Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater

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Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre

Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre is a striptease club at 895 O'Farrell Street in San Francisco, near that city's skid-row district. Opened as an adult movie theater by Jim and Artie, the Mitchell brothers, on July 4, 1969, the O'Farrell is one of America's oldest and most notorious adult-entertainment establishments; by 1980, the nightspot had become a major force in popularizing close-contact (i.e. the dancer sitting on the customer) lap dancing that would become the norm in strip clubs nationwide. The late journalist Hunter S. Thompson, a longtime friend of the Mitchells (who was falsely reported to be working as the club's night manager in 1985), once called the O'Farrell "the Carnegie Hall of public sex in America" and Playboy magazine praised it as "the place to go in S.F.!"


The O'Farrell is open six days a week and every evening of the year. Customers are charged a comparatively steep admission price ($15 and up, depending on the time of day) and no alcoholic beverages are served. The O'Farrell's main showroom is New York Live, a continuous striptease show where one girl dances on stage while the others offer lap dances by asking each customer, "Want some company?" meaning, "Want me to sit on your lap for a few minutes?" Strippers offer these lap dances for a substantial tip ($20 is common) and there are several themed rooms, such as the Ultra Room, a peep show-type room where patrons stand in private booths watching women perform with various props or dildos; the Green Door Room (named for the Mitchells' two films and the principal set of the latter), with semiprivate showers with a selected model, heavy petting in the “Kissing Room” (although not all dancers make themselves available for private sessions with customers) and live onstage lesbian simulated-sex performances.


myRedbook is a web site that helps male customers to hook up with prostitutes working in and around San Francisco. myRedbook specifically facilitates the sale of prostitution services at the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre. myRedbook provides a forum where customers talk about the quality of the prostitution services at the O'Farrell Theatre. In addition, myRedbook maintains reviews (by the customers) of the sex services (i.e., hand job, blow job, and full-sexual intercourse) provided by the prostitutes who work at the O'Farrell Theatre.[1]

In 2004, the police in San Francisco raided both the New Century Theater and the Market Street Cinema and cited their employees for running a brothel. The assistant manager at the Market Street Cinema told the police to examine the prostitution business at the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre.

The city government of San Francisco now tacitly supports the prostitution that occurs at strip clubs like the O'Farrell Theatre. [2] Customers are welcome to buy prostitution services within the strip clubs.


The theater was opened by the Mitchell brothers on the site of a former two-storey Pontiac car dealership. Upstairs, they produced and directed the pornographic films they showed downstairs. Later, seeing that the Condor Club in North Beach had been a topless bar since 1964 with legal impunity, the Mitchells refocused their business primarily as a strip club by having their resident carpenter build live showrooms, tear them down a couple and replace them with others, but sex movies continue to run at the O'Farrell.

The hit porn film Behind the Green Door premiered at the O'Farrell in 1972, with the Mitchell brothers' parents in the audience. Since 1986 the theatre has a "Green Door Room" (which was where much of the Green Door sequel was filmed); it used to feature lesbian shower shows but the shower has since been removed.

In the 1980s, newly elected Mayor Dianne Feinstein walked into the O'Farrell and said, "I want to check this place out." Jim Mitchell, who happened to be in the lobby at that moment, reportedly said, "Sure, if you buy a ticket." Feinstein walked out. Soon after, raids occurred, ostensibly to restore safety and health of exotic dancers and resulted in obscenity charges being filed against the Mitchell brothers. The Mitchells, apparently not lacking a sense of humor, changed their marquee to read, "For showtimes, call..." and put up Feinstein's office phone number.

The theater featured live sex shows until the courts ordered them to discontinue doing so. As well, the dancers in New York Live originally were nude as they sat on men's laps, but a judge instructed the O'Farrell's management to make sure the girls at least wore brassieres and underpants. Lesbian sex acts are still common (many of the dancers are gay or bisexual).

On February 1, 1985, the theatre was raided by a dozen police officers during a performance by Marilyn Chambers (the star of Behind the Green Door); the District Attorney declined to press charges. Police later retaliated against a journalist who had suggested that the raid was carried out to derail an ordinance that would have stripped police from rights to license adult theaters.[3]

Over the years, the Mitchells had to defend themselves in some 200 court cases involving obscenity or related charges. They were always victorious, represented by aggressive counsel (Michael Kennedy, then Artie Mitchell's wife Meredith and, following her dismissal, the late Tom Steel and his law partner Nanci Clarence).

In February 1991, the theater's owners were again in the news after the killing of Artie Mitchell by Jim. Michael Kennedy defended Mitchell and convinced the jury that Jim killed Artie because the younger man was psychotic from drugs and had become dangerous (Artie had recently threatened to throw a Molotov cocktail into the O'Farrell; his brother/murderer, in 1996, established the "Artie Fund" to raise money for drug-abuse prevention). Jim Mitchell was sentenced to six years in prison for voluntary manslaughter and released from San Quentin after having served half his sentence, in 1997. Today, his daughter Meta, 28, is the O'Farrell's general manager. (See the article on the Mitchell brothers for details.)

Following the fratricide and its legal aftermath, two Bay Area reporters, David McCumber and John Hubner, wrote books about the Mitchell brothers: X-Rated (McCumber) and Bottom Feeders (Hubner). In each book the author portrays the O'Farrell Theatre (up until the early 1990s) as a mirrored, velvet-lined house of sleaze where perfumed, bikini-clad women prowl the aisles, hustling greenbacks from shy, ugly customers who cannot get girls any other way. Upstairs, the offices are a model of inefficiency, staffed by the brothers' childhood friends who play pool and smoke marijuana all day. At one point, the Mitchells' Berkeley-educated business manager (in charge of selling the brothers' videos to rental outlets nationwide) is said to be, out of sheer laziness, two months late in processing orders as his frustrated customers leave phone messages by the dozen.

Originally, the Mitchell brothers paid their dancers a flat fee per shift; in the 1980s, they replaced that fee with an hourly wage (the federal minimum) but allowed the women to accept tips.

That practice was discontinued when the O'Farrell's manager, Vince Stanich, changed the dancers' status from paid employees to unpaid "independent contractors" who were required to pay the O'Farrell a "stage fee." Many O'Farrell strippers considered this unfair and perhaps illegal; in 1994, two of them, Ellen Vickery and Jennifer Bryce, filed a class-action lawsuit against the theater (the plaintiffs would ultimately number more than 500), arguing that the theater's classification of dancers as independent contractors was incorrect, and that they were owed back wages as well as a refund of the stage fees of $200 per shift. The case was settled in 1998 with the dancers' receiving $2.85 million. Similar suits have since been filed against numerous other strip clubs, and both labor commissions and the courts have consistently ruled in favor of dancers and awarded past wages and stage fee reimbursements.[2] To this day, the theater management aggressively opposes all attempts of the dancers to unionize.

During the celebrations for the O'Farrell's 30-year anniversary in 1999, burlesque star Tempest Storm, by then already in her 70s, stripped on stage. Mayor Willie Brown declared a "Tempest Storm Day" in her honor. Marilyn Chambers returned to performed in the theatre on July 28, 1999 in what Willie Brown dubbed "Marilyn Chambers Day."

In 2004, two similar San Francisco clubs (the New Century Theater and the Market Street Cinema) were visited by undercover policemen and some dancers allegedly propositioned them for prostitution. The dancers were cited for prostitution and the managers for running a brothel. The assistant manager at the Market Street Cinema told the police to examine the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre. All charges were later dropped, leading to public assumptions that the city government of San Francisco tolerates the activities at these clubs as long as they remain discreet.[2]

When San Francisco's Commission on the Status of Women proposed in 2006 to ban private booths and rooms at adult clubs because of concerns about sexual assaults taking place there, several O'Farrell dancers spoke out against the ban.

As of 2006, Meta Mitchell continues running the O'Farrell; legal representation is provided by former San Francisco Supervisor and two-term District Attorney Terence Hallinan.

Location and murals

The theatre is located in the North-West part of the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, California, at the corner of Polk and O'Farrell street at 37°47′5.8″N, 122°25′9.5″W on the same block as the Great American Music Hall.

The entire exterior west and south faces of the theater are covered with two large murals. The west wall depicts a rainforest scene, and on the south wall is an underwater scene featuring a pod of whales. These murals were painted in 1976 and 1985 by Lou Silva

== Notable Dancers ==
* [[John Holmes (actor)|John C. Holmes]], porn star, performed sex shows in the Ultra Room   
* [[Marilyn Chambers]], porn star, danced in early-[[1980]]s and returned in [[1999]]
* [[Megan Leigh]] danced as ''Eve'' in the mid-[[1980]]s; she later became a porn star and committed suicide in June of 1990
* [[Fallon (porn star)|Fallon]] porn star, danced in mid-[[1980]]s
* [[Blaze Starr]] famed stripper
* [[Tempest Storm]] famed stripper
* [[Edy Williams]] motion picture and television actress
* [[Annette Haven]] erotic actress
* [[Nina Hartley]] porn star
* [[Erica Boyer]] porn star, danced as ''Super Vixen''
* [[Lily Burana]] was involved in the class action suit and wrote about her experiences as dancer at the O'Farrell in her 2001 book ''Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America'' (ISBN 0-7868-6790-6).

External links



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  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named myredbook
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named sfweekly
  3. Police Motives Questioned in Coast Vice Raid. The New York Times, Mar 4, 1985