Class Of 2019: Shannon Amitin

We caught up with one of the founders of Jolene’s on a Friday afternoon in midst of blaring house music and bartenders hard at work mixing cocktails.

Needless to say, it was the perfect setting to catch up with Shannon Amitin and candidly discuss what it means to open one of San Francisco’s up-and-coming queer bars.


Q

For our readers at Bob Cut Mag, what is Jolene’s and why is that important for the the queer community?

A

Jolene’s is a queer bar, restaurant and nightclub, and event space. There were not really spaces that felt like they were dedicated for us as trans folks, queer women or people of color. And so we really just wanted to create a space and opportunity for our community.

Q

What was the inspiration behind opening Jolene’s?

A

This was Jolene’s dream as well as mine. I owned a cafe for four years in downtown called farm:table and after I sold that, I spent about five years looking at spaces, but nothing quite fit. We got a chance to come here and I was like, “what am I going to do with all of this!?” I was thinking along the lines of another cafe project at that time. And I was like, this is going to be a queer bar cause we are only losing queer bars and this is an opportunity to change that tide. The story being told right now is, “Oh, there’s not enough queer women in San Francisco. That’s why we don’t have the Lexington anymore”. And aside from Divas, which was a bar for trans women, there has never been a space that has been owned by and for the more marginalized queer communities.

Q

Jolene’s is open during the day and at night – So what’s the difference between day and night? 

A

Well, right now we open on Sundays for drag brunch and it’s much more of a variety show. Sgt Die Wies, who produces the show for us, pulls from the circus arts, and drag communities, she gets international performers so you know you will always see something that you’ve never seen before! It gets wild in here. When you look at who is performing there is a lot of women getting an opportunity to perform when they would never get that opportunity elsewhere.


Shannon on the main strip of the Castro where he feels passionate about his neighborhood.Shannon on the main strip of the Castro where he feels passionate about his neighborhood.

Shannon on the main strip of the Castro where he feels passionate about his neighborhood.

Q

So if you were to open another bar, would it also be a queer bar? 

A

Oh yeah! Yeah. I mean I can’t help it. I love all the things and I want to go to all of the parties. That said, I think what’s great about Jolene’s is – it’s proving that we are still here. Being able to spread back out into the city is something I think is also really important to me. The Stud is another amazing example of a queer owned, queer run, queer programed bar creating jobs, opportunities and, space. It’s really important. It’s at the heart of everything that I do.

Q

Would you ever consider expanding Jolene’s into other cities? 

A

Of course. My goal right now is to create as much opportunity for the queer community as possible. When I first arrived in San Francisco at 18 and I went to the Castro, I was like, Oh my God! I had never seen so many queer people in one space. There are all of these empty storefronts, now is the time to take it over. Let’s fill it with all of the cool, rad, queer people that are still here! I would really love to see how what we do here can be expanded and we’ll see what that ends up looking like.

Q

Do you have any other plans in the future for Jolene’s?

A

Jolene came up with a new idea called, Tacos and Titties. So if you come on the last Thursday of the month, and you take off your shirt, we’ll give you electrical tape so that we’re in compliance with the law, then you get free nachos. 

Q

Speaking of titties… the dance floor is surrounded by a mural of boobs – what was the inspiration behind that and who are those people?

A

This is one of Jolene’s projects. Jolene was looking at a bar in the Castro and this had been part of the original design but it was going to be one tiny little wall. When we decided to make this the dance floor she was like “I want to do the whole room” and I was like, all right! She set up a photo shoot at a Uhaul event before we opened, where she shot 60 different people and they were all people who were at the party.


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Q

You mentioned Uhaul SF – what does a UHaul SF night look like?

A

That’s Jolene’s party. It’s every Friday night and she’s been running that party for over 10 years. It’s wild. 

Q

What was one of the most wild nights here like? Has anything happened that was completely out of whack?

A

Honestly, that is most Friday nights. We get rowdy and wild and you know, people just feel really safe and free here. When it comes to performers we book all different kinds of folks – drag queens and gogos that dance on the bar. I’ve even seen aerial arts up there. Every time I come to brunch, I never know what I’m going to see. The bunches are crazy too. So much hooting and hollering and bottomless mimosas. One night that was really special though was after the Trans March, we threw a party here and the line was all the way down the block – so many trans folks and allies. I walked in and it was packed. There were two beautiful trans folks gogo dancing on the bar, one of my favorite trans DJs was DJing and I was like, this doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. Everybody was so happy. I think the way that we get people to commingle is interesting and unique because we are really encouraging all kinds of folks to come and hang out with each other.

Q

Aside from providing this beautiful space and this beautiful sanctuary for everyone to gather, what has Jolene’s done for the queer community?

A

We do a lot of fundraising and happy hours benefits. We’re having a viewing party for the HRC LGBT Town Hall next week. We try to provide space to all the organizations that reach out to us, especially during happy hour. We’ve done events with the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, Muttville, the Office of transgender initiatives and, Women’s March. We have a lot more of those planned.

Q

And what has been the local community’s and the queer community’s reaction to the opening of Jolene’s? 

A

The outpouring of love and support has been phenomenal. There’s this belief that there is not that many queer folks left here, that everybody is going to be priced out or that we’re not a viable business demographic because we’re such a small community. We may be a small community, but when we come together, it is really powerful. I hope we can create more jobs and more opportunities for our folks because we always have a stack of resumes from queer folks needing employment.

// Make sure to follow Shannon on Instagram here. Or get to know about Jolene’s here. 2700 16th St, Outer Mission. jolenessf.com Photography by Anthony Rogers.


 


 

Class Of 2019: Shannon Amitin
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