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Copyright Jack Fritscher, Ph.D. & Mark Hemry - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

by Jack Fritscher

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The Leatherneck:

The Ultimate Bar of the 70s

with Photos by Jim Stewart


Written April, 15, 1977, this feature essay was published in Drummer 18, August 1977.

I-A. Author’s Eyewitness Historical-Context Introduction written October 2, 2001

I-B. Author’s Eyewitness Historical-Context Introduction, Part 2, written October 24, 2001

II.     The feature article as published in Drummer 18, August 1977

III.  Eyewitness Illustrations


I-A. Author’s Eyewitness Historical-Context Introduction written October 2, 2001


Gay Bars Were the First Gay Art Galleries


As I was becoming the independently functional editor in chief with Drummer 19, this was my first actual byline in Drummer, written, coordinated, and produced for my friend and longtime roommate Allan Lowery who was opening his San Francisco dream venue, the new USMC-themed bar, the Leatherneck, June 1977. The article included documentary leather and S&M photographs by my other roommate Jim Stewart aka Keyhole Studio, featuring Leatherneck bartender Chris Meyrovich who became my Palm Drive Video model, Sweat MacCloud. Jim Stewart and I had been friends since the mid-1970s when I was teaching literature and film at Western Michigan University and he was the manager of the Campus Theater; together we coordinated several years of town-and-gown film festivals.

Allan Lowery owned a two-flat home on Castro Street at 15th where David Sparrow and I lived with him during parts of 1972, 1973, and 1974. (In the early 1970s at that address, we three hosted several then-famous leather S&M parties to a very pertinent A-list of leathermen.) Allan Lowery had asked if I had any interest in opening the Leatherneck together as a business, but I was coming off my sabbatical year as a tenured associate professor and was working as a writer at Kaiser Engineers in Oakland, and basically preferred my approach to gay business through writing and photography, although the glamorous lure of owning a piece of leather nightlife, and managing its hot bartenders (which was a lot like owning gladiators) was quite tempting.

We had a very sexy shoot staging these promotional Leatherneck photos in a very private performance before the bar’s grand opening, because Allan Lowery designed his bar as a performance-art set, complete with props, so that customers could spontaneously act out S&M scenes. Chris Meyrovich appears in three photographs including one half-hoisted onto a cross (page 82). The sweet Allan Lowery is pictured profile, with beard, facing one of his famously beefcake bartenders over a beer bottle on the lower right of page 83.

In the grand and early tradition of having gay artists create murals for new bars, making them instant folk-art galleries, Drummer art director, A. Jay, made four huge mural panel-paintings for the Leatherneck. He continued the legacy of artists such as Tom of Finland painting the murals for Tom’s Saloon in Hamburg, Etienne painting the murals for the Gold Coast bar in Chicago, Chuck Arnett painting the Lascaux murals for the Tool Box, and Skipper painting the four 4x8 panels for the Sanctuary bath in LA. One of the four panels painted for the Leatherneck by A. Jay aka Al Shapiro, is pictured in the photographs with this article.

Art in Bars: Of course, these core murals by key artists led bar owners and artists to hang other paintings, drawings, posters, and photographs displayed in revolving exhibits, often with special opening-night parties. In this way, before gay art galleries existed, huge crowds of men saw a vast amount of gay grass-roots art simply by going out to the bars.

Bars as Performance Space: The Leatherneck and the Ambush bar, both heavy S&M watering holes, were expansions on the 1960s and early 1970s ideas of bars as drinking establishments. The Ambush bar, with logo art work by Chuck Arnett (who had designed the Tool Box and the Red Star Saloon), was, besides being a bar, a practicing leather workshop where leather artists like Ambush owner David Delay created leather bondage gear and leather clothing which patrons, drinking a beer a few feet away, could watch him and his staff tool and dye. Among all the immortal bars of the 70s, the Ambush was, with its Folsom-defying location on Harrison Street, the lead pub in opening up the covenant of strict “leather” into the wider democracy of the homomasculinity of outdoorsmen and bears and mature men. When I took Robert Mapplethorpe to the Ambush in his full leather to meet poets Ron Johnson and Thom Gunn, he felt so out of place I had to drive him back to my home for a quick change into jeans and a flannel shirt.

