Rebecca Solnit has been on a tear lately.
The notable writer and San Francisco resident of 35 years, known for penning the most intellectually vigorous takedown to date of the city’s tech shuttle culture advocates, recently wrote an impassioned essay in The Guardian about the murder of Alex Nieto. “Death by Gentrification” made many compelling points, but was later called out by San Francisco Magazine’s Joe Eskenazi for presenting an incomplete picture. Last weekend, Solnit did a Facebook drive-by of Wildhawk, the PlumpJack Group venue that recently opened where longtime Mission lesbian bar The Lexington Club used to be.
[jump] Linking to a positive blurb on UrbanDaddy — a barely-200-word feather tickle written by a Wikipedia University graduate who regrettably neglected to contextualize the space’s recent past — Solnit wrote, “This was the Lexington, a lesbian bar in the Mission for a long, long time, and now it's had amnesia, identity theft, and a botox injection of fake SF history.” She compared it to now-shuttered Latino gay bar Esta Noche (now the perfectly inoffensive Bond), appending the hashtag #coldgraycityofcruelty.
But the full story does not quite fit Solnit’s neat, pre-formed narrative. As with long-time LGBT activist Cleve Jones’ February freak-out over the specter of heterosexual men shooting pool at Castro bar The Mix — words that also appeared in The Guardian, and which he later walked back — the action-reaction was practically foreordained. But it’s just not that simple.
The Lexington Club — which was a wonderful dive that lasted 18 years, and I always had a great time in there, even though eulogizing it properly does not fall to a penis-American like me — closed for complicated reasons. Per an announcement post by owner Lila Thirkield in October 2014, it died a gradual death. Rent increases and a de-concentration of queer women in the neighborhood were undeniably the driving forces, but it’s not as if the landlord suddenly tripled the rent and Wildhawk swooped in (pun intended). And the heartbreak factor is certainly higher when we’re R.I.P.-’ing the city’s only true lesbian bar, but bars for queer dudes are closing, too. (I fret about this phenomenon nonstop. I wrote my first SF Weekly cover story about it.)
Also, while I strongly suspect Rebecca Solnit has not yet ordered a drink at Wildhawk, could she not read the subtext of that UrbanDaddy blurb? Designer Jay Jeffers’ interior is an homage to Lola Montez. Honey: clientele notwithstanding, it just does not get gayer than that.
But it doesn’t really matter, because no matter what replaced The Lex, it was going to get sucked into the everything-about-San-Francisco-sucks-now vortex (something to which I freely admit I’ve contributed hot takes, but always only after at least one drink in the offending venues!).
So Wildhawk is a cipher. But it’s also a bar, and as of Wednesday, April 13, you can go hang out there any time you want for crudo and charcuterie on a zebra-print stool beneath a punched-tin ceiling with a vermouth-forward drink in hand. And yes, it’s named for Lola Montez, the 19th-century courtesan, dancer, and paragon of fabulousness who died before 40. You can freely ogle her visage, plastered all over the bathroom — although the actual W.C.’s wallpaper reminds me more of All About My Mother — yet you aren’t obligated to arrive here via an Uber from zip code 94123. You can also see the curio cabinet that might look like the one in Montez’s stateroom on the ill-fated voyage from San Francisco when her manager went overboard, as you drink a Kind of Fancy (Hine cognac, Wild Turkey 101 rye, port, Yellow Chartreuse, and mole bitters).
Wildhawk: perfectly fine (if bourgeois) cocktail venue or symptom of the death of everything and despoiler of consecrated ground? You be the judge — but please, only after a drink.
Wildhawk, 3436 19th Street, wildhawksf.com