Loud San Francisco bartender and entrepreneur Harry Denton dies at 77


Harry Denton, a noisy bartender in San Francisco who could order a piece just by walking in – often in one of his 13 tuxedos – has died at 77.

Denton died in Seattle where he had been living in the care of his brother, Jim Denton, since he suffered a stroke in San Francisco years ago. He never recovered and died in a nursing home from natural causes on Sunday, his brother said.

Expansive, wholehearted and often referred to as the “Big Man,” Denton liked to describe himself as an alcoholic, food junkie, shopaholic, and sex addict. Also a funaholic.

“The way Harry described owning a bar and restaurant made it so fun and exciting that so many of us got into the business just because of him,” Johnny said. Metheny, the owner of the Blue Light Bar in San Francisco who worked the board next to the Big Man when Harry’s opened on Fillmore.

From there Denton opened Harry’s Southside on Folsom Street, Harry Denton’s on Steuart Street, Harry Denton’s Starlight Room atop the Drake Hotel, and Harry Denton’s Red on Broadway. Years later, his stable of establishments was limited to the Starlight room, his last bar. Whether downstairs or 21 stories atop Union Square, he was the most jovial person in the room, with an earthquake of laughter.

He seemed to know the names of everyone who hung out at night in San Francisco and seemed to be in all of his namesake clubs at once. He liked to come out from behind the bar and dance. He sent handwritten thank you notes and roses with love notes on Valentine’s Day.

“He was the most loyal and caring friend,” Metheny said. “He has always put your needs before his, whether you are an employee, a customer or a friend. He really cared about people.

On July 20, 2013, Denton suffered a stroke and fall in his apartment in Lower Nob Hill, where he lived alone. Discovered by a neighbor, he was taken by ambulance to St. Francis Memorial Hospital where he remained in intensive care for a week.

Event organizer Kimberly Bakker recalled that when she visited her at a skilled nursing facility, Denton made a long-term plan for her 75th birthday party, which was to be a black tie event at the club. 365 by Bimbo with a full orchestra, white tablecloths covered in a thousand roses and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown as master of ceremonies.

But he was transferred to Queen Anne Healthcare in Washington state before those plans could be realized. He never made it home to his beloved top-floor corner apartment, his grand piano, or his ribbon closet.

“From the moment I met him 30 years ago, we had an instant connection,” said Bakker, who relied on Denton’s advice when she opened The Colonial in the historic site of Trader Vic’s.

Even in the Seattle retirement home, he entertained the loyal group of San Franciscans who came to visit him. Lying in bed, he liked to show off the tattoo on the bottom of his big toe. He read “tag here”, like he was ready for the undertaker.

Always a showman and a shocker, Denton created the idea for “Sunday’s a Drag” which spanned 12 years at the Starlight Room. He was a sweet touch to a number of charitable causes, ranging from the annual Tenderloin Pool Toss, where he made a splash in his tuxedo, to hosting events for the Matthew Shepard Foundation to spread the word about intolerance. .

“Harry introduced the gay lifestyle to a downtown environment,” said Donna Sachet, a well-known drag artist. “Harry loved to celebrate all that San Francisco is.”

Harry Tom Denton was born November 3, 1943 and raised in Kimberly, Idaho, outside of Twin Falls. Her father, Bob, ran a bean and pea packing plant. Harry grew up as a shy child who loved to play the piano and help his mother, Harriet, buy her clothes. He was president of his senior year class at Kimberly High School.

“He was just as popular in high school as he was later in life,” said Jim, the youngest of three brothers with Harry in the middle. “The girls loved him and the guys loved him.”

After graduating in 1962, he entered the University of Idaho where he was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. In his sophomore year, Denton sold his extensive collection of sweaters and took a bus to San Francisco.

“He didn’t say anything to mom or dad,” Jim said. ” He just left. “

Upon arrival, he got a job in a bank and an apartment in Daly City. He started hanging out in upscale bars in San Francisco and came under the wing of Norman Hobday who owned a bar called Henry Africa’s. Hobday hired Denton as a bartender and it was the end of his life in banking and his apartment in Daly City.

“Whatever normal life is, mine is the opposite,” he later told an interviewer.

He worked at various establishments around the city and rose to fame as a host of the Washington Square Bar & Grill under the guidance of fellow charismatic bartender, Ed Moose. After leaving the Square, he opened a succession of bars and nightclubs bearing Harry’s name.

When his empire was at its peak in the 1990s, Denton shuttled between bars in taxis, having long stopped driving. He brought a certain mid-century glamor to his living rooms by sparing no expense of someone else’s money on decor. When he opened Rouge, he had a choir of girls who danced two shows every night, dancing on the bar in costumes he had designed. When he opened the Starlight Room, he insisted that Egyptian curtains and six dozen fresh roses still be at the door.

But his empire was not built to last. He was first convicted in a money laundering scheme and lost control of Harry’s on Steuart Street, then one by one he lost control of the other joints. His contract with the operators of the Drake Hotel expired and was not renewed, and his name was removed from all signage except the marquee.

There is still the original Harry’s Bar on Fillmore, but Denton had no connection to it. Before his stroke, he had talked about opening a bar with his old friend Andy Lucchesi, model Tommy Bahama, but nothing came of it. He also talked about opening a joint with his buddy Johnny Love but nothing came of it either. He was still talking about his next club, even in his last days in Seattle.

But in the end, Harry Denton was a bartender without a bar.

A memorial service is pending. Survivors include brother Bob Denton and his wife Chris, de Boise and Jim Denton of Bellevue, Washington and his wife Johnnie Denton three nieces and two nephews; and countless loyal customers and employees.

Sam Whiting is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SamWhitingSF

Source link


About Author

Leave A Reply