Tom Guido was known for yelling at his paying customers and kicking bands off of his stage when he ran The Purple Onion in the 1990s, so no one expected him to go quietly. Still, no one expected him to be murdered either.
“Shocked, devastated, and just really, really hoped it wasn’t true,” punk bassist Beth Allen said, recalling how she felt on Wednesday when she first heard the news that Guido had possibly been killed.
When police responded to reports of a man jumping out of the window of the Weller Hotel at 908 Post Street at around 5:45 on Monday, they found a bloody Guido inside his Polk Gulch apartment. Guido had been stabbed in the neck and head. He was rushed to the hospital. He didn’t make it. The Medical Examiner’s Office recorded Guido’s death as an unusual homicide.
The man who jumped from the window died in the hospital on Wednesday. Police Chief Bill Scott has referred to the jumper as a suspect in Guido’s murder, but police still have not released his name.
“Leave it to Tom to go out so dramatically,” Allen adds. “No dying in his sleep or anything boring like that.”
Allen met Guido when her punk band The Loudmouths played The Purple Onion, a once-classy North Beach night spot that Guido transformed into garage-rock chaos.
“Tom always reminded me of the actor Crispin Glover,” Allen says. “He had this nasally whiny voice and 60s bob haircut with bangs. He was erratic, slightly unhinged and so funny!”
Memories of The Purple Onion inspired Allen to record an oral history of its barely contained anarchy during the Guido years on the website Tom Guido’s Purple Onion.
“I felt like it was important to preserve history,” Allen says. “It was such a unique place. It always felt on the verge of being unhinged.”
And the reason the Purple Onion was unhinged was through the sheer force of Guido’s personality. Anthony Bedard, former booker of the Hemlock Tavern, met Guido in 1990 while the then future Purple Onion impresario hosted a DJ night around San Francisco called Club Fuzz, and the two became friends.
“He was the ringmaster,” Bedard says of Guido. “He was literally doing every job at the club. He was running from stamping somebody’s hand at the door, over to the bar to sell a drink, over to the stage to, you know, to interrupt the band.”
Christian Goltry played the Purple Onion with The Jack Saints, a band that always seemed to be on the receiving end of Guido’s antics.
“He would sometimes interrupt our set and grab the microphone and tell someone that they had to leave the club,” Goltry recalls. “This would sometimes go on for minutes at a time.”
Guido also kicked Goltry’s drums during a set sending the ride cymbal crashing into his chest.
“Not sure why he went after me and my drums,” Goltry says. “I have to admit it was fun to hear his whiny angry voice shouting over the microphone to ‘Get the fuck out of this club!’ ”
The Purple Onion “was always on the verge of falling apart, especially in the later years,” Bedard says. “I mean, that club really did have an arc.”
By 1998, “it really kind of came off the rails,” according to Bedard. While Bedard’s band The Icky Boyfriends, played Guido’s grand opening of the North Beach nightspot, by the end, bands would show up to play and Guido “wasn’t even there or he had locked himself in the club and he wouldn’t open the doors.”
But like with Beth Allen, Guido was an inspiration to Bedard.
“Being a club booker is not anything I ever thought I would wind up doing or we’re becoming,” Bedard says. When he was first deciding whether or not to take the job at the Hemlock, he thought about Guido.
“Tom Guido had a good five year run at The Purple Onion,” Bedard says, thinking that if he could make it that long at the Hemlock, it “would be pretty good.” Bedard booked the Hemlock for 16 years until it closed in October.
Guido also had an influence on Alan Black of the Edinburgh Castle, a bar manager also known for delivering divey rants — albeit more controlled ones.
“Tom Guido was one of the first people I got to know here in 1987,” Black says. “His life was a performance. It takes a special kind of bravery to live that way. It attracts and repels in the same instant. I’m sad. I liked Tom. S.F. has few non-conformists left.”
“He was such a sweet guy,” Bedard says.
“I think he really did so much for people and really created so many good times for people and made so much good music happen,” Bedard continues after a long pause. “And then for him to go out that way, that’s the worst.’
‘That’s the worst part of it all.”