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The Last Gay Picture Show

The gay strip club famous for its "Touch Our Junk" marquee is for sale. Will the one time "smut capital of the world" ever be the same?


Porn star Rafael Alencar performs a striptease at the Nob Hill Theatre.

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On deck: Alencar waits backstage before performing his role as a baseball player who takes a load off after the game.

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Nob Hill Theatre owners (and husbands) Gary Luce and Larry Hoover are selling the venerable smut palace.

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This is one of many stories from San Francisco's February 2018 Bars & Nightlife issue. Check them all out here.

Rafael Alencar is ready for his close-up. He's already popped a male-enhancement pill, and now he's shoveling down a cup of pineapple before his 10 p.m. show. He's not hungry. The pineapple is to make him, uh, taste better.

We’re in the basement of the Nob Hill Theatre, the gay adult cinema and strip show on Bush Street famed for its “Touch Our Junk” marquee. For over four decades, this squat, beige, mostly windowless building has been synonymous with risqué male entertainment: video booths, glory holes, and live stripteases where porn stars like Alencar and rookies off the street deliver a hands-on experience. The theater’s owners, Gary Luce and Larry Hoover, live in an apartment in the bowels of the club, just past the glory hole booths, and when a headliner like Alencar comes to town, the apartment transforms into a subterranean greenroom for performers and their groupies.

Lest you imagine that living beneath a porn theater is weird, let me assure you that it is—but only slightly. The apartment itself, tasteful enough to appear in Architectural Digest in 1982, is soundproof and chic, with a keypad entry. Live feeds from the theater’s various surveillance cameras play continuously and addictively on a monitor. Just outside the front door, men cruise amid the ricocheted moans of the 75-channel porn arcade.

Luce has lived here with Hoover, his husband, for the past seven years. Together since the Reagan administration, they’ve made a wholesome domestic life in the middle of all this sex. When I visited one afternoon, they were baking cookies, listening to Roy Orbison, and about to make a Costco run.

Business is good, so it’s both surprising and shrewd that in October the couple listed the theater on San Francisco’s eternally overheated real estate market. Now in their early 60s, Luce and Hoover are ready to hang up their jockstraps and retire to Palm Springs. They’re seeking $347,000 for the business and $3.78 million for the building—a bargain for 3,272 square feet of prime downtown retail. There’s no guarantee that the business and the building will sell together, or that the building’s next owner will want to continue hosting jack-off shows and weekly naked nights.

Like so much else in San Francisco, the theater is a throwback to another era—the bad old days when the city was the “smut capital of the world,” as then-supervisor Dianne Feinstein called it in 1971. It’s revered partly because it has survived, weathering competition from the gay cinemas and bookstores of the ’70s, the AIDS epidemic and the shuttering of bathhouses in the ’80s and ’90s, and the tech tsunami of the 2000s. Today, in an age when the Internet and Grindr cater to every imaginable kink, the Nob Hill Theatre offers a rare commodity: unpredictable, face-to-face raunch. “It’s known worldwide,” Luce says of the theater. “There’s no other place like it.”

“There are still a bunch of gay people in the world, and they’re still filthy, and God bless America, this place is making good money,” says Steven “Stu” Gerry, the realtor looking to off-load what he thinks could become the “city’s next cool club.” And maybe he’s right. Even in the new, tech-addled, sleaze-sanitized, filth-neutered San Francisco, sex sells.


Before it was a triple-X palace, the Nob Hill Theatre was a jazz club called Club Hangover, and before that, in the 1940s, it was another jazz club called Melody Lane, supposedly co-owned by Joe DiMaggio. Today there’s a photo in the lobby from when Louis Armstrong trumpeted there, taken in a room now dubbed the Rendezvous Lounge, where men watch TV porn and each other in scrupulously Windexed mirrors.

In 1968, Shan Sayles, an independent theater operator and sometime softcore porn producer from Carmel, bought the building and started screening B movies. Sales were slow, so he switched over to gay porn, of which he was a connoisseur. (He owned so much, in fact, that he donated some to the Kinsey Institute.) By the time Luce and Hoover took over in 2010, the theater had a dismal reputation among performers and customers, partly because it fit all the stereotypes of the sticky-floor porn dive: It was filthy, rank, and biohazardous. Dancers weren’t paid unless they ejaculated onstage.

