. But it’s not always that kind of party day at the park. I’ve taken my nieces and nephews here, there’s a brand new playground, and it’s great for jogging (including those evil hills).

6. Moby Dick

Ordering Jameson and soda at the Castro’s Moby Dick bar. If you want to feel what a real local bar in SF feels like, come here. I hang out with my friends before heading out to dinner and for weekend night festivities. It’s a diverse crowd which makes the atmosphere comfortable and not like the bars where everyone seems to be posing. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be there when one of my favorite bartenders (J.J., pictured here, or Tom Chen) will serve you drinks shirtless. Sadly, the day we visited it was too early for that kind of fun.

I love the old pinball machines in the back by the pool table.

The pool table: My dad taught me how to play when I was young and every time I play I remember just how terrible I am at it. But I still have a lot of fun.

7. The Stud

The Stud is a San Francisco institution right in the middle of the South of Market neighborhood featuring drag queens and a glam crowd. My new place is nearby so I’m rediscovering this secondary gay ‘hood, which is filled with great bars, clubs, and restaurants I never knew about. (Check out Heklina’s drag club Oasis for sure.) I’m standing on a dumpster under the Stud logo. (No comments please!)

At the corner of Harrison and 11th Street at the front of The Stud, we found this great bit of graffiti that seemed to express my mood. You’ll find jewels like this across the city, an emblem of creativity and color that pop up like a treasure hunt everywhere you turn.

8. Herbst Theatre

Photo Jplor
Last year, I was named Mr. Gay Asian Pacific Alliance at the organization’s runway pageant, where contestants compete for Mr. GAPA, Miss GAPA (drag queen) or Mx GAPA (non-binary). It all takes place at the Herbst Theatre and there are all kinds of amazing “lewks” (including the audience), talent rounds, and Q&A. The winners serve as the face of GAPA for a year and use this platform to promote causes important to the queer Asian community. It is one of the world’s best celebrations of LGBTQ API culture, which too often faces invisibility and discrimination. I’m so grateful to be their 30th Mr. GAPA alongside Miss GAPA, Miss Shu Mai. I’m also very excited to see the new GAPA Royals crowned at this year’s GAPA Runway in August.

9. Broadway Bares at DNA Lounge

I hang out at DNA Lounge when some of my favorite house DJs are playing. I performed at the San Francisco Pride burlesque charity show Broadway Bares SF, produced by the Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This year’s show in June is going to be hotter than ever.

10. Coming Out

Perhaps the proudest moment of my life came when my parents (pictured above) attended the GAPA pageant. But it wasn’t easy getting to this point. Coming out was a process of learning to love myself, and then bringing my loved ones into my authentic life.

I spent much of my life hiding in a kind of glass closet. My mannerisms and the way I talked were not like the boys I grew up with. I recognized this and purposely held back on some of the most basic things in life right down to speaking up, which I feared would give away my secret. I shied away from finding gay friends out of fear of being labeled gay-by-association. I claimed I was just “painfully shy” and trying to be “good boy” but really I didn’t want the kind of attention that would lead to being judged and outed. I wanted to be invisible.

It was through choir and theatre in high school (did I mention glass closet?) that gave me the confidence to slowly start being myself. I completed a big part of my journey on my 25th birthday, a decade ago, by finally letting my parents in. I left them a hand-written note telling them who I really was, the kind of person I want to become, the man I’d been in a loving relationship with, and how much it hurt that I hadn’t been able to share my life and true self with them for my entire youth.

I was staying at my then boyfriend’s place feeling absolutely terrified as I waited for a response. I was ready to execute a plan I’ve prepped for years. I was ready to cut off my entire extended family, not just mom and dad if they failed to accept me. My mom sent me a text later that night saying, We got your letter. We understand and love you. We also made Spaghetti. I balled at “Spaghetti.”

It took some time and education for my parents to fully understand my life and my sexuality but it was worth every moment, every struggle.

Ten years later they are my biggest heroes and my support system as I live my full GAAYYY life in the city I love.

Related: Artist Serge Gay Jr. is immortalizing San Francisco one sexy mural at a time

San Francisco Ballet’s Myles Thatcher is on a mission to make dance as queer as the city

Photos by Steven Underhill