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A New Book Tells the Stud’s History Through Hundreds of Bartender-Made Pins

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Open book with image of round pin on left page, black and white photo of exterior of bar on right, light green background
A spread from 'The Stud Pin Archive and Ephemera 1970–1999.'

It’s been a banner few months for one of San Francisco’s most important queer venues. The Stud, which closed its doors in the first months of the pandemic, recently announced it will reopen in early 2024 in a new location, continuing the bar’s now 57-year history.

In further cause for celebration, that history will soon be even more visible thanks to an image-filled, nearly 200-page book published by the Oakland press Land and Sea. The Stud Pin Archive and Ephemera 1970–1999 contains photographs, news clippings and documentation of the Stud’s pin collection (numbering over 250 pins!), lovingly documented by former bartender Chloe Miller. On Friday, Oct. 20, Et al.’s Mission Street gallery will host a launch party for the book, with music and performances befitting the eclectic, welcoming nature of the bar.

For Miller, the project came out of a desire to preserve, but also from a basic curiosity about the artist behind the pins. When Miller worked at the Stud, the pins held up pictures on a wall opposite her well, operating as thumbtacks for pieces of Stud ephemera. Most were created by longtime Stud bartender Paul “Gidget” Sinclair, who often placed a telltale lower-case “g” on his pared-down, visually arresting pin designs.

“They were hilarious,” she remembers thinking. “They’re really comical. Like, whoever made them has to be such a funny person.” She tracked down Sinclair’s identity (he died from AIDS in the late 1990s) through stories in the Bay Area Reporter and by talking to former Stud bartenders.

Three white people pose in fancy dress and makeup at a party
A photo from the Stud archives featuring Paul ‘Gidget’ Sinclair at right. (Courtesy Land and Sea)

The pins capture a real sense of the time in which they were made — and the events that were notable in the lives of Stud staff and patrons. “The pinbacks are like tiny time capsules,” Miller writes in the book’s introduction. Alongside cheeky designs made for parties and dance nights are pins that mark the Challenger disaster, the Atlanta Child Murders, 49ers games and the royal wedding of Diana and Charles.

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In late 2018, Miller started the Instagram account @stud_pin_archives, posting tightly cropped photographs of the 2.5-inch and 3-inch (mostly round) pins. Miller says putting the archive on the site was very purposeful; she and Rachel Ryan, the Stud collective president, often talk about how to make the bar’s history as easy to access as possible.

“When you give [a collection] to a museum or historical society, it just goes into the basement before it gets processed,” Miller says, noting that interested viewers aren’t always researchers; they might not know how to jump through the necessary institutional hoops to visit archival material in person. “Instagram is accessible to almost everybody. It’s something that somebody who is queer living in Texas or Indiana could see. Or even in another country.”

Black and white image of crowded sea of round pins with graphics advertising parties or the bar
Some of the over 250 pins in the Stud’s pin archive, many created by Paul ‘Gidget’ Sinclair. (Courtesy Stud Pin Archive)

There was also a real sense of urgency in getting the pins out into the world — one of Miller’s main sources died during the pandemic. So many with knowledge of the bar’s history were lost to the AIDS epidemic, Miller says, that it’s rare to have access to people with memories of those decades.

The book expands greatly on the Instagram account, including short essays by Miller and Stud collective member Marke Bieschke, context-providing articles from local newspapers and juicy bits of ephemera, like this jotted-down memory from New Year’s Eve 1970: “they locked the bar @ midnite & passed out window pane acid & everyone got naked & crazy ‘til dawn!!”

The publication is a true homage to Sinclair, and to the “Studettes who came before us,” as Miller writes. More than anything, this material sheds light on those who do the hard, creative work of making a safe and happy place for others to enjoy: the bartenders. In a 1982 video about the Stud, Sinclair speaks cheerfully about the bar’s philosophy: “People who work here, we all love each other, and care about each other. And that’s what’s generated!”

‘The Stud Pin Archive and Ephemera’ book release party will take place 6–10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20 at Et al. etc. (2831 Mission St., San Francisco) with DJs Josh Cheon and Lakeverett and performances by Hollywood Texas and Cliff Hengst. Books and other Stud-related merch will be available for sale.

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