By Michael Cervin Photos by Rick Baraff
It’s a high-energy night at AsiaSF; the music pumps through the two-story club, guests animatedly chat as a stream of beautiful women brings neon colored cocktails to a thirsty crowd. The unique club in the City’s SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood is defining and elevating not only Cal-Asian food, but it is opening hearts and minds as a club featuring transgender performers.
AsiaSF is not a drag show, that’s men dressing as women. No, this is drop dead gorgeous girls dancing in impossibly high heels to pulsating music with fervent audiences soaking up the vibrant experience as the walls literally change color. The women you see performing at AsiaSF were once men who have physically become women. Given the sheer beauty of the dancers, you can either remind yourself that these were once men, or drop the boundaries and embrace the women before you, who dance and lip sync to hit tunes and belt out live songs. “Our job is to operate a successful restaurant, but we’re much more than that,” says Larry Hashbarger, who along with Skip Young, co-founded AsiaSF. “Our goal, and it may be lofty, is to export a little piece of San Francisco to the rest of the world by celebrating human diversity.” And that diversity is at the heart of AsiaSF.
Ronnie Reddick has been the only choreographer in the club’s 17-year history, and he aims to create a one-of-a-kind experience. “It’s about the girls and their personalities; we are the unexpected,” Reddick says. “People think we’re a simple drag show; but we are more dinner and cabaret.” Reddick’s choreography is “all from scratch,” as he puts it. “I don’t copy anyone’s choreography. I might use a movie like Burlesque as an inspiration but do my own spin on it.”
Not only do the ladies perform for you, but they are your hostesses for the evening. There are two levels to AsiaSF; the top floor is the restaurant, and the lower floor is the dance floor and lounge. Reddick calls the club a “one-stop bachelorette party,” as these are a large contingency of their business. However, they also offer customizable corporate events, anniversaries, birthday parties, and even a special night for a couple out on the town. “By coming here, people learn the proper verbiage in communicating with the ladies of AsiaSF, and what we are doing with transgender kills any misconceptions that people have.”
The other misconception is that a club like this would have subpar food, relying instead on the entertainment. “This is San Francisco; you can’t do terrible food,” says co-owner Skip Young, who credits visits to Thailand with AsiaSF’s culinary inspiration. “We offer the freshest California cuisine with an Asian twist,” Young says. AsiaSF has also received a number of Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence for their wine list. Look for the Asia-dilla, a quesadilla stuffed with smoked duck, gooey jack and manchego cheeses, scallions, and Fresno peppers with a sun-dried cherry crème fraîche dipping sauce; the Wasabi Tobiko Caviar; or Malaysian diver scallops in a spicy coconut sambal. Even their ice creams are mixed with fruits of the Philippines. “We have great word of mouth about the food, but AsiaSF is all about a complete experience and how warm and gracious the girls are.”
And the party can always continue downstairs after dinner, where there is a dance club with DJs spinning the hottest tunes. It’s all here. What is not here is an attitude, a bias, or a chip on anyone’s shoulder. That is all left at the door.
AsiaSF | 201 9th St., San Francisco | (415) 255-2742, asiasf.com