Bill Bowers has photographed San Francisco’s sexual fringe for more than 40 years. In that time, he watched the city evolve from a pre-AIDS libertine playground to a funereal ghost town during the plague years of the 1980s. And he’s seen the city’s most adventurous fucking move from long-gone bathhouses and leather bars to invite-only house parties.
“We used to call Folsom Street the ‘Miracle Mile’ because in the ’70s, from about 13th Street to 5th Street, there was a gay bar on almost every corner,” Bowers says, ticking off the roll call: the Trench, Dirty Sally’s, Handball Express.
There were also half a dozen SRO hotels that catered to gay tenants, including the aptly named Brothel Hotel on Polk Street — the “Polk Gulch” of that era was another gay mecca, bustling with hustlers and pickup bars — along with a smorgasbord of bathhouses, sex clubs, and porn theaters.