Monday, 15 April 2013

Las Vegas Grind! Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed By a Few Days in San Francisco!

VLV Flyer 2013


Before splitting for the annual Viva Las Vegas weekender and San Francisco (on 27 March 2013), I was feeling drained, angry and tired and London was still in deep winter. Ever since getting back (on 6 April 2013), I’ve been feeling drained, angry and tired and London is still in deep winter! Add to that a horrendous case of jet lag and being distressingly broke after ten days in the US, and I have been one grouchy mofo lately. Such is life! It’s taken me a while to absorb and reflect on my time in the US – it definitely seemed to speed by fast. And I did do a lot of drinking. But I want to document the trip as best as I can while it’s still relatively fresh in my tortured mind. Apologies if this entry comes across as fractured and disjointed!

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Big Elvis and I ... an emotional reunion!

Thursday 28 March 2013 (Viva Las Vegas Day 1): I arrived in Vegas on Wednesday night, but after a tortuous, epic 18-hour journey by the time I reached The Orleans Hotel and Casino I crashed out in bed immediately. My hotel roommate this year was New Orleans-based journalist and homme du monde Kevin Allman. He was there partly to work, covering the New Orleans Bustout Burlesque troupe (who was responsible for staging the burlesque showcase and burlesque competition for this year’s Viva Las Vegas) for the publication Gambit

Thursday afternoon (once I was upright and functioning)  Kevin and I went to see Vegas institution Big Elvis perform in the lounge at Harrah’s on The Strip. Kevin was a Big Elvis virgin; this was my first time seeing him since 2010. It was a memorable and enjoyable reunion. Sure, you go to Big Elvis for the Mondo Trasho / kitsch / National Enquirer / Diane Arbus factor (hell, he is a morbidly obese Elvis impersonator) -- but you stay for his soaring, heartfelt and incredible voice. By then I’d already sunk a few cans of Budweiser, followed by a very potent (and expensive) Bloody Mary at Harrah’s. Against my better judgement, bad influence Kevin somehow persuaded to get up and dance during an audience participation number. OK I didn’t exactly “dance” but I embraced my inner Ann-Margret and shook some maracas along to “Viva Las Vegas.” The black mail photos exist: Kevin also filmed it on his iPhone! I’m hoping this incriminating footage doesn’t surface on Youtube! Anyway, I can’t imagine going to Vegas without seeing Big Elvis – he is compulsory, the embodiment of weird, tacky old-school Las Vegas glitz.(And I say that with love).
Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Historic meeting: When Kevin Met Big Elvis!

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

To my eternal shame ... me shakin' that maraca to "Viva Las Vegas." Never say I don't embrace the spirit of things.

Back at The Orleans I scored myself the dream biker cap I always wanted from the Los Angeles-based vendors My Baby Jo. It’s black (well, charcoal grey) and hopefully evokes Marlon Brando in The Wild One, or Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising. I caught up with some American, Dutch and Canadian friends I hadn’t seen since Viva Las Vegas 2012. Later, I accompanied  Kevin to watch Bustout Burlesque rehearse their revue in the deserted showroom. The musical high points of the first night were the Rockin’ Roy Orbison Show featuring Marcel Riesco, and the Janis Martin tribute with Marti Brom and Rosie Flores.

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Patrick and friend

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

AnneMarie (from the Netherlands) and Patrick (from Seattle)

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

My reunion with Dutch beauty AnneMarie! (One of us might be a bit drunk)

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Bustout Burlesque showcase dress rehearsal: Finland's LouLou D'Vil practices her routine. Note the full jazz band playing behind her: they really swung.

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

My new biker cap!

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Natelle, Sharon (from Vancouver) and I

Friday 29 March 2013 (Viva Las Vegas Day 2): The first of the weekend’s series of pool parties. Coming from London (especially deep winter London), I’d been craving this, and it didn’t disappoint. Lounging in the sun, drinking icy beer with my feet dangling in the pool while listening to the surf combo The Aquasonics is my idea of bliss. (They aren’t rockabilly obviously, but the awesome Aquasonics are always one of my musical favourites at Viva Las Vegas: they really nail the deep, rumbling twang-y menace of how surf ideally should sound – and rarely does. Sadly, my old friend Miss Kitty Baby wasn’t go-go dancing with them this year. Viva Las Vegas was missing its queen in 2013: there was a definite Miss Kitty Baby-shaped hole).

