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Drag Bar Owner Joseph Finocchio Dies

January 15, 1986

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Joseph Finocchio, whose nightclub’s transvestite shows come to be known as ″artistry rather than a perversion″ during a half-century of business, has died after a long illness. He was 88.

Finocchio died Monday at St. Mary’s Hospital. He suffered a stroke in September and a heart attack last month.

Born in Italy, Finocchio arrived here at the age of 14. After serving in the army in World War I, he manned the peephole in his father’s speakeasy during the Prohibition years.

″I get an idea,″ he once said in an interview. ″I knew some famous female impersonators. I think I’m going to start a place if I can get the right talent.″

He opened Finocchio’s on Broadway in 1936. Although he said he was heterosexual, he knew there was big business in drag queens cracking risque jokes and flouncing about in bird-of-paradise costumes.

″The cops, they objected,″ he said. ″I had to fight a little bit of trouble but then they told me if you run the place straight, everything would be fine. ... I promised to run it like regular theater.″

By 1977,, Finocchio was clocking 300,000 customers a year.

″When I first started there was a lack of understanding, but now people realize it is entirely different from what they were thinking,″ he said. ″People accept our show more as pure entertainment rather than they did in the past. They see it as an artistry rather than a perversion.″

Finocchio is survived by his wife, a daughter, a sister, a brother and four grandchildren.

Funeral services were planned Friday.

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