Finocchio's, San Francisco's fabled female impersonator club, which closed November 27, 1999 after 63 years in the same location.
The club's history actually began back in the Roaring '20s, when founder Joe Finocchio opened a speakeasy on Stockton Street on the edge of the seedy Tenderloin District. The place featured female impersonation even then. The club went above-ground with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 and moved to the trendy North Beach nightclub district in 1936. Most gay men and lesbians today don't think of professional female impersonator clubs as being particularly queer, but in the days before gay liberation they provided valuable semi-public social spaces for sexual minorities to congregate.
For decades, Finocchio's was a world-renowned venue. Hollywood stars frequented the club, flying up to San Francisco from Los Angeles to see themselves being impersonated.
In its later years, Finocchio's had a not-altogether-deserved reputation as a tourist trap. The cast put on four shows, six nights a week; for a $3.50 admission in the 1970s, one could stay all evening. There was no drink minimum, a highball was $1.25, and an additional 25 cents would get you a mai tai.
But what truly brought people to the club was the quality of the entertainers. There was the elegant MC Carroll Wallace, who opened the show with the line, "In New York, Mr. Ziegfeld glorified the American girl... Here at Finocchio's, we glorify the American boy." He would then launch into his trademark song, "I'm a singer but I haven't gotta voice," and other standard patter like, "If you want to take pictures of the performers, please give them time to pose."
When Laurence Ferlinghetti got the word that Finocchio's was no more, he spoke for all of North Beach. "What a drag," he said.
Peterson, A. (2016, May 25). North Beach history: Finocchio's, the Carnegie Hall of cross-dressing. Hoodline. Retrieved September 12, 2022, from https://hoodline.com/2016/05/north-beach-history-finocchio-s-the-carnegie-hall-of-cross-dressing/