Aug 3, 2023 - Music

How San Francisco's Mabuhay Gardens led the way for punk

Photo of Alice Bag singing into a microphone while a band players behind her and people watch from below the stage

Punk rock star Alicia Armendariz, better known as Alice Bag, performs during the Bags' set at the Mabuhay Gardens in 1978. Photo: Ruby Ray via Getty Images

The Mabuhay Gardens in North Beach started off as a small Filipino restaurant and nightclub that hosted a myriad of acts, including the TV program "The Amapola Presents Show" and singer Eddie Mesa aka the Philippines' Elvis Presley.

What happened: In a bid to draw more foot traffic, owner Ness Aquino began working with Jerry Paulsen of Psyclone Magazine and "Pope of Punk" Dirk Dirksen to book a steady stream of bands in the 1970s, setting the scene for the club to become a pioneer of San Francisco's punk scene.

  • "The first time we went to The Mabuhay there were more people on stage than there were in the audience," filmmaker Mindy Bagdon said in an interview on "The Kitchen Sisters" podcast.
  • "But within two weeks it was packed. ... Don't forget this is before the internet, before smartphones, it was literally person-to-person or on the telephone or snail mail to say this venue was doing this."
  • With Dirksen starring as the abrasive but endearing emcee, it soon transformed into an iconic punk landmark and later became a must-stop for touring bands from beyond the Bay.

Local acts that regularly performed included:

Of note: It's said that at some point celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams were even making appearances.

The big picture: The Mabuhay Gardens hosted 3,600 concerts until it closed in 1987.

  • Yes, but: Its legacy in the punk world lives on.

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