Chaps II 1225 Folsom Street, San Francisco
I like to “collect” leather bars during my travels, and the recent news that Chaps II had opened in San Francisco excited me. Despite San Francisco’s reputation as a Gay Mecca, and despite the fact that some of the best leather shops anywhere are located in San Francisco, there really has not been a true leather bar in that city for some time. Blame the absence on the AIDS epidemic, which took out an entire generation of leather men, or blame it on the rise of internet hook-up communities. Whatever the reason, Chaps II fills a void.
I did some research on the new bar before I planned my trip. I wanted to know particularly if Chaps II had a “dress code,” i.e., was this a leather bar in name only or was it going to be the real thing. I turned to their website and liked what I saw, but a bar’s website doesn’t always reflect the reality of its clientele. I turned to Google and found a number of articles and “reviews” about the bar, along with stories about some of their events. Finally, I went into the San Francisco area chat rooms of gay.com and talked with some locals in chat on the Recon Network’s worldleathermen.com. I liked everything I heard.
On this past Friday night, Chaps featured a Bear night, but Saturday night was for Leather-and-Uniform. I pulled on my skins – leather jeans, leather shirt, biker jacket and boots – and strode through the lobby of San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, one of the most upscale hotels on Nob Hill. I always love the jaw-dropping looks a man in tight black leather draws. A group of Asian guests or tourists became totally silent as I walked by. I couldn’t help but grin as I nodded hello and passed them by.
The cab driver, on the other hand, was totally appreciative and greeted me with “Well Helloooo, Handsome Man!” Hey, San Francisco is my kind of city, which is to say, Gay with a capital – G. “Chaps, Powerhouse, or The Hole in the Wall?” He knew the places to go, all right.
Arriving at the bar, I knew I’d found the real thing. The bars are non-smoking in San Francisco, so the smokers congregate outside the front door on the sidewalk. It’s still like running an obnoxious gauntlet to get to the door, but what the hell. About fifteen or twenty guys lingered outside with their cigarettes and cigars, almost all of them leather-clad. And the eight or ten motorcycles parked at the curb offered even more promise. The doorman carded me, which I found amusing, then held open the door. I could have stood there and just looked at him for another minute or two, or hour or two, or night or two. The dude offered a lot of fantasy material.
Inside, I had the strange good fortune, as I approached the drink station for a beer, to meet one of the men I’d interviewed on worldleathermen.com. Joe goes by the handle SFBiker, and I recognized him from his photos. We chatted for a bit, then he introduced me to some of his friends. Everyone was friendly and welcoming.
Chaps is not a big bar. In fact, it’s on the small side, it’s narrow, but it’s long and deep. About two-thirds of the way back, thick cell bars divide the bar, adding atmosphere. But the real atmosphere comes from the men. Chaps II doesn’t demand a strict leather dress code, but this is definitely not a “tourist” bar. There were men in biker leather, bondage leather, rubber, chains, assless chaps, leather aprons, jockstraps and boots, and every sort of kink-wear. The few men who weren’t wasted no time in whipping off their shirts and stripping down.
The drinks were cheap, by San Francisco standards, something I especially appreciated after the outrageous prices at the Fairmont’s hotel bar. The shirtless bartender who served me was quick, efficient and friendly. I barely had time to lean over the counter to observe his fellow bartender in just boots and tight jock-strap. He brought an entirely new meaning to the word, “staff.” Indeed.
Because of my business schedule, I only stayed about an hour and a half, but it was time well spent. Chaps II is a terrific bar and a worthy addition to my leather “collection.” It’s just down the block from the aforementioned Powerhouse and Hole in the Wall, as well, and just around the corner from Mr. S Leathers, one really great leather shop. All these factors insure that I’ll return to Chaps on my next visit to San Francisco, and if you’re a leather man reading this or just curious about the leather scene, be sure to check out this bar. The owners, I understand, had some trouble from the city when they applied for their license, but they’ve created something well worth the fight. I wish them tons of success