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Awesome surf guitar instrumental band The Aquasonics tearing it up


The Friday pool party was also the men’s vintage bathing suit competition. Two of my friends – Kevin and Patrick – had both entered in their best cabana suits. The competition was tough, but in the end, Patrick won. Later that night Kevin and I watched the proper Bustout Burlesque showcase, then caught the tribute to Gene Vincent (The Blue Caps with Graham Fenton).
Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

A bit of friendly competition: Kevin and Patrick modelling their vintage cabana suits prior to the men's vintage swimsuit competition

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

I fucking love this guy! This cute Latino kid from San Diego befriended me and shared beer after beer with me from his cooler. Sweet guy. His girlfriend had passed out and he carried on partying. I kept reminding him, Keep an eye on her, don't let her get sunburnt or sunstroke and he'd say, "I put a towel over her."

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

The men's vintage swimsuit competition contestants

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Patrick's moment of triumph

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Reunion with Mitch

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Waiting for the Bustout Burlesque showcase to begin

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

The big finale of the Bustout Burlesque revue (understandably, photography was forbidden during the performance)


Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Reunion with Suzy and Jorge from Los Angeles

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Jorge and I

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Viva Las Vegas beauties: the two I know are Lisa (tall and willowy redhead in the leopard skin) and AnneMarie (the brunette at the end in red).

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Dance floor action

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

More dance floor action

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

The guys: Ejole (aka Little E), Chris, Patrick and Oran

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Hijinks! Patrick, Lisa and Oran

Saturday 30 March 2013 (Viva Las Vegas Day 3): Kevin and I headed to the car show (the Viva Las Vegas car show is the best in the freakin’ WORLD!) before the sun turned too scorching. The climax for me was the glistening pink and cream Imperial, a vehicle worthy of Jayne Mansfield. Then Kevin and I decided to get out of the sun (and conserve some energy for Little Richard’s concert later that night) and grabbed a cab to Frankie’s Tiki Room for their signature Mai Tais. I only caught a fleeting and intriguing glimpse of Frankie’s last year en route to The Golden Steer steak house. It really is Tiki heaven in there: one of the hippest jukeboxes I’ve ever seen, exquisite Tiki / Polynesian decor, and excellent cocktails.
Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Me getting back to my hillbilly roots at the car show

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Perfect shade of Halloween orange

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

That pink and cream Imperial

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Items for sale at vendors at the car show. Check out the beautiful vintage magazine cover featuring Elizabeth Taylor. I love the screaming headline: "Film Star Vanishes! Where is Monty Clift?"

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Outsider art at the car show

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Delicious Mai Tais at Frankie's Tiki Room

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Me getting bombed at Frankie's

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Exquisite Tiki decor at Frankie's

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Exterior of Frankie's (I emerged from the darkness blinking and drunk). The green neon sign must be dazzling by night

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Tiki sculpture outside Frankie's


Little Freakin' Richard!!

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My main motivation for attending Viva Las Vegas this year was to see headliner Little Richard, whom  I revere as the Bronze Liberace, the pioneering freaky Queen Mutha of rock’n’roll. And now that the former Richard Wayne Penniman has turned 80, it’s now or never.  His concert at the car show on Saturday turned out to be a hot mess / car crash / train wreck! But a compelling one! Musically Richard and his band were pretty awful, but just seeing Little Richard in the flesh, at close proximity, was a spine-tingling and unforgettable experience.


Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

My best shot of Little Richard

The concert started a good 45-minutes later than scheduled. Kevin and I missed Vicky Tafoya and Dick Dale’s sets beforehand, but did catch opening act The Rockats – who were very, um, slick. We all waited with bated breath for Richard’s arrival. Advance word is he’s immobile now, the consequence of a near fatal car accident in 1985. His injuries have worsened with age and apparently recent hip replacement surgery did not go well. Sure enough, when Richard finally appeared he was wheeled straight to the piano from a ramp by the side of the stage in an ornate throne-like gold wheelchair (think ancient Egyptian pharaoh). Adding to the tension and weird atmosphere, he was flanked by tough, expressionless Nation of Islam-style bodyguards wearing suits and sunglasses.


Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!


