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Libertine dream

Todd Trexler’s iconic ’70s nightlife posters return. Plus: Hardkiss Brothers, Kafana Balkan, Brown Sugar, Toph One, more parties

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Divinely iconic: From Todd Trexler's poster for "Divine Saves the World," 1973
Divinely iconic: From Todd Trexler’s poster for “Divine Saves the World,” 1973

SUPER EGO One of my supreme happy places, apparently, turned out to be the packed dancefloor of an underground fundraiser for Radical Faerie Burning Man camp Comfort and Joy, right around 3am a couple Fridays ago, when the drag queen DJ dropped “Rock the Casbah” and some behooded elfin rogue’s giant LED rainbow wings lit up and blinded me. Joe Strummer smiles from heaven, surely.

Alas, that drag queen, mi amiga grande Ambrosia Salad, will soon join the current nightlife exodus to Los Angeles, to follow her twinkling star (and cheaper rent) along the path to immortality — or at least an all-night churro cart. Can we get one here please thanks. But just when I despair of the city emptying of its precious idiosyncracies and after-dark characters, someone amazing pops up to charm the hotpants off of me and remind me of both San Francisco’s resilient weirdness and its cyclical subcultural nature.

“Oh, I moved out of the Castro when the drones moved in. Everyone started wanting to look the same, dress the same. It really took the fun out of the gay scene, these marching costumes coming in and stamping out the magic.” That’s twinkle-toned Todd Trexler, poster artist, AIDS nurse, and legendary bon vivant, speaking over the phone — not about about the samey-samey Wienerville the Castro has become, but the Castro clones of the mid-1970s. For all the renewed interest in the workboots, cut-offs, and mustaches of pre-AIDS SF gay culture (see local director Travis Mathews’ exciting, upcoming, James Franco-starring Interior. Leather Bar, which imagines the lost orgy footage from classic homoerotic/gay panic slasher flick Cruising and wowed ’em at Sundance last week), it’s good to remember there were also some fabulous butterfly dissenters to that macho wannabe world.

Divine in Vice Palace - poster by T. Trexler
Divine in Vice Palace – poster by T. Trexler

Trexler was a player in one of the seminal moments of alternative gay culture — after snagging an art degree from SF State, he designed the posters for the queer-raucous, acid-kaleidoscopic performance troupe The Cockettes’ first official shows, as well as the Midnight Movie series, later the Nocturnal Dream Shows at the Palace Theater in North Beach in the early ’70s, back when North Beach was a magnet for free-lovin’ freaks and nightlife oddities. (See, anything can happen). Now, he’s reprinted many of those iconic and visually stunning “Art Deco revival meets Aubrey Beardsley louche meets underground comics perversion” ink-and-photo masterpieces for surprisingly affordable purchase at

Divine in her iconic, kooky crinoline (“Basically she just threw on a bunch of stuff from the trunk of our car and voila, Divine!”) outside the Palace of Fine Arts for the “Vice Palace” play and, later, starring in Multiple Maniacs and “The Heartbreak of Psoriasis”; Sylvester looking his sultry best for a New Year’s Eve concert, and featured on a controversially explicit piece for decidedly hetero rock outfit the Finchley Boys; Tower of Power, Zazie dans le Metro, Mink Stole as Nancy Drew, the Waterfront gay bar — Trexler’s platinum stash of memorabilia will reinvigorate anyone zoinked out by our increasingly conformist, consumerist moment. (Trexler was prodded into reprinting by my favorite classic SF eccentric, Strange de Jim.)