Super Bowl: San Francisco's Castro Gets Ready

Happy hour at Hi Tops in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. Alexander Nazaryan

Hi Tops is like any other sports bar in San Francisco on the eve of the Super Bowl: bedecked in beery flags, aglow from the action on several television screens. I ask a bartender about the Sunday afternoon festivities. "It will be madness," he says, pouring me a pint of Lagunitas. "It will be fun."

The bar is on Market Street, just a couple miles uphill from where tourists have been flocking to the corporate sinkhole that has been Super Bowl City. Hi Tops, though, sits on the edge of the Castro, maybe the loudest and proudest gay neighborhood in the entire world. And it bills itself as the city's only true gay sports bar, one whose clever slogan is: "Cold Pitchers, Hot Catchers."

It's an odd confluence, but if any city can combine gay rights with sports fanaticism, it's going to be San Francisco.

Last year, a study found that sports are rife with homophobia—American sports especially. "Of the six countries surveyed, the U.S. ranked worst in sports homophobia and discrimination," reported Time . The National Football League is hardly a beacon of social progress, but that an openly gay Mizzou defensive end was actually drafted suggests change is possible, even in the corporate-athletic complex. Michael Sam is no longer in the league, but remains a potent symbol. In fact, he was going to be appearing at Hi Tops the night I visited, on behalf of the Sports Equity Foundation.

Is the Castro going to celebrate the Super Bowl? Yes, as much as any other segment of the American population that enjoys drinking beer in the middle of the afternoon and shouting imprecations at a television screen—which is to say millions upon millions of us. One poster advertised a Super Bowl Sunday pub crawl through Castro haunts; elsewhere in the neighborhood, Super Bowl placards competed with advertisements for male revues.

To its credit, the city's Super Bowl host committee website makes a point of guiding tourists to the Castro: It's not a huge point, but it's one that would not have been made a decade ago. I don't know how many Broncos or Panthers fans made it out to the Castro, but those who did were rewarded with a San Francisco far more real than the infantilizing glitz of Super Bowl City. I walked into the neighborhood to be greeted by a gentleman carrying a surfboard, his destination unclear. But I applaud his spirit and hope he found a good break before evening fell.

History still hangs heavy over the Castro: the neighborhood was ravaged by HIV/AIDS, and though a new generation of gays and lesbians has enlivened these hilly streets again, the deep sorrows of that time linger. Across the street from Hi Tops is the Arthur J. Sullivan Funeral Home, which holds special significance for the Castro because, according to one chronicle of the neighborhood, it "was one of the few in the city that would handle the funerals of AIDS victims."

Last year, the building was sold to a developer, who apparently intends to use the funeral home, and the adjacent parking lot, for condominiums and retail. That's the way of San Francisco, from the Castro to the Mission, one city under LEED-certified glass.