Unfortunately, the opening song was a slow tuneless blues / boogie trudge that seemed to last forever – not a promising start! But it was representative of what was to come. You could almost feel the crowd’s good will and excitement start to evaporate. At one point Little Richard asked the crowd, “Do y’all like the blues?” I wanted to shout, “No!” It was at least three or even four songs into his set before I started recognising songs (when he got to “Good Golly Miss Molly”. The choice of material throughout was odd and unrepresentative of Little Richard’s oeuvre. For Kevin, the last straw was when Little Richard covered “Old Time Rock’n’Roll” – a Bob Segar song! He left in protest!).

Not to be ungallant, but Richard’s once-glorious voice is shot. Kevin noticed his keyboard player did most of the heavy lifting in terms of piano playing, allowing Little Richard to appear to be playing when he wasn’t; Richard himself mainly just did the occasional show-y flourish. His horribly slick band of jaded studio musicians mainly kept the tempo at a slow blues plod which made the songs almost interchangeable. (His bassist wore his jacket with the sleeves rolled up 1980s Miami Vice-style and tried to encourage the audience to clap their hands above their heads – an unforgivable sin in my book). Watching him, I speculated what it would sound like if Little Richard was backed by a stripped-down, lean and hungry, desperate little rhythm and blues band -- but I suspect it’s too late for that. At times you could almost sense Richard lose interest midway through a song and go into autopilot. For me, the musical highlight by far was the beautiful “Directly from My Heart to You”: it’s one of my favourite Little Richard songs, plus it’s a ballad (so a tempo he can still manage). Even the band’s bombastic treatment of it couldn’t wreck it.

This all probably sounds pretty damning – but Little Richard was mesmerizingly entertaining just to watch. I knew the concert had the potential to be great or awful -- but that either way it would be fascinating and it was, in a memorably twisted way. Richard’s outfit was a glittering rhinestone-studded suit somewhere between powder blue and lavender (the colour of Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes), accessorised with matching little Cuban-heeled rhinestone-studded ankle boots. His face was mostly obscured by wrap-around opaque smoked shades and a truly shocking jet black wig (a curly bouffant mullet, very long in the back, seemingly not updated since the early 1980s). What you could see was taut-skinned, mocha-coloured and still beautiful. (I mostly saw him from the side because of his position behind the piano; his haughty and elegant profile is worthy of comparison to Nefertiti’s). The signature pimp-tastic little pencil line mustache (the inspiration for John Waters’) is still intact. Occasionally he’d briefly remove the dark glasses to mop the sweat off his face and it was devastating to catch a fleeting glimpse of his piercing black eyes.
Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!
Glimpse of Little Richard without the dark sunglasses

Perhaps inevitably, Little Richard has lost his the feral wild-eyed quality of his youth, but he has kept his queenly androgyny, and (for a committed hardcore born again Christian) he still emanates a whiff of genuine sleaze and danger. Even burnt-out and ailing, his charisma is riveting – at 80 Little Richard is majestic, fierce and strange. Best of all, Richard’s rambling soliloquies between songs were odd and enthralling. Fussing over the selection of drinks on offer by his piano seemed to lead to some kind of meltdown (“I want ginger ale!” Kevin reminded me that during this episode, Richard picked up a can of the soft drink Sierra Mist and reflected, “Who’s Sierra?”). There was the expected amount of Bible-thumping (at one point he announced his brother Peyton would be handing out his "new book”and an autographed photo for us all. When they were tossed into the audience, everyone clamoured for a copy. The book turned out to be an entirely generic prayer book; the autographed photo was a black and white postcard from the 1980s featuring a much younger, heavily-retouched Little Richard). He talked about his disability and hip problems and asked us to pray for him (“my hip is broke on the inside,” he explained, adding that he’s now too physically frail for any further operations). He expressed amazement at reaching the age of 80 (his mamma was dead by 71). Most alarmingly, he suddenly said, “The world is ending soon, you know. Jesus is coming.” He said it with a smile on his face, but with total gravity – it’s a development Little Richard seemingly welcomes. He seemed to pad things out by endlessly introducing his musicians. “Y’all glad to see me?” he’d ask, and then continue, “Y’all glad to see Kenny? Y’all glad to see Carl?” or whatever his band members were called. I was amazed by the amount of people daring to call out song requests to someone so regal and so patently not a people pleaser (“Jenny Jenny!”). Little Richard would respond by turning to his musicians and querulously asking, “What did they say?” and then snap, “Shut up!”
Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

