He's one of San Francisco's more flamboyant showmen, always ready to mug for a photo in a dashing tuxedo, a wide grin, a thumbs-up gesture and signature stylish eyeglasses.
So it follows that Harry Denton, of Harry Denton's Starlight Room at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, would live in a tastefully glitzy abode with touches of European glamour and eccentricities like a large potted palm at his bedside. For 15 years, the bartender-turned-club owner, famous in recent years for hosting a Sunday morning drag show brunch, has lived at the Bushwick Apartments, a 1914 building once home to Standard Oil executives, at 800 Bush St. The light-filled dwelling is all of 1,100 square feet and is home to himself and his calico cat, Scarlett.
The impresario likes to do things his way, so he turned the living room into a bedroom, and the dining room into the living room. The original bedroom is a closet for his many suits, shirts and pairs of shoes, which at last count numbered 113 pairs. The kitchen has a baby grand piano tucked into an alcove, a gift from a friend that would fit nowhere else.
"My whole life is about taking what's normal and doing the opposite," he says with a laugh. "I mean, I'm gay, and I have a straight bar. I'm surrounded by beautiful women who aren't women. I like turning things upside down."
The 67-year-old hails from Kimberly, Idaho, population 800 when he left in 1965 and only 2,600 today. He dropped out of the University of Idaho and came to San Francisco, where he worked in banking and retail before getting a job at Norman Hobday's fern bar, Henry Africa. He liked the bar business, and started his own, first Harry's on Fillmore, the Southside and Harry Denton's on Steuart Street before opening the Starlight Room in 1992.
When he entertains at home, he sets out bright yellow roses to contrast with his gray walls, and serves chilled prawns, pate and a bowl of macadamia nuts. He invites friends at sunset, lights 40 to 50 candles, and serves only three beverages: Veuve Clicquot Champagne, Ketel One martinis and Maker's Mark manhattans.
Among his favorite objects are his ebony wood cabinets in his dressing room ("It took me a while to come out of the closet, but I still like them," he jokes,) a pair of armchairs he pulled from the garbage at the hotel and had refurbished, his Stubbs & Wootton velvet slippers with embroidered devils, and a framed picture of a smiling former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa. "When the photographer was getting ready to take the picture, I shouted "sex!" instead of "cheese!" Denton recalls with a grin. "They didn't speak much English, but they knew what that meant."
BY CAROLYNE ZINKO