The Forgotten Queer Legacy of Billy West and Zuni Café

“It was very, very simple Southwest food,” Mr. Asher stated. “But it was good, unpretentious and well done, and Billy had enough sense to buy good-quality stuff.”

Ms. David adored the company of homosexual males, and took to Mr. West instantly. “Elizabeth,” Mr. Asher stated, “was telling everyone about it, saying, ‘Oh Zuni, it’s really fascinating!’”

Ms. David would return each year from London. In a handwritten draft of restaurant suggestions for an unidentified buddy (archived within the Schlesinger Library at Harvard), she referred to as Zuni her favourite in San Francisco. “Quite large and busy,” she famous, “but very friendly. Ask for Billy West. Say I sent you.”

Zuni took off. “The open kitchen at last has stoves, grills, counters, and refrigeration,” Patricia Unterman wrote in 1984, in a pleasant overview in The San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s enough money in the bank to support a good wine list.”

Along with a culinary vacation spot, Mr. West and Mr. Calcagno had put one thing else in place: a degree of queer visibility that was outstanding, even for San Francisco.

As a buyer within the Nineteen Eighties, Mr. Pilgram, who grew up in Mexico City, was astonished at how brazenly queer folks might mingle so freely with the rich and highly effective of San Francisco.

“It was very important to me as a 20-something-year-old gay man to go into a restaurant and see that most of the staff was gay,” Mr. Pilgram stated. “That was unheard-of in those days. You could go to a restaurant in the Castro, but to go to the favorite restaurant of Elizabeth David and have gay people serve you? That was incredibly empowering.”

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