While the Leatherneck mixed the two intense genres of “leather” and “uniforms,” the Ambush pitched its tent over a realistic crowd that embraced the fact that leaving one’s twenties and thirties behind could be gladly celebrated.

The homomasculine Ambush was, in the “art form of a bar,” precisely the demographic I was intending to address in Drummer.

Drummer publisher Tony DeBlase, much later, pointed out on page 5 in his Drummer 100 editorial, this delicate distinction that I had stamped Drummer with masculinity first and leather second. “Issues 12 through 18,” DeBlase wrote, “were edited by Robert Payne [publisher John Embry], then with Drummer 19, Jack Fritscher came upon the scene. Under Jack’s direction, S&M per se became less prominent, and rough and raunchy male/male sexuality, often written by Jack himself, became the main theme.”


I-B. Author’s Eyewitness Historical-Context Introduction, Part 2, written October 24, 2001


Who Died and Left Vanilla Academics in Charge of S&M Culture?


Drummer, Leather Literature, and Magazines Trashed by Gay Historians’ Politics and Mistakes:

Claude Summers, Edmund Miller, and Robert Nashak in The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage: A Reader’s Companion to the Writers and Their Works, from Antiquity to the Present


This is as good a place as any to invoke “fair use” and to defend Drummer and my friends’ and my own S&M literature.

History, especially the murky origin of gay history, should be as accurate as possible, and protected as an endangered species from the guns and poisons of revisionists. That is my goal in this collection about Drummer in which I take occasion to place a reader’s caveat that, in 1997, editor Claude Summers published an encyclopedic book, The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage: A Reader’s Companion to the Writers and Their Works, from Antiquity to the Present. At 786 pages, this ambitious book tries to codify gay and lesbian writers with a bit of their biographies and bibliographies incorporated with themes and genres, such as “American Literature: Colonial,” “American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969,” “Erotica and Pornography,” “Sadomasochistic Literature,” “Latino Literature,” plus alphabetical entries of individual writers.

A work of this noble sweep, written by multiple authors, has much to recommend its lists of names and dates. However, my reading of the text causes me to take both historical and scholarly exception to its way-too-many mistakes and errors. Having written for encyclopedias myself such as the “Mapplethorpe” entry in the prestigious British encyclopedia, Censorship: A World Encyclopedia, edited by Derek Jones for Fitzroy Dearborn, 2,950 pages (2002), and as the subject of an entry in the Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature edited by Gaetan Brulotte and John Phillips (2006), I am particularly sensitive to accuracy in this genre of books because what is published in them becomes, whether correct or not, set in stone as readers and researchers turn the pages unable to determine what is actually a fact, a mistake, or a political spin on the truth written by a particular author to pump his friends or stab his enemies. Sometimes pure insensitivity causes mistakes.

For instance, Claude Summers so disrespects Drummer that, although the magazine is mentioned many times in The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage, Drummer is not listed even once in the index. To me the index of any book gives instant evidence of its depth and integrity. For all the importance of Drummer in coaching and publishing beginning writers such as John Preston, Aaron Travis, John Rowberry, and championing many others, this 786-page book lacks a single page or paragraph explaining anything about Drummer. Actually, I was shocked by something personal in the book, which if the superficial take and misinformation is so factually wrong in the instance of the book mentioning my literary work and career history, then how off-key and wrong might it be in all its other pages.

Misinformation, and particularly the disinformation of gay politics, both appear on the page exactly like accurate information to the casual reader. I always taught my university classes in literary interpretation to be their own best critics, to trust no one telling them the “truth” about anything, and to look for the “vested interest” of the writer who is trying to maneuver facts and opinions in ways that may not be accurate or true. The ultimate goal of the intellectual life is the ability for one to become an analytical critic of all the misinformation, disinformation, and information printed and broadcast during the course of a lifetime.

