Interview with San Francisco gay sports bar owner Jesse Woodward

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Located on 2247 Market Street, Hi Tops sports bar is an innovative new bar in the Castro that has just been open since December 2012. The bar has been dubbed the first gay sports bar San Francisco has ever had. 

 

The energy and atmosphere at Hi Tops is very casual and relaxing. A great place to go to unwind with good friends and enjoy watching a game or two while getting a drink at the bar, which has all of their drinks listed on a scoreboard. 

 

1970’s high school gymnasiums inspire the theme of the bar. With green lockers on one wall and vintage themed sports posters on another, owner Jesse Woodward definitely perfected making his bar look like one. 

 

Speaking with 429Magazine is Jesse Woodward, owner of Hi Tops. 

 

 

429Magazine: What was your first goal for establishing Hi Tops?

 

Jesse Woodward: Well the goal originally was to have an establishment that was somewhere I would want to hang out with my friends. I lived in the Castro for a long time and there were fewer and fewer places that I enjoyed going to. It seemed like everything kind of was becoming one noted in the neighborhood and there wasn’t much variation. I also play in some of the sports leagues; basketball, softball and I would always want to go out with my teammates after we played or practice and get food and drinks and there was nowhere that really fit the bill as somewhere that was just a friendly neighborhood, a bar with a lot of space, that was gay or gay friendly and could get together with your teammates just to drink beer and eat food. So that was the goal. 

 

429Magazine: So that was the demographic you were going for?

 

Woodward: Well that was one of them. I think the bar fills a lot of niches in that it’s a sports bar but you don’t have to like sports or play sports at all to be here. It’s also just a friendly neighborhood bar with friendly staff and no attitude or pretense and, you know, it’s not like a dance club where it has that kind of attitude or vibe. It’s just very casual place to hang out.

 

429Magazine: Why did you choose the Castro as the location for the bar?

 

Woodward: I’ve always wanted to be in the Castro. I’ve lived here the whole time in San Francisco almost 15 years now. So I definitely always wanted to be here. I thought about other neighborhoods but I didn’t think it would work as well.

 

429Magazine: How has it affected the bar in a positive way by having it here in the Castro?

 

Woodward: Yeah definitely positive. I mean the Castro’s a famous neighborhood. It’s got a good reputation as being kind of the go to party neighborhood. As well as the concentration of the gay and lesbian networking that we want to work with so it’s good. 

 

429Magazine: Do you believe there are more gay people interested in sports and playing sports than the media portrays?

 

Woodward: Yeah definitely. If you look at, I mean, in the media they only talk about one person coming out or something like that and big cities like here and New York and L.A. and Chicago we have softball leagues with thousands of guys and girls and that’s just a fraction of people and all across the world, you know, there’s people that are just in the closet or are not in the closet but you know but not as in a big city like this where its so noticeable. So, I think there’s definitely more than the media will lead on. 

 

429Magazine: Sports Illustrated featured a photo taken here at Hi Tops a few months ago, what would you say was the affect of that photo for your business?

 

Woodward: Yeah it’s been great. We haven’t had any negative feedback at all. Everyone’s been excited. I think everyone’s kind of shared my sentiment of seeing right away and being really excited but not thinking it was too big of a deal because I see two guys kissing at a bar everyday and then when I started reading some of the online publicity about it, just kind of realizing how much of a big deal it was, so it’s when great. 

 

429Magazine: By having a sports bar here in the Castro, are you trying to attract more straight men to come to the Castro? 

 

Woodward: Not necessarily, our demographic has always been the gay population. We’re certainly not going to turn anyone away. But, our intent has always been to be a gay bar. 

 

429Magazine: What sets Hi Tops apart from the other bars in the Castro besides the fact that it’s a sports bar?

 

Woodward: Well, you know, there’s other bars in the Castro that are somewhat sports related. But we have much more televisions to show sports on and we don’t show other things on them like T.V. shows or movies or other stuff. We just show sports related things all the time. We also have a full menu that most bars in the neighborhood don’t have so you can come here for lunch on the weekends, brunch on the weekends and stay for dinner. If there’s a long game on you don’t have to go and get food and bring it back. We’ve got good food here. 

 

 

429Magazine: As the owner, how does it feel to get so much positive attention from the media? Especially when the bar was mentioned on Chelsea Lately over the summer. 

 

Woodward: That was a huge thing! It felt great obviously. I was totally surprised that that happened. But as the owner I am very proud of all the positive feedback that we’ve gotten. 

 

 

Hi Tops is open Monday-Wednesday from 12pm-12am, Thursday’s and Friday’s from 12pm-2am and Saturday’s and Sunday’s from 10am-2am. 

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