My favourite Little Richard moment: towards the end, someone said something about bringing some dancers onstage. Little Richard leered, “Girls or boys? I want girls.” (Sure you do. The campy King and Queen of rock’n’roll managed to say this with some conviction and a lascivious grin). Of course this was the cue for “The Girl Can’t Help It”, one of Richard’s towering all-time finest moments. But the band played it as a slow crawl that was painful to hear and Richard’s voice was harsh and strident. A selection of women from the audience was dragged up onstage to dance and channel their inner Jayne Mansfield. As “The Girl Can’t Help It” dragged on interminably, I wonder if they started to regret it. Once the female invaders were onstage, one of Little Richard’s unsmiling Nation of Islam-style thug bodyguards promptly materialised and stood right behind him protectively with a stony facial expression for the duration of the entire song – as if suspecting one of the dancing girls would suddenly lunge at and attack Little Richard? Or try to kidnap him? The split second the song ended, the bodyguard made a hostile, impatient gesture for the girls to vacate the stage – now! Wild!

Later that night, Kevin and I attended the burlesque competition. Outside the showroom veteran doyennes of the mid-century Golden Age of stripping were selling autographed photos – including the sensational Rita Alexander. In the 1960s when she used to strip in the clubs of Bourbon Street in New Orleans she was called The Champagne Girl (her trademark was balancing full flutes of Champagne on her amazing rack without spilling a drop). I’d hesitate to guess Alexander’s age (60-something? 70-something?). She certainly looked amazingly well-preserved in Vegas in her chic black cocktail dress, and still favours heavy black eye make-up and gravity-defying blonde bouffant hairdos. It was tempting to buy one of her 1960s black and white 8’10” glamour shots and have Alexander autograph it with a silver glitter pen (I’d turn it into a Lobotomy Room flyer!), but they cost a bomb. (I did hover around her table and say “Hi”. Rita Alexander was sweet and complimented me on my leopard skin flat cap). Around the corner from Alexander 85-year old burlesque royalty Tempest Storm was also autographing photos, and hers were even more pricey (there’s a definite hierarchy at work!). I can confirm Storm also still looks great, still with the tousled mane of long Rita Hayworth-auburn hair. I’ve caught glimpses of Tempest Storm over the years at Viva Las Vegas, and her whole demeanour is so poised, ladylike and imperial – she’s like an empress!
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The fabulous Rita Alexander in her prime

In 1967 Alexander starred in a wonderfully rancid-looking sexploitation film called Hot Thrills and Warm Chills. Watch this brief but intoxicating clip of the sullen young Rita Alexander in a skin-tight spangly gold outfit smoking, go-go dancing and drinking. It’s the reason cinema was invented! It’s life-affirming!




Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!
 
GoGo McGregor of Bustout Burlesque, the night of the burlesque competition. Note: I just realised you can see Tempest Storm in the lefthand corner, wearing pink! So I managed to take her picture without having to pay for it, without even trying!

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!


Suave couple: Allen and Aaron from Seattle

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Allen, Aaron and I. I love the detail of elegant Allen in his dinner jacket, bow tie and frilly shirt ... drinking a can of ultra-trashy Pabst Blue Ribbon.
 

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

And the winner is ... Missy Lisa won the 2013 Viva Las Vegas Burlesque competition

Sunday 31 March 2013 (Viva Las Vegas Day 4): The last day of Viva Las Vegas always feels more laid back and mellow. Most of the day was spent at the pool party. Afterwards: we checked out the always-excellent and gripping jiving competition (think of the Corny Collins Show from Hairspray come to life. Obviously I mean the 1988 John Waters original, not the 2007 abomination!), then the Charles Phoenix slideshow. The rest of the night was a final round of wandering around, checking out bands, drinking and bumping into friends. The next day, Kevin split early for New Orleans. I left several hours later for San Francisco.


Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!


Suzy and Jorge

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Suzy, Jorge and I

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Tradition: Patrick always does some variation of the Easter Bunny on the Easter Sunday pool party. This year he was a vision in leopard skin

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Friendly Canadians at the pool party

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

High glamour at the Sunday pool party (photo by Kevin. I would have been too shy!)

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

This guy sat in the row in front of us at The Charles Phoenix Slideshow. I told him I was hunting for a fez of my own. I seriously coveted his (the one I eventually tracked down in San Francisco is very similar to this one).