“We knew nothing about the industry,” Luce says. “We didn’t even know how to operate the cash register.” But Luce and Hoover had spent decades in the hospitality industry, managing a small chain of luxury hotels. And porn, as Luce likes to say, is just hospitality in a different form. They rehabbed the theater with help from Michael Brandon, a local adult performer and walking Zagat guide to gay sleaze. They built sets, made costumes, and introduced kitschy plots into the stage shows: A priest punishes his wayward supplicant, a baseball player takes a load off after the game. They invited biweekly headliners, including gay catnip like Brent Corrigan, JJ Knight, Adam Killian, and Alencar.

Other cities have nude male revues— Dick’s Cabaret in Phoenix, Swinging Richard’s in Atlanta—but few are as full-service as the Nob Hill Theatre. Twenty bucks ($25 if there’s a headliner) buys an all-day pass. At lunchtime you might see businessmen in three-piece suits lurking near the glory holes (“An easy way to make a friend,” promises a sign on each door). Audience members routinely fellate the performers. You may encounter tourists from Berlin or Amsterdam, some of whom stay at nearby hotels and plan their entire itinerary around the place because it’s raunchier than anything in Europe. And thanks to rookie nights, there’s no real distinction between customers and performers. Anyone can get onstage, and anyone does—including, legend has it, a man with a colostomy bag.

The Nob Hill Theatre is now the city’s final outpost of live male sex. Its longtime rival, the Tea Room Theatre, a gay cinema and strip club in the Tenderloin that turned out to be the penultimate refuge for a certain kind of gay hedonism in San Francisco, closed in 2016. There are still options for men seeking men seeking no-strings-attached public fun—SF Jacks, Blow Buddies, Steamworks—but there’s nothing quite as eclectic, or hygienic (it’s so clean that some former devotees of the grungy Tea Room won’t come to it), or even as endearing as this quirky little meat market. There’s a summer-camp quality to the productions, with their homemade props and DIY sets and an MC who introduces each entertainer with a bit of comic patter. Luce and Hoover do their earnest best to give their gay everyman customers their money’s worth.

“It’s almost like Jesus would approve,” Stu Gerry says.


Back in the greenroom (i.e., Luce and Hoover’s apartment), Luce is fussing over Alencar’s outfit. In tonight’s skit, he’s a sadistic TSA agent who plays fast and loose with the cavity searches. The uniform, adorned with handmade badges, lanyards, and all the emblems of authority, has to be just so. Luce straightens, smooths, and plucks, sizing up Alencar like a pageant mother.

Alencar, a dentist in Brazil before cashing in on his nine-and-a-half-inch penis, is a crowd favorite. Denton Hudman is a fiftysomething porn aficionado who flies in from Las Vegas to catch Alencar’s biannual shows. Hudman is here now, sipping a vodka-cranberry on the couch and casting sideways glances at his idol. He almost purrs when Alencar hands him the rest of the pineapple.

There’s murmured haggling among the extras over whose ass will accommodate what, and in what order. At some point, maybe 20 minutes before showtime, a boyish-looking performer—a twink, in gay parlance—materializes and retires to the bathroom with poppers and lube, presumably to get in character as the naughty smuggler. The faux metal detector is set up onstage, and the music is cued. It’s go time.

We troop upstairs, into the subtle bleach scent of another Saturday night. We pass the retail displays in the front lobby—butt plugs, cock rings, dildos, DVDs with titles like The Incredible Edible Foreskin—then make our way through the “hall of fame,” where the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with performers’ autographed head shots. Then I and about two dozen other paying customers—all men, ranging from mid-20s to mid-Pleistocene—settle into the darkened theater to watch Alencar strip the twink to his jockstrap, bend him over, and go to work with a dildo the size of a traffic cone. The twink barely winces. When Alencar tires of this, the twink gathers his clothes and scuttles off stage. The rest of the hour consists of a solo striptease, during which almost every audience member accepts the theater’s invitation to touch Alencar’s junk. Some do more than touch. It’s almost like a petting zoo, where everybody gets a turn and Alencar’s penis is a species of exotic wildlife.

The theater’s future doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s mind tonight, except for maybe Gerry’s: He has sold more sex dungeons than anyone else in town and is fielding offers from an anonymous buyer in Hong Kong interested in converting the theater into a private sex club. Another potential buyer has talked about turning the place into a marijuana dispensary. Three other men, entrepreneurs from the straight strip club world, are also circling.

Gerry wants to sell the building, but he also wants to keep its adult-use zoning. “Once this is turned into a WeWork bullshit place, or a day care, it’s hard to go back without a lot of legal wrangling,” he says. “We want to keep that as is. People in San Francisco still need a naughty place to go.”


Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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