It is curious that contributor Matthew Parfitt in his “War Literature” listings omits Drummer itself and all its war erotica, including my “Corporal in Charge.” It is even more curious that in the section titled “Erotica and Pornography,” contributor Edmund Miller, Professor of English and Chair of the English Department at the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University, who himself is an author of erotic stories, poetry, and scholarly books about seventeenth-century British literature, writes with the rather air-kiss attitude that the East Coast gay literary crowd has regarding the depth and complexity of West Coast writing:

Although he is also known for the experimental cinematic technique of his epic of San Francisco’s Castro district, Some Dance to Remember (1990), Jack Fritscher (b. 1939) is known primarily as a writer [in Drummer which is not mentioned] of such short fiction as the stories of Corporal in Charge of Taking Care of Captain O’Malley (1984) [the first book collection ever of Drummer stories and articles, or, for that matter, the first book collection of erotic stories from any 1970s gay magazine] ....Fritscher began [sic] his career in pornography as editor of another true confessions magazine Man 2 Man [sic; besides his misnomer and mistiming of 1980s Man2Man, which was not a true-confessions magazine, Miller omits that my first erotic novel was I Am Curious (Leather) in 1968-69, and that I was editor in chief of Drummer beginning in March 1977, and was its most frequent contributor for twenty-two years ]. (Pages 263 and 264).


On page 623, Robert Nashak, a doctoral candidate in English at UCLA, a recipient of a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and a Fulbright grant, writes in his essay “Sadomasochistic Literature”:


Some of the best pornographic fiction to come out of the leatherman tradition is by Tim Barrus, whose Mineshaft (1984), like Leo Cardini’s Mineshaft Nights (1990) before it, describes the sexual exploits of [sic; in] the infamous New York S/M palace of the same name. [My first writing about the Mineshaft appeared in Drummer 19, December 1977.] Phil Andros’ Different Strokes (1986) and Jack Fritscher’s Leather Blues (1984) and Stand by Your Man (1987) are three of the best erotic short story collections in this vein [even though Leather Blues is a novel, not a collection of short stories]. Larry Townsend is perhaps the most widely read writer of leatherman erotica. His landmark The Leatherman’s Handbook II (1989) [sic] has received wide circulation and interest. [Townsend’s landmark book was, in fact, published seventeen years earlier: The Leatherman’s Handbook (1972); and, where rather than the dismissive and vague Nashak toss-off “wide circulation and interest” is the exact research mentioning the statistics regarding editions and copies sold of this seminal leather-heritage folk text written by Townsend from the “Tijuana Bible” questionnaires which grass-roots leathermen sent to him?]


These disinformation quotes may be just the tip of the iceberg of inaccuracy in The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage.

Not to cavil, but to explain, some corrections need to be made on the sixty-seven words of Edmund Miller, and the ninety-five words of Robert Nashak. Their neglect of Drummer seems a shameless insult to the world of leatherfolk culture. In their rush to publish rather than perish, many queer academics live in an ivory tower twin to the tower of Babel; skimming material, some seem desperate to be promoted not to be accurate.

I may be known for my signature novel of gay history, Some Dance to Remember, and for my short fiction collections, but, to amplify some of the shorthand inserts above, I did not begin my career in pornography as editor of a “true confessions magazine, Man to Man [sic].” I began my career with my novel, I Am Curious (Leather), written in 1968 and published in 1972. Over time, this novel entered the DNA of gay pop culture when excerpted in Son of Drummer (September 1978), then serialized with all of its chapters in Man2Man Quarterly 1980-1982, published fully again as a book titled Leather Blues by Winston Leyland’s Gay Sunshine Press, 1984; and excerpted in Stroke magazine, volume 4, Number 4, 1985.

So how did the fact-checker for Summers, Miller, and Nashak miss it? In 1977, two years before I invented Man2Man, I entered high-profile gay publishing as the founding San Francisco editor-in-chief of Drummer. I developed Man2Man Quarterly in 1979 and ran it eight issues for two years, and its title was never Man to Man, as Edmund Miller mistakes it, and it was not a “true confessions” genre written by a lot of different and anonymous writers like Boyd MacDonald’s Straight to Hell, because Man2Man Quarterly was all fiction and features that I myself wrote continuing the Drummer tradition from the 70s into the “Virtual Drummer of the first ’zine of the 80s.

