Former Blue Lamp bartender and author Rachel Kushner will headline a virtual event this week to remember the storied Tenderloin dive known for its live music.
The Tenderloin Museum is hosting an online event on Thursday called The Blue Lamp Remembered which will be an exercise in collective memory of the bar, which was located at 561 Geary Street (now Swig, between Jones and Taylor).
The online event will feature Kushner, who recently published a book of stories recalling the Tenderloin’s dive bars of the 2000-2020 timeframe, and recalling the characters she met while tending bar in the neighborhood.
“I read Kushner’s essay,” Tenderloin Museum executive director Katie Conry told us. “And many, many people sent it to me.”
Conry added that she was “thankful to Rachel for shining a new light” on the Blue Lamp in her piece (which was published in the New Yorker in January), and highlighting the business and the community surrounding it, Conry added.
Kushner already had a book tour planned for The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000 to 2020, but the museum’s virtual event has a slightly different focus because it looks back even farther into the Blue Lamp’s history and collects memories from other people engaged in the scene.
During the May 6th event, the museum will present pre-recorded interviews from Kushner as well as will several of her Blue Lamp contemporaries including Bottom of the Hill co-founders Ramona Downey and Kathleen Owen, Punk Globe publisher and ringleader of the White Trash Debutantes Ginger Coyote, and San Francisco jazz legends Lavay Smith and Chris Seibert. While Kushner’s essay and the release of her book inspired the upcoming event, the museum has also gathered interviews, archival footage, and ephemera including matchbooks.
“This was a time when people didn’t bring cameras to a bar, much less video equipment,” Conry said. But the museum has found some gems that help highlight the regulars of the bar as well as the bands and the crowds they brought in.
Smith sang during her interview, and the others provided oral histories of a business and its patrons that create "an encapsulation of the Tenderloin in the 1980s and 90s,” Conry added.
The Tenderloin Museum is currently open for in-person visits — its current display highlights some of the artists that participated in its Shelter In Place open-submission virtual gallery — and it is also offering Tenderloin history tours on Saturdays.
Much of what the museum has collected so far for The Blue Lamp Remembered will be displayed during the event, but it is still collecting materials so there may be a future physical display of the ephemera and footage people can see in person, Conry said.
“We’ve done eight interviews so far, and every single person has said ‘Oh, you have to talk to xyz [other people],” so this is just the beginning of a project, she added.
The Blue Lamp Remembered will start at 6 p.m. on May 6, 2021, and you can book your spot through the Tenderloin Museum’s website.