Long-Lost Tenderloin Bar “The Blue Lamp” Remembered
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Submitted by the Event Organizer
On May 6th, the Tenderloin Museum premieres a virtual celebration of The Blue Lamp, a long-gone but beloved working class bar and storied local music venue on the northern border of the Tenderloin. The program features interviews with celebrated author and former Blue Lamp bartender Rachel Kushner as well as several of her Blue Lamp contemporaries, including Bottom of the Hill co-founders Ramona Downey and Kathleen Owen, Punk Globe publisher and ringleader of the White Trash Debutantes Ginger Coyote, San Francisco jazz legends Lavay Smith and Chris Seibert, and many others.
Inspired by the recent publication of “The Hard Crowd”–Kushner’s evocative essay that remembers the Blue Lamp and its denizens–Tenderloin Museum has gathered interviews, archival photos, and ephemera in an attempt to memorialize the history of an overlooked Tenderloin institution, a refuge for both Tenderloin locals and a wide range of musicians who made their homes in the tough but ultimately accepting glow of The Blue Lamp.
Part of what Kushner describes as the “informal Tenderloin circuit,” The Blue Lamp epitomized the neighborhood watering hole, replete with a stranger than fiction cast of regulars who practiced an unspoken code of conduct unique to their home bar. In the early 1990s, The Blue Lamp played host to a distinctly San Francisco confluence of edgy second wave punk rock, smoldering blues jams, and glamorous jazz cabaret that transported listeners to a bygone era.
Members of these music scenes mingled with The Blue Lamp’s local patrons, and their varied perspectives and memories combine to depict a bar that reflects the Tenderloin’s multitudinous nature and provides a glimpse of San Francisco betwixt its pre-tech dog days and its irrevocably transformative first tech boom. Join us for this exercise in collective memory.
“The Hard Crowd” is included in The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000 to 2020 by Rachel Kushner, published by Scribner on April 6, 2021. Purchase a copy from our friends at City Lights Books.
Photo by Dave Glass.