Also, Edmund Miller fails to note that my 1980s anthologies of short fiction are actually collections of my 1970s stories that first appeared in gay magazines, particularly in Drummer, where they were read every thirty days or so in each mass-market issue by thousands more readers than ever bought the books which have sold steadily through the years. Edmund Miller’s failure to mention Drummer as the source of this pop culture magazine fiction is an intellectual mistake of the kind that is usually foisted by academic analysts who worship books but dismiss magazine culture.

A pop-culture fact that is worthy of note: Drummer’s press run in the 1970s, according to publisher John Embry, was 30,000 to 40,000 copies, which means that multiplied by the pass-along average to two other readers besides the original purchaser of the magazine, each Drummer issue was read by 60,000 to 80,000 gay men monthly multiplied by nearly twelve issues a year to an estimated one million readers then multiplied times twenty-four years. No gay book has ever enjoyed such statistics.

While I thank Robert Nashak for his assessment, because he is analyzing “Sadomasochistic Literature” as a genre, he might have deepened the information in his short sentences by mentioning that Tim Barrus was one of Drummer’s best editors in the 1980s during the time he wrote Mineshaft. Tim Barrus, always my friend, became my champion and hero, because after creating the “LeatherLit Writers Series” in San Francisco venues like A Different Light bookstore, when he left Drummer to work with LeatherLit publisher Elizabeth Gershman at Knights Press, he handed her my manuscript of Some Dance to Remember. Elizabeth Gershman wrote me an acceptance letter that said, “I’d fucking kill to publish your novel.”

In the way that Matthew Parfitt in his essay “War Literature” omits all my erotic war stories including the very important Vietnam storyline of Some Dance to Remember, so Robert Nashak skips over the surface of sadomasochistic literature of “The Gay Renaissance of the 1970s” by misplacing the debut of another Drummer author, Phil Andros, with Different Strokes in 1986 (30 years late). By clock and calendar, my longtime friend Phil Andros aka Sam Steward, the grandfather of gay erotica, had famously been published internationally since the 1930s, and was revived in Drummer in 1975 and Man2Man Quarterly #2 (December 1980).

Robert Nashak also takes a wrong-genre belly flop when he lists my novel Leather Blues as a short story collection which it is not. His nod to Larry Townsend is well taken except for Nashak’s confusion: he writes, as previously noted, that “Larry Townsend’s landmark book is The Leatherman’s Handbook II (1989)” when actually Larry Townsend’s landmark book was The Leatherman’s Handbook published seventeen years before in 1972.

Timelines and facts are difficult when analysts skim the surface, but accuracy must be the job and goal of the historian and critic. That is why this omnium-gatherum book, Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer, exists with the original articles, boldly dated, with introductions that clarify the context and verify the back story of people, places, and events that surround these historical Drummer documents as a time-capsule eye into the history of our gay art and popular culture.

To some nasal-drip scholars, much of this magazine writing might be dismissed as light-weight because it was created as entertainment for a mass audience in gay popular culture. That purpose, design, and vernacular doesn’t make it any less serious or any less literature. It makes it more interesting because it is reflexive of the audience.

II.  The feature article as published in Drummer 18, August 1977


Allan Lowery’s New Bar on 11th at Folsom...


The Leatherneck:

The Ultimate Bar of the 70s

with Photos by Jim Stewart

San Francisco’s Leatherneck Bar ain’t your ordinary meat-rack tavern. [Reference to Tim Buckley’s then hugely popular album, Welcome to L. A., which is a “texture and context” CD to listen to while reading this feature article in order to experience an audio-erotic and emotional evocation of that time.] Sure the ’Neck’s a beer bar with wall-to-wall shitkickers, but upfront macho ain’t no pose. Come night time, the right time, dudes head for the Leatherneck like an accident about to happen. Hot, man. Not a Lacoste alligator in the joint. A High Place.

About as high, in fact, as the elevated platform at the USMC Recruit Depot seems to 80 sock-footed jarheads sweating at attention, looking up as some 6-4, 245-pound DI’s bootlace level.




Hardass cruising. Like two-fisted combat at the USMC Depot where some little shaved-head boot is gonna be ordered for the first time in his life to take on another man with his bare hands. Palms and ’pits running sweat, man. Breathing hard. Crotch soaking his USMC jock.

Ain’t that an OK fantasy walk into the Leatherneck!

