San Francisco nightlife 1944: FINOCCHIO'S

On March 26, 1944 Montez Lawton went to see the musical Blossom Time at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco with a man named Stewart. This is the exact same sentence that began my last post, but now I'm going to deal with some ads that were in the Curran Theatre magazine that Montez saved.

If you go to the theatre and buy a program or get a Playbill there are always lots of ads telling you of places you could go following the show. I'm going to deal with some rather exotic places the Curran advertised back in '44.

Click on image to see it larger. (SOURCE: The Playgoer)

You really couldn't grow up in the San Francisco Bay Area and not know about Finocchio's until it closed in 1999. I never got to go to there show, but it was supposed to be classy, but brassy. I wish I'd seen it.

Joe Finocchio opened his famed San Francisco nightspot after a customer, drinking in his father's speakeasy, performed an imitation of the legendary Sophie Tucker. This gave Joe the idea of a nightclub with men performing with all the glitter, sophistication and glamour of sophisticated women.
He opened a speakeasy in 1929 at 406 Stockton St, which he managed with his wife Marjorie. Initially the show was a female impersonator paired with a exotic dancer – hula or Chinese.
In 1933 with the repeal of Prohibition, it became legal, and Joe hired more dancers and expended the floor show. In 1936 the police raided the club and arrested five female impersonators, including Walter Hart and Carroll Davis, and the owners for employing entertainers on a percentage basis. Police Chief Quinn ‘declared war’ on female impersonators, and also revoked the permit of the 201 Club.
After the raid, Finocchio’s moved to a larger location at 506 Broadway, and hired more impersonators. Marjorie planned the entertainment on a grand scale. She booked the finest entertainers, supervised and planned elaborate productions. The club was allowed to exist because it became a tourist attraction, a symbol of the city’s sophistication. Joe had to promise the police that the entertainers would not mingle with the customers. Tourist magazines billed Finocchio’s as ‘America’s most unusual night club’. This was reinforced during the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco.
The club always included ethnic impersonators. Li-Kar did a Geisha dance; Billy Herrero recreated Hedy Lamarr in the film Algiers, 1938;  in 1940 the club developed an Argentine feature; later Juan Jose did a flamenco dance; Reene de Carlo a hula dance; Bobby de Castro did a striptease in a gorilla costume (this was supposed to be Cuban).
There was little trouble at the club over the years, though military authorities declared Finocchio's "off limits" for selling liquor to WWII military personnel outside of authorized hours. That temporary sanction was lifted New Year's Eve 1943 after Joe Finocchio and other bar owners signed an agreement to limit liquor sales to military personnel to between 5 p.m and midnight. Beer could, however, be sold between 10 a.m. and midnight. The future Tony Midnight, who was working in munitions during the war, snuck into Finocchio’s using fake ID.
Joe Finocchio died in 1986, aged 88. Eve Finocchio, his widow, decided to close the club in late 1999 because of a major rent increase and dwindling attendance. The club closed November 27, 1999. Eve died 2007. (SOURCE, including club photo: Zagria)
Visit the above source link to read more. To see vintage photos, programs, matchbooks, etc. click here.

As to Johnny Mangum the performer, I've found nothing.


  1. I regret never going to Finocchio's, too. I recall a discussion of taking my father and girlfriend there when they visited us in the City, but my now dead ex (soon to be featured in my blog) nixed the idea for what seemed to be sociopolitical reasons. The venue had rather polarized the community, circa 1990, because of oxymoronic issues of social acceptance. If it had held on another five years, I think it would have resurged as a hip, retrograde nightspot.

    1. North Beach took such a dive. When Enrico's closed I knew it would never be the same.

  2. My dad & mom went on a trip to SF. He was there for the piano (he had a trio of his own), but mom was livid. She thought it disgusting. He told the story of following one to the rest rooms to see which door was entered. From the eye-rolling my mother did, I expect it was anecdotal.

  3. My uncle took me to Finocchio's, back in 1978. My first drag club. Last time I was in S.F. about years ago, Stock Pot was still there.

    Saw plenty of drag queens at the Halloween parade on Christopher St. in NYC. Roller Reena was supposedly a stock broker by day, donned roller skates and crinoline skirt at night.

  4. Anonymous8/13/2013

    I loved "Finn's". Spent many wonderful evenings there. I have remained friends with
    3 or 4 of the "girls", most are gone now, I would like to purchase posters etc, however.
    there isn't much out there. DAVID


    1. I'll hope for your sake someone finds this post and can send you information.

      If you have any recollections of the club you'd like to share I'd be happy to post them as an update.

    2. Anonymous11/01/2013

      Hello, I just happen to have a 1940ish FINOCCHIO's Playbill. The program features Walter Hart, Ray Francis, John Lonas, Lestra La Monte, Li-Kar and many beautiful others. What would the value be to you

    3. Of no interest to me, but if you want your post left up so others who might be interested to see it you need to provide contact information.