Sunday, April 17, 2011

Demise of the SF Eagle and Chris Burns Remembered

The news around town is that the SF Eagle, the legendary leather bar, will close at the end of this month. My information is all second hand but essentially, the lease and liquor license have passed on to new hands who have no intention of maintaining the Eagle as we have come to love it over the decades. For me it is the quintessential leather bar, although there are Eagles all over the country and I have been to all the West Coast ones, LA, Seattle and Portland, as well as our own San Francisco...they were united in sensibility but not in management. If somebody visiting from out of town wanted to hit the leather bars, you started at the Eagle.

There was a time when gay bars were supposed to be dark holes and the best ones really were dark holes. The Eagle, its outdoor patio (the place to be on a warm Sunday afternoon) notwithstanding, was a dark hole, especially in the after midnight hours. Now that is not to suggest that it was a dismal, gloomy place for habitues of the twilight netherworld...I recall many happy boisterous times, such as the Mr. Eagle or Mr. Leather talent contests, live rock concerts, some vibratious drag appearances, and notably, when Miss Connie Francis brought down a crowded house by launching into 'Where the Boys Are,' or when the crowd cheered THE Tom of Finland. Dark as it was, with its black walls and stategically placed lighting, the SF Eagle was memorable to anyone who dropped in. Like Danny AKA Chris Burns, the 1980's pornstar and champion analist of the era.

To those of you too young to remember the pre-condom porn era, there was some really great bottoming talent who excelled despite the limited capacity of videotape. Some names easily come to mind: Cory Monroe, Kevin Wiles, Michael Cummings, Brad Mitchell. But the three that really stand out, and all worthy of the Bareback Bottom Hall of Fame were Kevin Williams, John King and Chris Burns. I saw only Chris Burns perform live...and that was a dildo show at the Nob Hill Theater. He was famous for putting his hole to the test; he wanted to get fucked by a horse (he'd already been fucked by everything else) and I heard through the grapevine that he had attained that goal (it's on tape somewhere) but the effect was more comical than erotic. After the death of his longtime companion Jim Ed Thompson, a leather great of high repute, Chris hit the Eagle to find tops to fill that demanding hole of his; dick, dildo, fist, whatever.

Chris usually showed up after midnight, dressed as if he had just worked out: baggy sweatpants and tank tops with armholes that almost reached his waist. With his pumped up arms, his trim collegiate haircut, and sly smile, you knew what the game was. Chris was a predator, looking for a dick or fist that he could control to do whatever he wanted it to do. Chris Burns may have been the first and essential power bottom. In the days of the dark holes, a guy would enter the bar and everybody would turn to see who it was. Even now, after these many years, I have vivid memories of how Chris entered the Ealge and stood there, looking everybody over, who would it be, who was tough enough? To bottoms like me, Chris would give a quick, knowing nod and move on. The guy was in control from the get-go. But actually, thinking back, I never saw Chris leave with somebody...maybe I just didn't happen to wait long enough. But I know what had to happen: his trick would get on the back of Chris' motorcycle and they'd head for Chris' place. He used to buzz around town in a leather jacket and somebody once commented to me, 'there's Chris Burns with a load up his ass,' you have to understand that people didn't talk like that in the '80's...Chris' reputation was secure at the time, not just in retrospect. Chris didn't need a bike to get to the Eagle, he could have walked and maybe he did...he lived in a modest Victorian next door to where Stompers Booth shop is now, on 10th St., two whole blocks from the Eagle. When Chris lived there the house was painted a faint shade of lavender.

So as the Eagle closes its doors, gone is more than a leather bar, and more than a chunk of leather history, gay history, San Francisco history. Gone, too, is a big piece of our lives. At least we'll have stories about people like Chris Burns, as long as there are people to remember and to share with the world.