Your eyes trip on the black leather. Your ears trip on the country-western wail. And your feet trip on the cleated boots standing toe to toe, crotch to crotch. Having a heatwave, man.

The Leatherneck’s a “ball” room rotten to the Corps. Leather nights at 11th and Folsom are like the contact classes the USMC calls “Physical Instruction with Vigor.” Outside, the big bikes and heavy pickup trucks are parked. Waiting. Inside, any little disciplinary problems with a dude and you can bet his buddies strap him down to the fastest bondage rack in town. Brig rats are a house specialty, stretched out in full leather, secured up on a cross six feet above the bar. That’s how the Leatherneck does a social “security” number.




But don’t worry if you’re down there on your first visit. You’re safe. Heh. Heh. The action is totally consenting. S and M at the Leatherneck means, above all, Sensuality and Mutuality. [This is the first time my keyword definition, which I first printed on one of my party invitations in 1974, is published in a commercial magazine.] The only thing that happens is what you want to happen.




Shoulder to shoulder, dudes get bolder, hanging around the smoky back bars, shooting pinballs where guys with pinned balls score high. The front bar at the Leatherneck is long. The layout is laid-back into a maze of rooms with something for everyone. By midnight’s wee bitching hour, pool balls are hitting hard in the side pockets. Guys in leather harnesses are eyeballing husky uniformed types whose handcuffs are gonna click-rasp down cold around the wrists of some very willing cowboy.

Drop your beer change on the floor and you go down to your knees to pick it up like a drowning man for the third time. A lifetime flashes by of piss-ripped denim, jockstraps, Crisco-ed leather, oiled chests rippling under pec-tailored vests, sweaty abdominals exposed through torn-off Leatherneck T-shirts, biceps banded with studs, cod-pieced “chaps” in chaps, thick belts, and boots of 1001 knights waiting for tongue-shine, and headed for the long porcelain trough in the back room.

When/if you come up for air/amyl, you know this ain’t Alice’s Restaurant. It’s Allan Lowery’s Basic Training Room. The Leatherneck has hot murals by A. Jay. It has oiled pecs and a yard of cock shared by four of the hottest barmen on the Coast. The Leatherneck ain’t exactly fantasy. The Leatherneck trip is real.

Bar none, the Leatherneck is San Francisco’s ultimate bar of the 70s. The other night, at the christening of A. Jay’s second of four murals,

one of those green-fatigue type DI’s was running a small conversation back in a dark corner on two muscled dudes of lesser leather rank.

“Choke ’im, fucker,” the DI said to his recruit who was a bit too “gentle” with the man whose chest he was mauling on command. He rubbed the USMC tattoo on his forearm. (USMC tattoos get you discounts at the bar.) Like the Leatherneck itself, this leatherneck DI was the real thing. About thirty. Himself recent Marine meat. He still liked drilling. Especially after sundown. “Back at my playroom, I’ll show you two what you do after you pin your man down.”

A small part of the Leatherneck crowd circled tight in on this close encounter to watch.

“First, you dropkick the fucker.”

“Sir, yessir,” the blond recruit whispered back.

“That’s the real way. ’Course the way we’re gonna play it,” and the large man in the USMC fatigues put his sweat-ringed arms around his two boys, “is gonna be a little bit different.” And he walked them out the Leatherneck door, past Bill [my San Francisco deputy sheriff pal, Bill Essex], the heavy-chested bouncer, who smiled after this good threeway match made in the heaven of the Leatherneck.




So at the Leatherneck, you can love ’em tender, and you can love ’em nice and easy. But if [like Tina Turner] you “never do nothin’ nice and easy,” the Leatherneck’s for sure your happy hunting ground. Because it ain’t no statue bar, man. S&M don’t mean Stand and Model. The Leatherneck means action.

At the Leatherneck, men celebrate being men.

Ain’t nowhere else quite like Lowery’s Leatherneck. It ain’t a bad little nightspot for about 500 guys in a little 7-mile-by-7-mile fishing village called San Francisco.

For a celebration of male-hide and for close encounters of the leather kind, try it. Week nights 8-2. Weekends 2-2.

Man alive!

Blue Bar
Copyright Jack Fritscher, Ph.D. & Mark Hemry - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED