BALLS, BEERS, AND BOYS: San Francisco’s First Gay Sports Bar

Jesse Woodward, preparing drinks at "Hi Tops" sports bar. He is the owner of "Hi Tops", the first gay sports bar in San Francisco. The bars slogan is "Cold Pitchers, Hot Catchers". Feb. 24, 2013. Photo by Erica Marquez / Xpress.
Jesse Woodward, preparing drinks at “Hi Tops” sports bar. He is the owner of “Hi Tops”, the first gay sports bar in San Francisco. The bars slogan is “Cold Pitchers, Hot Catchers”. Feb. 24, 2013. Photo by Erica Marquez / Xpress.

By Jessica Mendoza
Photos by Erica Marquez

A group of men sit at a bar. All of them are laughing with their half-empty beer glasses in their hands. The music blasts at maximum volume. It’s so loud; you have to shout when ordering drinks at the bar. A few of them look up and watch a game on the flat screen. Two men stand side by side. One caresses the other man’s back as his partner turns around and gives him a sweet peck on the cheek. While the rest is paying more attention to game, at the other end of the bar, two men engage in a tongue-wrestling match.

It’s just another night at San Francisco’s only gay sports bar, Hi Tops.

There are bars in the Castro, like QBar, Lookout, and Moby Dicks, where people can watch games, but Hi Tops is only bar that is a combination of sports and LGBT scene.

“We’re sticking with a sports theme,” says owner Jesse Woodward when it came to design the bar.

It hosts 15 flat screens and looks more like a 70s gymnasium, complete with wooden bleachers on the wall, recycled furniture from old high schools and gym lockers where bar patrons can place their items safely. The bar stools are made with materials similar to pigskin.

Their cocktails have a sports reference as well. The drinks are named after famous athletes from the pasts. The most popular drink is The Big Unit, named after former Giants pitcher Randy Johnson. The ingredients in the Big Unit are combination all kinds of alcohols, from vodka to champagne and a touch of lemon to give it a zesty and strong punch to it. The Big Unit drink is so strong that couple of sips, you’ll be laughing and falling off your chair. The second popular cocktail is Will the Trill, name after another former Giants first baseman, Will Clark. The flavor of the cocktail is sweet with add of jalapenos to give it a sweet/spicy booze and make you say “WOW.”
At the bar, there are three drink zones where customers line up and order drinks. Each of the zones has a sports reference like “Batters Up”, “Take a Shot” and “The End Zone.”

As for the food at Hi Tops, it’s not your typical ballpark fare. Woodward describes the menu as “stuff you get at the ballpark, but that upscale.”

Jamie Lauren, a former contestant from the reality show, “Top Chef.” Woodward consulted with Lauren about ideas for the menu. The menu consists of appetizers like pork chops on a stick to BBQ corn on the cob. They have sandwiches, like its juicy bacon-beef burger to mouth watery fried chicken sandwich.

“The fried chicken sandwich is the best,” says a customer. The fried chicken sandwich is made with deep fried chicken dip in a spicy batter and topped with crisp light coleslaw.

Patrons can order their food in the back and they’re given a number along with a topper. The toppers are laminated vintage baseball cards, from Jesse’s own collection.

Woodward, a San Rafael native has been a long time Bay Area sports fan. His favorite teams are the Giants, 49ers and the Warriors. Woodward, an active player, plays forward for the San Francisco Gay Basketball Association and he plays shortstop for the San Francisco Gay Softball League. When Jesse and his teammates were done with their games, they’d go the bars to hang out. Woodward says the bars didn’t seem to capture the essentials of sports.

“There was a market for it” Woodward says. After visiting other gay sports bars in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. he decided to bring the idea home. Along with his friends and co-owners, Dana Gleim, and Matt Kajiwawa, they brought Hi Tops to the Castro.

Woodward wanted the bar to be something with space and a causal atmosphere. But most importantly, a place devoted to sports. Woodward wanted to show the public that gay people are sports fans as well.

With their slogan, “Cold Pitchers and Hot Catchers” it is become one of the newest spots in Castro and the rest of San Francisco.

“This bar is ideal” say customer Brian Bell, he continues “nice space to come here to meet new people.”

Hi Tops opened its doors to the public in December and has become the Castro’s newest hot spot. When the 49ers beat the Atlanta Falcons to clinch their sixth Super Bowl berth, Sports Illustrated was at Hi Tops during the celebration. One the photographers captured two men kissing each other, while 49er fans jumped and cheered for victory. Later, the picture sparked media attention and was mentioned in shows like, “Today” and “Chelsea Lately.”

“It’s good to let people see that gay people like sports.” say Michel Esparaza, 28, a server at Hi Tops.

Although the picture made national news, it displayed a different aspect of the LGBT community. As the can see regardless of anyone’s sexual orientation, anyone can be a sports fan.

“It gives us a voice” says regular Kahele Ching about the impact of the photo.

At first Woodward didn’t see what the big deal about the picture. He “see a lot of guys kissing each other” and he realize it gave the bar recognition and the brand name to the public.

Hi Tops have given back to their neighborhood. The Hi Tops is helping with this year’s AIDS Life Cycle. They sponsor other sports team including 10 rugby teams. They had an event for their rugby teams call “Beer Busts” where it was 10 dollars for all kinds of beers.

Also Woodward is planning more events with March Madness and Giants coming up.
Though Hi Tops is a gay sports bar, but it doesn’t mean that it ONLY for gay people. Hi Tops welcomes anyone who walks inside.

“Even though, it’s a gay sports bar and a safe haven for gay sports,” says Chris Huqueriza, “it’s still for everybody who share a common interest in sports.