Mourning the death of an underground gay party: Mr. Black in SF

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Once upon a time in New York City, on the intersection of Broadway and Bleecker, there used to be a club where the lights never shone. In the cavernous dark, Marc Jacobs’ Black Book of desperate, disposable, beautiful boys could blindly bump into one of club goddess Amanda Lepore’s naked body parts. But when you’re in one of the steamiest, most-crowded gay hotspots in the world with candlelit backrooms, a scandalous vibe, and servers in top hats and backless aprons, such concepts as personal space become fantasy.

This week, gay partygoers in San Francisco will get to experience the iconic Mr. Black nightclub thanks to a likely alliance between Mr. Black founder Luke Nero and SF party promoter Joshua J. Cook. On Thursday, motorcycle-themed club Rebel will host the launch of the monthly Mr. Black SF night with Stanley Frank of Viennetta Discotheque opening up for DJs Aaron & Aaron, Mr. Black’s original, signature DJs. The party will recur the first Thursday of each month.

“I’ve never worked on a party that so effortlessly promoted itself,” said Cook, promoter and creator of Big Top and Stallion Saturdays. “Everyone I’ve told about it wants to be involved.” (Representing the party with stereotypical-looking, half-naked go-go boys on the cover of the advertorial Gloss gay party magazine, however, may belie his statement.)

Not surprisingly. Mr. Black, the NYC version, was the well-kept secret everyone was talking about. A twisted funhouse for eccentric socialites and underground club kids, it was too perfect to last. In 2007, the brick-walled club was forced to shut down after NYPD conducted an undercover, in-drag drug raid and arrested two employees (including Nero) and 15 patrons. The club relocated shortly after to Hell’s Kitchen but failed to recapture much of its relevance. Recently the party started once again, this time in Webster Hall.

“When Stuart Black and I started it in New York there was nothing like it,” said Nero. "It’s as if we had created our own Studio 54." 

Proving that a great ass can take you places, Nero went from the infamously bare-bottomed bartender in New York to creative director of all things Black.

After the raid, Mr. Black, the brand, followed Nero to Hollywood, where he is currently the promoter of the LA version at Bardot. The cross-country relocation has kept the party “fresh” for Nero who enjoys seeing each city’s reinterpretation.

“In L.A. it’s more youthful fashion. It’s where the cool hipster kids go,” he said.

And as for San Francisco’s reinterpretation? Cook expects a crowd of “art people, fashion people, those who want to be seen. The crowd will be the main attraction.”

The promoter has already enlisted a circus of characters to liven-up his version, including Los Angeles-based Andres Rigal, Lenora Claire and William Cullen and from San Francisco, Lady Bear and Miss Terry T. Earlier this month, Rebel held a contest looking for a slew of bare asses to prance around for Mr. Black SF.

With such noted scenester talent, the Mr. Black allure, and Cook’s own connections, the party is sure to be a huge hit, although perhaps for a less cutting-edge gay crowd. The original Mr. Black club had a capacity of 162. For the SF launch, there are already more people RSVPs on Facebook.

The move out of New York, however, has smeared Mr. Black in some edgier eyes. The party once held in an unassuming basement in NoHo is now at a V.I.P. lounge in Hollywood. The party that once took great pride in not having bottle service and hosting the likes of Naomi Campbell, Chloe Sevigny and Boy George without much fuss now has a photo blog, a Facebook page, and hundreds of fans, including every contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

"Those are my greatest memories, says Nero of the original Mr. Black. "Sneaking in all those people into the party and no photographic proof that they were there.”

Now, with the expansion to SF, some bristle at the idea of outside promoters coming into the city when there are already many native parties that appeal to art and fashion crowds, utilizing much of the same local talent.  

Ultimately, though, and however fun this iteration may prove to be, Mr. Black itself is not really a brand, but a memory. For even if all the lights are turned off at legal venue Rebel on Thursday night, the camera flashes will probably reveal none of the spontaneous scandal or Marc Jacobs exes the original could brew up. Despite all the name-dropping, no party will ever be Mr. Black at its underground, unpretentious, dirty prime.

Perhaps it is the Internet, that word of mouth now travels faster than the click of a mouse. Perhaps it is the promoters, who realized that there is more money to be made when there’s a line out the door. Perhaps it is the crowd, who wants to not only be seen but also immortalized via a mobile device. Perhaps it is our fault, that we now confuse reality show contestants for true stars.

Perhaps it is fate, that all great underground parties reach their capacity, die, and come back, bigger and sleeker. But not as Black.

Oscar Raymundo is a freelance writer and fabulous book club leader who blacked out plenty of times at the original Mr. Black.

MR. BLACK SF
Thu/1 and first Thursdays, 9 p.m.-3 a.m.
$5 before 10:30 p.m., $8 after
Rebel
1760 Market, SF.

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