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

With Sweetpea from Seattle


Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

The great Charles Phoenix with his festive Easter Lamb (made out of meat loaf)

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

This redhead was one of the most striking women at Viva Las Vegas all weekend. When I got up close to her and clocked her freaky cat-like / space alien contact lenses, I complimented her on them and she got a bit offended (I was meant to think they were her real eyes?). My biker cap is making my ears stick out weirdly in this shot -- my ears aren't normally that elf-like.

1-5 April 2013: San Francisco went by in a blur! Taking into account arrival and departure times (and that I lost the whole of Monday night when I went to bed early with a thudding headache. I felt rough by Monday: too many days of partying combined with wisdom tooth pain wiped me out), I was only there for 72 hours! I accomplished a lot while there, but I need to go back for a longer period next time. I managed to see most of my San Francisco friends, but I really regret not getting to see Kacy French this trip.

Highlights: For me, San Francisco means bar-hopping. I made it to all my old favourite haunts – Esta Noches, Hole in the Wall, Vesuvio, Lucky 13, Trax – and discovered some new places. I checked out Zeitgeist and Aunt Charlie’s Lounge based on recommendations – and neither was for me. (Maybe I went to Aunt Charlie's on an "off night"). Walking home from Aunt Charlie’s in The Tenderloin at about 1.30 am (the neighbourhood all travel guides warn you to avoid late at night) was certainly suspenseful! Parts of San Francisco look like something out of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. London’s street people are so benign by comparison – for one thing, they don’t do crack or crystal meth!

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

I always stop in for a drink at gritty Mexican gay bar Esta Noche in The Mission (usually after eating a burrito at a nearby taquería first!). I've been coming here since 2001.

Otherwise: I ate Mexican food every freaking day! (Truly, my soul is Latino. What a shame it’s wrapped around a pasty-skinned, ginger-haired, Irish-looking exterior). As per usual, I stayed at The Twin Peaks Hotel on Market Street – my home away from home. It’s situated right between The Mission and Castro – so ideal for what I have in mind! I did some serious shopping in Haight-Ashbury: dropped a fortune CD shopping at Amoeba Records and found the perfect vintage fez (the glamorous and eccentric fifty-something redhead who sold it to me at the vintage clothing emporium was missing a finger tip; I tried hard not to stare while she was counting out my change).

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!
The wonderful Rooky Ricardo's Record Shop on Haight Street. I discovered it in 2012 and re-visited this year. Check out the vintage Ike and Tina Turner records ... goose bumps. They are like religious artefacts for me! Don't Play Me Cheap (from 1963) is one of my favourite album covers of all time. The very young Tina Turner wrapped in faux fur ... the bouffant wighat ... the frosted pink lipstick ... but most of all: those killer slanting Satanic eyebrows, worthy of Divine!

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Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

The awesome Beck's Motor Lodge: atomic era architecture at its finest. That pink and buttercup yellow colour scheme! I always stay at the Twin Peaks Hotel a few blocks away. Loyal as I am to The Twin Peaks, I'd stay at Beck's Motor Lodge if my budget would permit.

When I was in San Francisco last year I didn’t visit North Beach and really regretted it. This year I compensated by spending most of a dreamy day there reclaiming my beatnik roots. It began a bit anxiously: I caught the bus to North Beach from The Mission. The driver instructed me to alight at North Point -- waaaay too soon and I had to walk for ages to get to where I wanted to be! Finally seeing the familiar sights of Coit Tower and Saints Peter and Paul Church looming on the horizon warmed my heart. Then I mellowed right out by drinking coffee at a table outside Caffe Greco. It was blissful, and felt Continental, like being in Paris or Rome. From there, I indulged by inner beatnik: spent some quality time browsing at City Lights (I bought Funeral Rites by my spiritual mentor Jean Genet), stopped for a beer at Vesuvio, and wandered around the gift shop of The Beat Museum (but didn’t cough up the cover charge to enter the museum itself! Money was getting tight by then). I love the seedy old strip club neon signs that dot Columbus and Broadway. The only downside in North Beach: I went to Li Po Cocktail Lounge for their signature cocktail – the enticing-sounding Chinese Mai Tai. It's a Mai Tai with mystery Chinese ingredients -- could I be more intrigued? The bartender was initially friendly, I ordered – and then got kicked out for not having picture ID! At my age! (As younger friends delight in pointing out, my sideburns are flecked with white. That didn't seem to make any difference in this situation). I tried to negotiate with him, but with no luck. (I’m a Canadian who lives in the UK and doesn’t drive – so no picture ID. I didn’t have my passport on me). Instead, I backtracked to nearby dive bar Hawaii West for a beer. (The Li Po bartender argued I would be asked for ID everywhere I went. That was the only occasion I was asked for ID all trip!).


Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

"Topless A Go-Go!" It sounds like it should be the title of a Russ Meyer film. In the 1960s the fabulous Condor Club on the wonderfully seedy corner of Broadway and Columbus in North Beach was a burlesque club. These days it's a sports bar. Luckily they've kept the original neon sign intact.

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Placque outside The Condor commemorating the historic and pioneering topless and bottomless exploits of stripper Carol Doda. I highly recommend you type "Carol Doda" into Google image -- except maybe not while you're at work.

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

The giant mural inside the lobby of The Condor in North Beach dates back from when it was still a titty bar (it's now a sports bar). I think this buxom cartoon woman with the neon nipples is meant to represent Carol Doda.

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Tough cookie: The real Carol Doda

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

The Hungry I Club just around the corner from The Condor in North Beach. In the 1950s and 60s The Hungry I was an intellectual beatnik nightclub featuring jazz and folk music and comedians. The likes of Bill Cosby, Lenny Bruce, Maya Angelou and Barbra Streisand all performed there early in their careers. Later on it changed venues and management and became the low-rent strip club it is today! Still, what a great sleazy neon sign! I did peek into the gift shop of the Beat Museum next door, but didn't cough up the cover charge in order to enter the museum itself. I didn't need to actually visit the Beat Museum; I was already living it!

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

"The Home of Beat Poetry" Vesuvio Cafe in North Beach, where the likes of Jack Kerouac and Dylan Thomas used to drink. It's just around the corner from the wonderful City Lights book store

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

The best grafitti I saw in San Francisco. This was in North Beach, on the corner of Vallejo Street and Stockton Street, right where Chinatown begins. I'd just been kicked out of The Li Po Cocktail Lounge, was backtracking to the Tiki bar Hawaii West instead and spotted this en route.

Finally: It was a blast having dinner with Oran, Teresa, Lisa and Charlie at The Front Porch in The Mission on Wednesday night. Thursday I hung out with my friend and finally did something a bit high culture – went to look at some old masters at the Legion of Honour museum in Lincoln Park. (Lincoln Park offers spectacular views of San Francisco, but it was very misty the day I was there). Then we went for sea food at the Anchor Oyster Bar in Castro. On Friday I split for London, got back Saturday 6 April – and it’s been downhill ever since!


Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Oran and Teresa. Shame it was so dark out when I took this shot, as you can't fully appreciate Oran's awesome vintage car.

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Lisa and Charlie

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

Oran and Teresa

Viva Las Vegas 2013 ... Followed by a Few Days in San Francisco!

The memory of those mashed potatos and macaroni and cheese are flooding back to me. Carbs ... CARBS! Left to right: me, Oran, Teresa and Lisa.

Further reading:

See the rest of the photos (there are more!) on my flickr page

Kevin Allman's article about Bustout Burlesque's adventures at Viva Las Vegas on the Gambit website

My blog about Viva Las Vegas 2010

My blog about Viva Las Vegas 2011

My blog about Viva Las Vegas 2012 (and trip to San Francisco)






3 comments:

  1. Great writeup of a fun and exhausting weekend. Loved Big Elvis and the AquaSonics, as well as the Janis Martin tribute. You got a lot accomplished!

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  2. i remember rita--sounds like a book title!--from her hanging out at charlene's, a major dyke bar here in new orleans on elysian fields, named for its owner...i suspect miss alexander was a friend of alice brady, a notorious bulldagger who had many, many stripper pals; suffice to say, rita was a doll! last saw little richard oh, 40-odd-years ago at al hirt's club on bourbon street still stomping and screaming like crazy in a costume made entirely from bits of mirror...must have weighed a ton and la penniman sweated away like a wagnerian diva! cheers, morphodite...

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  3. So great to hear from you, Morphodite! Love you, love your work! Your tumblr page makes my world go round. And so much subterranean social history crammed into one brief comment! Wow - so I wonder if Rita Alexander sipped from the furry cup? Satan's Angel certainly did and is very upfront about it. To see Little Richard 40 years ago must have been breathtaking.

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