By Daniel Hirsch,
It was San Francisco's last Latino-owned gay bar. Open from 1981 to 2014 and featured on HBO’s "Looking," it was also the launching pad of countless drag queens’ careers and a safe haven for many. Nowadays, Esta Noche is being gutted and built out into a brand new bar, with a decidedly less gay identity. But is this the end of Esta Noche’s story? Might a U.S. Park Ranger one day include this gay hangout on walking tours, describing the bar’s importance in history?
If that sounds impossible, consider this: When the U.S. National Parks Service recently invited historians to Washington, D.C., the topic on the table was a startling departure for the federal bureau: the history of LGBT people. The kickoff meeting was intended to launch a new study of LGBT history, with the goal of adding more LGBT-related sites to the nation’s registry of historic landmarks. The Stonewall Inn in New York is currently the only LGBT National Historic Landmark.
Nan Alamilla Boyd, a professor at San Francisco State University and author of Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965, attended the meeting. She says one guest nominated a Liberty Hill Victorian in San Francisco, once occupied by José Sarria, the country’s first openly gay politician.
Boyd agreed that the location is historically significant. Sarria was not only a pioneering drag queen, he was also a civil rights trailblazer. Yet, she said, she was keenly aware of one big omission—Sarria’s building also housed a notorious sex club called the Catacombs.