Iconic San Francisco bar Moby Dick gets a sexy leather jacket makeover featuring James Baldwin

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Moby Dick in San Francisco
(Photo: Moby Dick/Facebook)

Moby Dick in San Francisco has been shuttered since March 2020 but owner Joe Cappelletti still has to go in almost daily to make sure its inhabitants are being looked after. When we say its “inhabitants,” we’re referring to the fish that populate the venue’s signature, 250-gallon fish tank above the bar!

Moby Dick is a San Francisco institution. Cappelletti co-own it with Scot Riffe. He took it over in 2002, but it had already been welcoming gay customers for over 25 years. It was actually opened in 1977 by pantyhose heir Victor Swedosh.

The interior of Moby Dick with its famous fish tank above the bar (Photo: Supplied)

It quickly established itself as a place for gay creative to hang out, and even had its own small record label in the early 80s. Moby Dick Records released disco gems from the likes of Boys Town Gang, Yvonne Elliman (‘Love Pains’) and Patrick Cowley (known for his work with Sylvester). Sadly, the label closed down in 1984 after key employees were lost to AIDS.

The bar on the corner of 18th and Hartford streets is truly a little piece of queer, San Franciscan history. Its exterior is decorated with distinctive murals, including a semi-clothed man atop a whale.

Moby Dick
(Photo: @sergegayjr/Instagram)

The latest addition to the street art is ‘Gear Up’: A leather jacket, red bandana, cap and Converse sneakers from local Haitian-American artist Serge Gay Jnr.

Gay told Hoodline last November he jumped at the opportunity to paint on the side of the bar.

“Moby Dick is where I met my husband 13 years ago. It was the perfect fit.”

Related: New street art in San Francisco honors the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

The leather jacket is emblazoned with pins and patches, highlighting black lives, such as James Baldwin, Marsha P. Johnson, and Bayard Rustin.

Serge Gay Jr painting his mural last year
Serge Gay Jr painting his mural last year (Photo courtesy Anthony O’Donnell @antonodon)

“The jacket symbolizes someone gearing up and getting ready for a battle and march on the streets in protest and to raise awareness,” Gay said. “It could be anyone, it doesn’t define gender.”

Serge Gay Jr painting outside Moby Dick in San Francisco
Serge Gay Jr at work (Photo courtesy Anthony O’Donnell @antonodon)

Offering a friendly, neighborhood welcome to both locals and visitors from further afield, Moby Dick’s managed to survive while others have fallen by the wayside.

However, because of the pandemic, it really has been a battle to ensure its survival. Cappelletti recently told SF Gate it costs around $900 a month just to keep the saltwater fish tank clean, besides all the other costs involved with keeping a business like this afloat.

If you want to help, it’s currently raised around $28,000 of a $40,000 fundraiser. You can donate via its GoFundMe.

(Photo: @fernandovega_)

“When I turned 21 my friends took me to my first gay bar in Castro, Moby Dick! I felt accepted and like I finally was part of a family that did not judge me for being who I am,” one regular, Fernando Vega (@fernandovega_), told GayCities.

“I cannot wait for Moby Dick bar to open again, it would be devastating if they do not reopen.”

Cappelletti told GayCities, “We are still closed but we are getting ready to open when we can serve inside. It’s been a tough year for us and just to maintain the bar is very expensive. Of course, we still have to take care of the fish, and there are just so many things we still need to pay for even though we have been closed.”

While nightlife venues have served as a safe haven for LGBTQ people for decades, their existence is now being threatened by COVID-19, and they need our help to survive. Make
a tax-deductible donation to the GayCities #SaveOurSpaces fund, and we’ll distribute it to LGBTQ bars and clubs struggling across the U.S.

While nightlife venues have served as a safe haven for LGBTQ people for decades, their existence has been threatened by COVID-19, and they need our help to survive. Make a tax-deductible donation to the GayCities #SaveOurSpaces fund, and we’ll distribute it to LGBTQ bars and clubs struggling across the U.S.