Wild Side West: the bar that defiantly stood up to those who wanted it closed

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San Francisco’s Wild Side West is a much-loved, long-running institution. It first began to officially welcome LGBTQ patrons – primarily women – way back in 1962.

It was opened by out and proud lesbians, Pat Ramseyer and Nancy White.

The couple first opened it in Oakland as ‘The Wild Side’ (after the Barbra Stanwyck movie, Walk On The Wild Side).

It’s incredible to believe now, but at the time it was illegal for women to be bartenders in California (the law wasn’t changed until 1971). Pat and Nancy were definitely taking their own walk on the wild side by defiantly launching a female-owned bar.

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In 1964, Wild Side moved to Broadway and was renamed Wild Side West. It drew an eclectic crowd of patrons – from beatniks and counterculture activists to artists to performers. Janis Joplin was apparently one such regular visitor.

 

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The business moved to its current location in Bernal Heights in 1976.

Not surprisingly, back in the mid-seventies, some of the locals did not welcome an openly gay bar in the then blue-collar neighborhood. They threw broken toilets and rocks through the windows. Nancy and Pat took the toilets and turned them into flowerpots in the downstairs beer garden.

The garden at Wild Side West

Pat was also keen to make the bar a part of the local community. She noted how many families took their kids trick and treating at Halloween in the neighborhood and began to put candy out at the front of the bar. Other nearby stores and merchants began to do the same, and it’s become something of a Bernal Heights tradition.

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Pat and Nancy have now passed away, but the venue remains gay-owned. Like its founders, the current management continues to fill the venue with art, both indoors and out.

Wild Side West (Photo: @jm0ney83/Instagram)

After a difficult 2020 and early 2021, it’s now welcoming guests again. The cozy interior offers a popular pool table and big screens to relay sports games. There are also two outdoor areas – a ground floor patio and a lower-level beer garden filled with sculptures. It continues to be a big supporter of the local community, with activities including sponsoring a local women’s softball team.

(Photo: @leah.huntsinger/Instagram)

“I’ve been meaning to go to this bar for years but wanted it to be a queer experience and all my queer community was in New York,” says one recent visitor, Leah. “It was super magical and everything I’ve ever wanted in a local bar, I’ll be sure to make a trip here whenever I come home. And, of course, continue to support the NYC lesbian and new queer bars as much as possible.”

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.