SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - When they took over Nob Hill Theatre in 2010, Gary Luce says he and his partner in both life and business, Larry Hoover, went into it blind. Now San Francisco’s last live all-male revue strip club— a landmark that attracts visitors from around the world— is set to have its final curtain call this Sunday.
The business owners are retiring and it will become a foot surgery center. But the building at 729 Bush Street, dates back to 1910 and is full of history.
"It opened as a grocery store and butcher shop," Luce said over the phone. Throughout the years the ownership has changed hands, including its time in the '40s as Melody Lane, a jazz club purportedly co-owned by Joe DiMaggio. It went on to become Club Hangover, a nightspot in the '50s with an affinity for Dixieland jazz.
Photographs adorn the lobby's walls, touting the venue's storied history. Louis Armstrong's portrait from when he played there is prominently displayed.
It wasn't until 1968, under the ownership of Shan Sayles, that it became Nob Hill Theatre. That's when the business model turned to tantalizing its clientele. For nearly 50 years they haven't stopped.
Luce said there's a brief period in the early '60s where it isn't clear how the theatre was used.
Sayles, a good friend of Luce and Hoover, began operating the business as more of an art-form cinema, but that didn't last.
Famous for its marquee, which for years has said, "Touch Our Junk," Luce told the story of how that came to be their lasting tagline since they took over the business from Sayles.
Luce said he and Hoover were at the airport in San Diego when a disgruntled passenger told a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent, "You're not gonna touch my junk!" Luce got a chuckle out of that exchange and suggested they use it for their newly acquired business.
Thus the phrase stuck.
“Larry and I were both in hospitality for years,” Luce said. "They either want a lot of attention or no attention," he said referring to customers. "If anything, I feel bad for the customers. It's like Cheers. We get a good lunch crowd."
He acknowledged this isn't a story of eviction, an expired lease or a rental increase."I'm old and ready to go away," Luce said explaining the departure.
Friday morning he gave us a quick tour before the theatre opened for business. The halls are decked out with porn stars hung on the walls, all of which have performed live at the venue or in the flesh. Recent favorites include; Rafael Alencar, Brent Corrigan and Adam Killian.
Much of the ephemera has to be gone within a week, but Luce assured the GLBT Historical Society has come by to scoop up some of the gems inside. If the '80s made gay bathhouses all but disappear from San Francisco due to the AIDS crisis, what's contained within these walls (much of what is not appropriate to show on this platform) seems to have survived bygone eras.
If you are interested in any of the wares, they will hold a garage sale on Sunday.
Once you get past the free condoms (made available upon requirement), stamina pills, gay porn playing on the TV screen and freshly folded towels in the lobby, the main floor— referred to as "Fantasy Land," contains a small 74-seat theater complete with a disco ball.
The art-deco lighting fixtures remain in tact and a mirror strategically placed at eye level runs the entire length of the theatre to ensure maximum peering at what exactly your fellow clientele may be looking at.
The Rendezvous Lounge, another small room in the back, has a stripper pole. Luce said they do get bachelorette parties.
Head downstairs to "Adventure Land" and things take a seedier turn with 20 small booths. You'll know if you can enter by the green and red lights on the outside. Green means vacant.
The hanky code, a queer culture non-verbal guideline that allows one to signal their own kink and preferences, simply by handkerchief color and placement, is available for your perusal. For instance: a "daddy's boy" wears his hunter green hanky in his right back pocket. The "daddy" wears the same color hanky, but on the left side.
Elsewhere in the basement, a display case enshrines old porn flick DVDs with titles like "Fratboy Layovers", "Heatwave", "Manboys & Toys", and "Sweet Temptation" just to name a few of the more tame titles.
The building was once featured in a 1984 issue of Architectural Digest magazine in a feature spread on small living spaces. The couple happens to live on the premises too in a chic, cozy lair that doubles as a green room for the porn stars.
Naked Sword productions is working on a documentary film chronicling the theatre's closing.
You have just one more weekend to 'touch their junk' before Nob Hill Theatre says goodbye to San Francisco for good. An appreciation barbecue is set for 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday.