Actor Kevin Steinberg moved to San Francisco in the mid-90s after a particularly memorable trip to Burning Man festival (I’ll let him tell you all about that), and quickly built a life for himself working as a living sculpture and a go-go dancer.
And it was at Club Universe, a queer nightclub in SoMa that was open from 1994 to 2002, where he first donned his skimpy shorts and worked the podium.
Kevin is about to launch his own podcast, Frankly Kev, so make sure you keep your ears pricked for that. And, in the meantime follow him on Instagram.
Kevin Steinberg 0:00
I just thought that this is so weird and stupid. Here I am during the day, in a club, it looks like shit. There’s a guy over there sweeping up in the corner and whatever. And I don’t even think there was music and I danced, I felt stupid. And he said, okay, you’re hired.
K Anderson 0:17
Hello, I am K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces, the podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories are created there, and the people that they used to know. This week, we are headed back to San Francisco with the actor and writer Kevin Steinberg. Kevin moved to San Francisco in the mid 90s, after a particularly memorable trip to Burning Man. And I’ll let him tell you more about that, and quickly build a life for himself working as a living statue and a Go Go dancer. And it was at Club universe, a queer nightclub in Soma that was open between 1994 and 2002, that he first put on his skimpy shorts and worked the podium. Now, before we dive into the episode, I want to make you aware that we talk a lot about overcoming and managing addiction within our conversation. And so if you are uncomfortable with that in any way, you may want to skip the second half of the episode.
Kevin Steinberg 1:54
I always wanted to live in California in Los Angeles, I started dreaming of it of being an actor and living out in LA when I was like 12. And because of the snow and the cold. I was like, I’m not having any of this when I grow up. And luckily, I entered the Green Card Lottery, which a lot of us had that to enter the US. And it’s such an easy way if you win to, you know, get it.
K Anderson 2:22
What are the odds of winning, do
Kevin Steinberg 2:23
you think I had heard at the time, maybe 20,000 people entered and 2000 got in or 200? Like, okay, can’t remember is 10% or 1%. But the first time I tried, they pulled my number. And I was like I’m already here. I was in Toronto acting and I was like, I wanted to be on American TV shows and American film. And I said, I’m already here. And so that was like 9394. And so I came to California and LA
K Anderson 2:57
and then so how did you end up in San Francisco,
Kevin Steinberg 3:00
or San Francisco, I left my career I had a really rough year between the age of 29 and 30. I had a really rough year after a couple amazing years. So I left LA and left my career I put everything on pause. And I went out to the desert to babysit a friend’s ranch. And when I was there, I was back for a couple months, I was ready to come back to Los Angeles. But first a friend said Hey, have you ever heard of Burning Man, let’s go check out Burning Man. So we went to Burning Man and oh my god, what an amazing experience. You can do in anything you want. there be anything you want. There’s participants and observers. But the big thing is you just respect what people are into. And if you’re not into it, just walk away, you know. So it’s like the best. It’s utopia, basically. So at Burning Man, I met these incredible fags and drag queens and and techies and weird people from San Francisco. And I said, I’m, I’m going to San Francisco, I was always in love with San Francisco. And I always felt if I didn’t live in LA and it wasn’t pursuing acting, I would go to San Francisco. And so from Burning Man, I say follow the Pied Piper to San Francisco.
K Anderson 4:26
And so did you go there with a plan or anything? Or was it just like yeah, I’m just gonna see what happens.
Kevin Steinberg 4:31
I was I was running from myself and from my career, and I didn’t realise it at the time. So this was in place of of that and, you know, there’s so much that you see when you have you know, time and distance from something, but at the time, I was just emotionally reactive and I just pinball from one thing to the next to the next to the next. I did always have a plan. I was I was going to something but I think I know, I was also running from something and covering up staying in one place and dealing with what was going on and dealing with myself. So I ran to San Francisco. And it was magical. I mean, I used to call it my heaven and my hell. But the only way I remember it now is just the best part of it. I mean, it was amazing experience. It was a great city. And it was right, right before the tech took over. And the prices went through the roof. And the whole city changed because Google and Apple and Amazon, you know, took over. And it was the tail end of that set, like 70s and 80s artsy period and the tail end of the 90s, you know, party period. And it was very clear and clear, inclusive. And it was just an amazing time there. And it was such a different feel.
K Anderson 6:02
So you said that you had a plan? What was the plan? Yeah.
Kevin Steinberg 6:06
So the plan. The plan was just for once in my life, to just be myself and explore being Kevin because I had always been a career boy, I always followed the path of acting, I had always, you know, followed the rules I had always behaved and I had always to so I started coming out, step by step, when I was about 19, versus bisexual, and then slowly is homosexual and first family and close friends. And then, you know, to everyone because of sense, San Francisco. And so it was really to just live life and explore who I was, without, without I used to call it the senator like the senators watching, you know, as an actor, anyone can see you anywhere. So I felt I thought, I have to behave everywhere I go, I have to behave because I don’t want to lose a job. And I never know who’s gonna see me at a party, or on the streets, or, or at dinner. And I just want to look professional and social socially acceptable
K Anderson 7:16
Sivan, you were living your whole life kind of switched on when you were in LA like with this veneer?
Kevin Steinberg 7:23
Totally. I was also I was dating a director, who is at one of the top directors in TV and in TV comedy series. And he he’s just risen and risen and risen since I was with him. So there was also that pressure of being with someone who was much more established than me and meeting the people that he knew that he was introducing me to and then and doors opening me. So I was really, really conservative. And well,
K Anderson 7:56
I said those people that he was introducing you to were you like open about the factor in your relationship with him? Or was it like, Oh, this is my friend.
Kevin Steinberg 8:04
Oh, yes. So even this is before Will and Grace. And before Ellen came out as gay and all of that. You could be? Well, it was easier to be an a gay, a queer person behind the scenes as a writer, director, producer, because they’re not you’re not the product that they’re selling. It was harder. If you were on screen, especially leading man, you at that time, you certainly had to, you know, lie. Yeah. Or, or just people knew, but you just publicly played it straight because it was gonna go on TV and in the magazines. But you couldn’t have an ounce of flaming to you. Because that gave it all away. And that’s only the only parts you were going to get like Sean, Sean Hayes unwilling great. Yeah,
K Anderson 8:48
the correct relief, the best friend. Yeah,
Kevin Steinberg 8:50
that’s that’s what your career was, was going to be. So yeah, so I have a feminine side. But I come across as pretty masculine, and I was bald, and I was going to the gym. So I was muscular. And I was with this guy, who didn’t, didn’t come across. This is terrible. But, you know, didn’t come across as gay. We just came across as this this straight, gay couple. So doors would open because that’s what was acceptable at the time. So I wasn’t worried about people knowing that I was gay. But I did get feedback. This is partly why one of the reasons of many reasons why I ran from the city and from my career is that I looked like a tough guy, but I was a soft, chewy caramel. I didn’t have a lot of emotional experience. I had professional and social experience, but I wasn’t mature emotionally. And I couldn’t access they wanted the main guy or the tough guy or the angry guy and I couldn’t access that.
K Anderson 9:54
Of course, though, you put a shaved head You must be mean. That’s That’s how Hollywood works. Right?
Kevin Steinberg 10:01
Now I can’t now I have no problem to get asked, because I’ve had experience. But at the time, I was getting some feedback from my manager that it came across as. And I was so upset, it freaked me out. Because I was putting I was putting a clamp on that and doing everything I could to come across as masculine so that I would have a good and successful career, my trajectory would go up. And it devastated me when, when I was told that I come across a soft, I was like, you’re flaming, you’re gay on camera, and I was like, Oh, no, I can’t. I can’t, I
K Anderson 10:47
can’t say can we just go back a few steps. So you were saying, you were being the good boy, which, which made me think that you were just like, asexual or just not not, you know, doing anything. But if everyone knew that you were with this guy, and you were in a relationship with him, What does being a good boy mean?
Kevin Steinberg 11:07
Just following society’s rules, and being well behaved, and not doing drugs and not drinking and not being boorish, or an asshole and being well mannered, and being nice, okay, and being gracious and being thankful. But I was very, I was very sexual, very sexual,
K Anderson 11:27
get that in there. But it was less about less about appearing gay, it was just more about
Kevin Steinberg 11:31
being acceptable. And it was a people pleaser, and being acceptable, and I wanted to be.
K Anderson 11:37
And so then you had this feedback that put you into a bit of a professional tailspin. And then you move to San Francisco, and you were just like, I’m gonna let my freak flag fly.
Kevin Steinberg 11:49
Oh, you hit the nail on the head freak flag. I love that phrase. And that’s the first time I heard it. And I let my freak flag fly. Because I thought that because I was an athlete. And because I was influenced by what I was told by society that drugs are bad drinking is bad. So I didn’t do any of that. I mean, I could write stuff, but I wasn’t into any of it. But at Burning Man, I decided, wait a second, who says drugs and drinking are bad, you should try everything once in your life. So I tried everything at Burning Man. And then I moved to San Francisco, I didn’t know I was an attic. And I just kept using drugs. And I joined the party scene. And I had never been, you know, one of these, I was never been a clever, gay or straight. I love dancing. And I did go dancing every three weeks, because I just i’d love every three
K Anderson 12:47
weeks. That’s a very specific period of time.
Kevin Steinberg 12:53
You’re right, you’re right. But I just had to, you know, kind of work it out on a dance floor every through every couple of weeks ahead. of, and I feel like when I was in San Francisco, I probably because, you know, combination of, of that feedback of hearing that I you know, gave off this this gay sent on camera, and allowing myself to do drugs. And then being in San Francisco, which to me, I don’t know about any more, but at the time, and historically, to me, it was the gayest city. Yeah, in the world. And the masculinity, the men, I was, I was blown away that you could be anywhere at any time in the city. And there would be somebody there to flirt with and go home and have have have sex with like it was so and not taxed with toxic masculinity. It was just so positive. And so accepting. And so many people when I moved there, I found were unlike anywhere else, like people were curious who you were and where you came from, and what your story was. And it was not about folks, your zip code, and how much do you make them? What do you do for a living on what do you look like? Like people were just like, oh, here’s some new meat, let’s find out I said, quite
K Anderson 14:11
different than in vibe from LA, Tom. Totally.
Kevin Steinberg 14:15
And I also found that the menu there were very different from where else I had been, or live Toronto, New York or LA, I just found the guys were the most masculine, but there was the most the widest variety of guys or, you know, queer guys, and that they were all just open and accepting and they talk to you and they didn’t, you know, they didn’t see like, you know, I didn’t I didn’t feel that that wasn’t my experience. But also, you know, I was a bald guy who had muscles, so maybe if I was a, you know, a tween or a little guy, maybe my experience would be different, but it was a good experience.
K Anderson 14:58
So those then the first days in San Francisco, did you have some way to crash? Did you like what was going on?
Kevin Steinberg 15:05
So I have been very is the word fortuitous or lucky throughout my whole life that maybe because of the way that I am the way I am intrinsically or the way that I’ve learned to be that the welcome mat has always been open. People always said you can stay here while you, you know, find a place or while you get settled or or get things together. So, a friend had a friend who had an apartment in the panhandle man at the time, as I mentioned before, this is before the whole tech boom, and everything and prices went through the roof. In 1997, he had this rambling one bedroom, across from the panhandle for $350 until August,
K Anderson 15:53
just don’t tell me I don’t want to know.
Kevin Steinberg 15:57
And even at the time, he told us that his landlord would love to kick him up because his landlord could get 16 $100 or, you know, four times the amount for it, even at that time, things were starting to turn. And that’s where I landed, and then I went on Craigslist. I don’t know if you have Craigslist over there. But here, you know, it was the online bulletin board. And it was, it was not full of scammers like it is now and at the time, it was all legitimate. And it took over from also like the the person who was in the classifieds in the newspaper. And I went looking at apartments and I lucked out, I found this great, amazing, huge apartment. I think my rent was always maybe my portion was $600 a month it was with one other guy, the nicest guy. He became a very good friend for were close friends to this day. And when I go to San Francisco, I still stay with him. And whenever I moved somewhere new even though he’s running from something like I said, I always had a plan. And I think because I was just nice and gracious and non threatening and stuff. Like my life always came together very quickly. I was found a job. I always found a circle of friends. I always found a boyfriend, like things would fall into place very, very quickly.
K Anderson 17:14
Oh, that’s lovely to hear. And at what point did Club Universe come onto your radar?
Kevin Steinberg 17:21
As soon as I moved to San Francisco, I first went there to check it out. I became boyfriends with this guy.
K Anderson 17:30
Do we need to point out that there’s air quotes here?
Kevin Steinberg 17:33
I said is that terrible? I never do this and I don’t know why I’m doing this all the time with you. It’s like,
K Anderson 17:38
but that likes a boyfriend not boyfriend. Is that what you’re trying to say?
Kevin Steinberg 17:43
Right, exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And I went to San Francisco to check it out and I didn’t know that it was Folsom Fair and Folsom wait oh my
K Anderson 17:55
god that was your first weekend
Kevin Steinberg 17:59
are crazy amazing weekend to introduce you to the city and to all the all the all the guys there. And there was a dance there. I forget the name of the dance. I want to call up man ball but that’s so wrong, man. And it was in this big warehouse space. I think there were 3000 guys there. And I was like a kid in Toy land. I was looking everywhere at these gorgeous sweaty men who had these buffed bodies and were shirtless and these leather men who had on harnesses and chaps and then these guys these jocks and these guys on boxes, go go dancing and then these flaggers and you and then all of that’s hold on hold on hold
K Anderson 18:48
on what’s a flagger
Kevin Steinberg 18:50
a flat Oh a flagger a flagger is someone who it’s based I think on Asian or Chinese custom is very artistic and creative and you have they had fans okay you’re basically doing this with the fans around you and a figure eight so flags you have like neon psychedelic fabric and the lights did those purple lights, you know, catch catch it and so it was just spectacular to watch in the dark to see these neon psychedelic flags flying around someone you couldn’t see the person and they were just swirling around at such a fast rate. I was fascinated
K Anderson 19:33
seems like a health and safety problem to me.
Kevin Steinberg 19:37
Well, you had to watch out because the flags in order to make the flags fly. They had this drape drapery wait that he has is as a cord but with metal in it.
If you stood too close to a flagger you would get whacked in the face with a abroad. And yes, so I’ve I went to this Folsom fair ball, and I was just entranced. I was like, give me more. So when I came back with my bags and had moved to the city, I don’t know who told me let you know club universe, that’s the place to be. And I went to club universe. I remember my first time there. The big song at the time was that Janet Jackson song let’s let’s state was it be together, stay together, we’ll be we’ll be together. It was about I think together again, together again, it was motor friends, I think who passed away from AIDS or something. And I just remember when that song was playing, it was my favourite song that year, I loved Janet Jackson. And I think I was on ecstasy. And right when the ecstasy was hitting, I felt like I was seeing God, like I looked up, I saw the lights. And I was having this transcendent experience. And suddenly this speakers, I don’t know if you’ve done ecstasy, but I don’t know, at a certain hour, if they pump up the speakers, or if because your drugs are hitting you that suddenly your awareness is that much more acute. And you’re hearing and it was magical. So that was club universe. And everyone went there. And I kept going back. And I looked around, and the gogo dancers to me were sad. They were just these guys who thought they had a good belt who were just posing, they weren’t down
K Anderson 21:35
and going through the motions, just not into it.
Kevin Steinberg 21:40
Exactly. I love dancing, and I really give it and I thought I could do that. And I found that they made it 100 This is 1998 97 I found that they made like $100, a shift. A shift was 330 minute sets. And then they were done. I thought, well, that’s easy. And I can do a lot better than them. And I can come here for free and hang out all night and I don’t have to pay the cover charge. And so I’m doing that. And so was it as easy as that. Were you did you were you just like give me a job. Yeah, so the main bartender Corey Jay, he auditioned the dancers and I found out who I go, see, and I had to come in during the day and dance for him on a box. See, remember,
K Anderson 22:27
they sell new dance to?
Kevin Steinberg 22:28
Oh, no, no, no. I don’t even know if they put music on. I just thought that this is so weird and stupid. Here I am during that day. slob bright, bright light. It looks like shit. There’s a guy over there sweeping up in the corner and whatever. And I don’t even think there was music and I danced I felt stupid. And he said, okay, you’re hired.
K Anderson 22:51
Oh, amazing. That, that.
Kevin Steinberg 22:53
That was an I, I loved it. But I again, because there’s a shot. I have a shyness deep inside of me. And because I’m a people pleaser. I’m worried about what people think. And also, I want to look amazing and competitive. So that I could really, you know, kick it out during my set and have full on energy. I always did a set on track. They went hand in hand. I don’t know about the other dancers. I can’t I can’t speak for them. But for me, I had to have my drugs and I was in heaven on the box. and I are Yeah, I was getting down.
K Anderson 23:29
Can we talk a bit more about that, that shyness? And yeah, just like the thing that drives you despite the shyness, because I think, you know, without obviously we’ve only been talking to each other for an hour. I feel like I have that kind of similar thing where I’m shy, but I’m still driven to put myself in front of people.
Kevin Steinberg 23:52
Yeah, people are surprised when they hear that I’m shy because I’m so social. They see me as so confident. And they also feel that someone who’s an actor just wants to be out there but a lot even Robert De Niro, like, you see him on a talk show without a script and a character isn’t boring. Try and get them to talk I can do.
K Anderson 24:13
Okay, well hang on. Now being shy does not mean you’re boring. Like let’s not conflate those two things.
Kevin Steinberg 24:19
No, no, no, but I’m, I’m saying like, I think when he’s not a character when you see himself in the spotlights on him, he gets a little more shrinks into himself and reserved. Exactly. Okay. So I have that, that, like, you can identify with that there’s there’s a shy guy inside of me. But I do want to be a form performer and in front of people. Look, I do want to be a podcaster I want people to see me and hear me and I know who I am. So is that it’s that duality. That is it’s it’s very real and it’s it’s it’s interesting, and I think it drives a lot of You know, creative artists and performers, and actors,
K Anderson 25:03
but did you know have like, say, for me, the thing that helps me overcome shyness in those situations is knowing what my role is. So if I were in your position, that would be like, Well, I know that I have to go on the podium, and I have to dance for half an hour, and I have to give a great show. And that kind of helps me switching to the zone. But it sounds like that was not the case of them.
Kevin Steinberg 25:26
I know, I know now who I am, and I’m comfortable with who I am now. But at the time, I wasn’t fully myself, I wasn’t fully accepting of myself, and relaxed and confident with myself. So there was our confidence that people were saying, but I learned how to put it on right.
K Anderson 25:50
might say like, being a downstair kind of being like working there. Did that mean that you got to meet more people and kind of open up your circle of friends?
Kevin Steinberg 26:00
Oh, def-, definitely because people knew you were dancer there, you got injured introduced as that people saw you on the box and then hired your approach tuna hired you to be a dancer at their party or be a bartender and you know, look good behind the bar. And with the eight gays, I had always been critical and judgmental and jealous of the A gays who I saw as the guys who went to the gym, went to brunch, went on vacation, went to like the best parties, you know, for for the circuit parties, you know, they were in the VIP room, and they bought the tickets for the whole weekend to access everything. And I had been very critical. And in also in San Francisco, I opened up my mind and I said, You know what? I wanna check that out. We’re just like to be on the inside. So I was going to the gym six days a week, two hours a day. Oh, I was I was Yeah. But I see like a lot of this was because I was delving into my life. But also for the first time I had lost my identity as an actor. And that’s the only thing as an adult, I identified myself as so I was very lost. So I see that the drugs were helping me through this period of of not having any footing and escaping because I was unsure of myself, even though I probably looked to people like I was very sure
K Anderson 27:26
of myself. So it was like the stripping away of your identity. And you were just trying to fill things. Yeah. cluster over. Yeah. So was it that being at the club, you just had more access to drugs? Or was it something that you pursue? That’s kind of the wrong word I didn’t know.
Kevin Steinberg 27:46
Being at the club didn’t give me more access to drugs, what what did give me more access to drugs was my boyfriend and the friends that I had. Were party were partiers, and some of these people are still in my life today are still my friends are good people. But we are group at that time. You know, our individually was centred around going, you know, to parties and dancing. And, you know, getting getting drugs. And I can remember, always used to go to dinner parties. And at some point during the dinner party, the conversation would go to what’s the next event who wants to go? Who’s getting the drugs? drop off your money, you know, and plan planning that. And I remember saying, Can we just have a dinner party where it’s not, it doesn’t end up or revolve around the next party and getting getting drugs. And I feel like we couldn’t, that may not be the truth. But it just feels like every time we got together and loved dinner parties, we love being together with talking, but it just felt like that that was central to our lives at that at that time. And so there was in San Francisco in the late 90s. It was easy access to anything you wanted. And you know, my main drugs of choice were ecstasy, crystal meth, ketamine Special K, a, gh B, I stayed away from because that scared me. And I saw what it did to people.
K Anderson 29:24
And so did you feel like you weren’t able to say no, because of that pressure from the group? Like once you know, and into it.
Kevin Steinberg 29:33
I don’t feel there was any pressure from the group. It was I I wanted to do it. I wanted to escape. I wanted to be free. That’s how I saw it. And with that man
K Anderson 29:43
talking about, you know, you said earlier that there was the party where you were and you remember saying could we not do this? Yes. Yeah. Was that at the point when you were feeling like a pressure from either yourself or from other people that like in order to fit in, you had To carry on.
Kevin Steinberg 30:02
I was just like trying to control it and just from maybe judging us and having had a life, pre drugs and pre party, knowing what a nice evening was like with with friends and and dinner parties, and it didn’t end up with that conversation or revolved around planning that and so I think I was just remembering how things were and can’t. Sometimes we just do this and just end up. Okay, that was it. Okay. Yeah. Okay.
K Anderson 30:35
Okay. So tell me about the club then.
Kevin Steinberg 30:38
The club was the most amazing club I’ve been to. in my life. It was huge, cavernous. There’s like a warehouse space. I think it fit anywhere from 1500 to 3000 people. Wow. And I like dancing. And the thing that I didn’t like about clubs was every club was so geared towards drinking and the dance floors were so small, and I couldn’t get my groove on like, I just dance very energetically and athletically. I loved club universe because they had a humungous dance floor and I loved being a good dancer, because I had the box all to myself. Yeah, I could, I could move around and I could shake it and I could kick and I wasn’t gonna hurt anybody. But there were the gogo dancers. There were the flaggers there was tambourine shakers. I remember there was, there were always, not always but there’d be a guy standing by the side, usually like a leather daddy or something from the 70s. And it just added to everything.
K Anderson 31:47
see you off?
Kevin Steinberg 31:48
No, no, it just added to the circus. It was I loved it. And then there were the performers like that. They had big name performers like Cyndi Lauper and the be 50 twos and Grace Jones and people like that. And then there was this huge main circular bar there were sidebars, but there is a huge main circular bar that on the busy nights from what I remember, it was like three, four or five people deep. And there was a Go Go box even in the centre of that. So you were like central as soon as people walked in and looked up. They saw that that go go dancer. That was their introduction into the club. You walked down this hall long hallway. So you didn’t know once you open up these devils still doors that opens you up to the to the club. I’m seeing it like a movie like a Martin Scorsese movie, where the camera follows, you know, someone into the club. And then you enter this other worlds. And there was this incredible set decorator, who every weekend changed the decor, wow, every weekend and the elements hanging from the ceiling. Like I remember one week, it was like the theme was under the water and you looked up and it was like you were under the water with all these sea creatures and stuff. It was just incredible. What they I guess Fenton on design or, you know, for this designer, and then the music was just top notch. I mean, nothing like you would hear on the radio or in in the straight clubs. You didn’t know where one song began, and one ended and it was just this this ride that that the DJ took you on. And back when to all these songs. They weren’t just hard techno beats or fast techno beats where they really had a melody and head to lyrics and you can sync a lot.
K Anderson 33:43
I knew where we’re headed. Where in my day. No, no, sorry. And and so why did you leave San Francisco?
Kevin Steinberg 33:54
Oh, I left because I was doing crystal meth at home I was stealing it from from my boyfriend. I was doing it at work, like catering to give me energy. The one thing about not one thing, but a few of the things about crystal meth is that it makes you feel supremely confident like you could take on the world. It also makes you feel very sexual. And it gives you a lot of energy like those are the three main things. And so it went out to the club and it came home and then my boyfriend at night. It’s like sometimes I would go out and work so I would come home high and he would be fast asleep. Then when he went out with our friends to the club and did drugs sometimes I needed my sleep or I was catering like a 12 hour shift somewhere like a wedding. And so it started being that I was coming up when he was coming down and vice versa. And also he was really adamant About me getting like a real job. He, I felt judged and devalued that here I was, I was taking writing classes. So I was working on my writing and I was was was working, I felt like I was working behind the scenes on my my career and pursuing something. But because I didn’t have one like him, I think one nine to five job Monday to Friday because I was go go dancing. And it was like I was, you know, at a party and because I was living sculpture, and because I was catering whenever I wanted to. Because even if they give you a shift, you can be accepted or not accepted. And I remember we would have fights like, he would just be like, you have to get a job, you have to get a career. And finally, I just said, because of the drugs, not because of that I was like I have to leave San Francisco otherwise, I fear I’m going to die here that I’m just going to keep using more and more and more drugs. And this was happening to people they even warned me that when I arrived, they said Watch out for for Tina. She’s She’s a beast, they called Tina, that was slang for crystal meth. And they were telling me about these guys who had everything who were good looking, who were smart, and had a house and had money and had this and that and would lose it all and lose their marbles and lose their teeth. And I said, I’m not like that I’m a smart guy, you don’t know me? Well, I saw myself headed in that direction. So I said, I gotta leave. And I believed I believed that he loved me and that he would come with me, which was so naive, because he had this good, amazing job at a private school. And he had always felt well not always thought for a long time that in San Francisco, his life was there. And I thought if he loved me, he followed me, which is very naive and egotistical. And I kept coming back to San Francisco to prove that I was committed to our our relationship.
K Anderson 37:05
So did you remember like the moment when you decided you had to leave?
Kevin Steinberg 37:10
I think it had been working its way up. I don’t know if it was six months or what. But I remember, remember the moment that we had exchanged rings, and we had a fight. And it was emotional. And we our voices were raised. And I don’t know if one of us was high or not. Or if we were both on, you know, on the ground. But I remember saying to him like I can’t do this anymore. And I feel like I took my ring off and threw it at him and was like I’m done. I’m gone. And where did you go back to LA. I felt like I had picked up where I was supposed to pick up that if I hadn’t gone to Burning Man that I was taking time out for my career. And I would have returned to LA and now I was doing it two years later after having this experience this big, long tangent to my life a little detour. Yeah.
K Anderson 38:13
And and what was that, like? realclimate I think Tao they,
Kevin Steinberg 38:18
Oh, you know what? I still had my friends here. I still had my contacts a day, actually. And by day, I mean, my my manager and casting directors, even when I left LA and even when I was in San Francisco. They were still calling me for auditions. And sometimes I still came back for auditions, but I just wasn’t into it anymore. And they were still interested in me. And I was the one saying Nope, nope, nope. And when I came back, I just don’t want to go back in front of the camera. I was still licking my wounds. And I went behind the scenes and went into you know, TV, film production and so, so forth. And then I realised something was wrong because I thought if I leave the party, I’ll be good. I just have to go back to LA and resume my old life. But I left the party but the party didn’t leave me because I was still looking for crystal meth and even at my job in entertainment behind the scenes I would I would go to the bathroom and I would use on the weekends I called up my cup of joe like my cup of coffee like to do my errands. I would have a little like snort a line of it or something. Or I would be good for two weeks and not want it but I would go to if I went to a party and bumped into somebody. I could always sniff out the person who had and, you know, they say it doesn’t matter if you’re in the Sahara desert or wherever. If you’re a drug addict, you will find drugs and I would hook up with that person after two weeks of being okay and I realised Pretty, pretty pretty quickly that I had a problem. I was like, This isn’t me, I don’t know this guy. This isn’t who I was before Burning Man in San Francisco. And I thought I could just pick up where I left off. But now, this is some new information. And I need help.
K Anderson 40:17
And what kind of role did the boyfriend that you had at the time play within that?
Kevin Steinberg 40:24
He was moving on. I mean, he knew that I was going back to my life in LA, and he was had his life in San Francisco. And even though I would come visit every couple of weeks and stay with him, and I would also book a dancing gig while I was I was there. So that was, you know, there were some tense moments and stuff. But he, he was moving on, I believe that it could continue if it didn’t want to move to LA, that at least it will continue long distance which San Francisco and La are not far apart by plane or by car. But it wasn’t meant to be, huh.
K Anderson 41:04
Yeah, I didn’t hear any long distance relationship that’s worked. I don’t, let’s not go. I’m gonna piss someone off by saying that. And I do love the idea of long distance relationships, though, right? Because it’s like, I don’t, I don’t have to see you that much.
Kevin Steinberg 41:25
I think I think people seek them out for a reason. And it’s just because I get to have my life and I don’t have to give any time to you. But then when I come to you, you come to me this concentrated get a week, focusing on each other, and then and then Bye, bye. It’s not full time, to part time love.
K Anderson 41:46
Unless they want to talk on the phone every day. That’s when it’s annoying. Some people
Kevin Steinberg 41:51
are into, you know, some people are texting and facetiming all the time. I have a good friend who had a career and a life here. And he met somebody on vacation in p town and ended up moving to Philadelphia and they were going back and forth, and back and forth, to see each other. And then finally, during COVID I think right before COVID happened, my friend decided that he’s going to live in both cities, but he’s going to make his life there and have his career here. And that they would buy a place together. And they they did buy a place together and set up house. And then I believe COVID happened and so he’s mostly been there. And so it isn’t a long distance relationship relationship anymore. It’s it’s a full time six out.
K Anderson 42:40
I thought this was gonna end in flames. It’s a happy story. Yeah, no, no.
Kevin Steinberg 42:47
It’s so sweet. his partner’s so sweet. I’m so happy for him. And I look forward to going to visit them in Philadelphia.
K Anderson 42:57
Oh, I wanted them. I wanted heartbreak. Anyway, these people I don’t know, coming off drugs, how long like what was that way.
Kevin Steinberg 43:09
So I knew things intellectually or societally, and I knew something was wrong, and they went to get help starting in 2001. And you’re recovering, you’re never recovered, you’re always continually recovering. And you have to work at it. And what I didn’t realise at the time is, I knew that it was in my best interest to stop by they didn’t want to stop. So I had a therapist, and I went to the specialised crystal meth group. And I went to like a and CMA. And I’ve had one foot in and one foot out of recovery ever since. And I think because I was still new to it. And still had a hard time dealing with with life and dealing with my depression and with my anger, and some things that that other people or did to me or what I felt the world was doing to me. So it’s a way of escaping and not dealing with people and the world. So I could put together two months to 10 months of being clean. But at some point, I always, you know, went back to it I have a few years now of being clean. And I also just didn’t realise the work that needed to be put in like I thought you say, Okay, I’m an addict, and being aware of it and going to meetings. You’re done. You know, you’re on the sunny side of the street. And that’s not true. There’s
K Anderson 44:48
that huge ego thing like the thing you said before about when you first got to San Francisco, and your inner dialogue was Oh no, I’m smart. I’m not going to fall for that. But Something that the other end as well isn’t there where it’s like, oh, no, like I’m in control. And like, I know I can just stop whenever I want. I just don’t want to stop and the ego in like battling that
Kevin Steinberg 45:14
it’s exhausting totally, totally. I equate it with. As a youngster, I was living a double life, I was closeted homosexual, living a straight life. And now I was an out gay person. But now I had a new double life, where I was using, about also keeping up appearances, you know, to friends and family, also, because I’m originally from Canada. And also because I’ve lived different places, I have friends in different cities. And so not everyone is seeing me all the time. So I could lie to them. I was also a high functioning addict, that I could be up all night in yours, and then go to work. And I remember telling the people that I worked with that I had to go to rehab, and they laughed, they thought he wanted to have equity talking about I kept it so well hidden. And it was that guy who had to keep up appearances and then go to work, and, and be together. And I said, No, no, I really have a problem. And they’re like, No,
K Anderson 46:23
I know. And of course, it wasn’t the Kevin, I let them see. But then So was that even more difficult to have that conversation with people? Because you’ve been so protective of, like maintaining this image?
Kevin Steinberg 46:38
Yes, or no, because it’s superseded that because I knew I had reached a point where I had to get real and honest, and, and get help. And I had to let people know. Because I was taking time off from work, to go get help, I had to let my co workers know that I’m going away because of this. I’m about honesty and transparency. And I allow myself to be vulnerable a lot. I’m not that person, who can just cover up and say, I’m going away for a while. Like, I will, I will tell people why and not to be a victim, and not to get attention or have them feel sorry, but I feel like I just have to, for whatever reason step up and tell the tell tell the truth after especially having so much.
K Anderson 47:30
But but that’s kind of in Congress with this living of a double life. And
Kevin Steinberg 47:36
yes, does it in Yes. And invariably, it’s, it’s exposed and it takes so much energy. It took so much energy as a closeted gay person. It took so much energy as someone who was secretly privately using drugs, and then going to a meetings and telling friends and family that life was good. And, and I looked at grids, and I sounded good. So people believed in until a certain point, you don’t start to look that you don’t start to sound good. Or the feeling that you know what, that’s it’s come, I’ve come to the end of the road, because this is where I got to is like, if I keep using Yeah, I’m gonna die. I always thought I always had one more time. One more time. One more time, one more time. And thankful that I reached a point where it’s like, you know what, there’s no next time. Next time, I’m going to have a stroke or heart attack, or I’m going to die. And I have to I have to grow up. And then stop this and get help stuffing. Yeah.
K Anderson 48:50
How do you how do you maintain that moment of clarity?
Kevin Steinberg 48:55
Well, I, one, I took pictures and videos of myself when I was high to remind myself of what I look like, but also what state I’m in. And also now I can I had enough experience that I can fast forward the tape. And it’s not how I feel in the beginning of going through the excitement and getting lost and having having sex. I fast forward the tape to the end of the mental and emotional and physical and spiritual toll it takes on me and where I end up and No. Right then right then I got no I don’t need that. That doesn’t that’s not getting me anything. That’s not getting me anywhere. That’s not helping me. It’s putting me in my grave. So whatever’s bothering me, I have to face and deal with.
K Anderson 49:56
Mm hmm. So So you were in LA at the time that club universe closed? Do you remember hearing about it? Oh, yeah,
Kevin Steinberg 50:06
I was so shocked and upset. And I was happy that you could be there for the closing weekend and be booked to dance and be a part of it, because it was such a part of the gay community club universe. And I think a lot of people showed up for the closing. And I think it closed because we started moving into this age of everyone being on computer and cruising online, and hooking up online. And so why, why go to the bar, and I think this is terrible, because I love social interaction, I want to meet someone I want to go dancing. And for we’re losing that, or we’ve lost that. And I think they saw their crowd, you know, diminished from what it was that that not as many people were coming out regular regularly.
K Anderson 51:07
So what what was that last night? Like?
Kevin Steinberg 51:09
I don’t remember, all I can remember is that it was obviously just amazing with the number of people and with with the energy in the room, and everyone just having good thoughts and good feelings and good experiences about this place that that, you know, they’re gonna have to pocket and put behind them.
K Anderson 51:34
What did San Francisco lose when it lost their club,
Kevin Steinberg 51:39
I think lost a lot of its cultural identity. And because what was happening, it was South of Market, which is known as Soma. And what was happening in that area is it had been an industrial area, like it was just so funky and the businesses there, and the arts and the feeling and, you know, it’s like you can Prowl on the street at night. And it cuts Wait, what’s
K Anderson 52:07
prowling? What what like
Kevin Steinberg 52:12
I guess when you when you go looking for trouble, like if you’re gonna like, you know, hook up with with with a guy or, or drugs or whatever. It’s
K Anderson 52:20
like the precursor to cruising. You go prowling to cruise. Yeah.
Kevin Steinberg 52:27
Yeah. For Okay, probably. I just see it, you know, sometimes the night, you know, which is exciting, but, you know, it can be a little dangerous. So, okay, that’s why I use the word. prowl. But cruising. Yeah. And that whole area just became gentrified at, I believe that they lost their lease. And they were demolished and a condo was built in their place. And the whole if you look at the place Now, if you look at the area, it looks nothing like the days of club universe. And and 20 years ago, it’s it’s it’s a neighbourhood of people living, living and working. Not a funky artistic industrial neighbourhood of people going clubbing scuzzy. Oh,
K Anderson 53:18
yeah, thanks. And yeah,
Kevin Steinberg 53:20
yeah, I remember going back to the city, years later to visit. And I was really sad because I felt the city had lost its soul, with tech taking off, and so many people having to leave because they couldn’t afford it anymore. And it wasn’t just that, physically, the city was changing, but I just felt like, artistically, spiritually, it changed. Like, it literally lost its soul. And it was so sad to me. And it wasn’t until I got over that, and then went back the next time I was I was okay with it. I was like, okay, so these progress, cities change, they don’t stay the same. And this is what San Francisco is now, at least I have these incredible memories and experiences.
K Anderson 54:07
Before I let you go, there’s a there is a cheesy, like fireside Kumbaya moment that I’d like to have with you. And it’s, if you could go back in time. And you’ve got to talk to Kevin at the Burning Man festival, or you got to talk to Kevin on his first days in San Francisco. What advice would you give him?
Kevin Steinberg 54:31
The first thing that comes to mind is I would say, Go Go back, go back to what you’re doing, and and face it, and deal with it. That’s the first thing. The second thing is I would say just be careful because all of my experiences have have given me the tools I need for my life the skills and the knowledge and I had to go through them everyone has to go through their life for a reason. Good or bad. So first I would say just go back to go back and then face what it is. That’s that that’s, that’s bothering you. And the second is you stay here. Just be careful. We’re gonna make me cry.
K Anderson 55:30
Do you have any memories from club universe or from your own queer scene that you want to share? Well, if you do, please get in touch. I want to create the biggest online record of people’s memories and stories of queer clubbing, go to LA spaces podcast.com and find the section share a lost space and tell me what you got up to. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as lost spaces. Kevin is about to launch his own podcast, frankly, Kev, so make sure you keep your ears prepped for that. And in the meantime, follow him on Instagram at Kevin p Steinberg. I wonder what the P stands for. Lost spaces is not only a podcast, but a concept record as well. I have been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing songs over the next year. You can hear the first single well groomed boys which is also playing underneath my talking right now on all streaming platforms. If you liked this episode, I would really appreciate if you subscribed, left a review on your podcast platform of choice or just told people who you think might be interested in giving it a little listen to I am K Anderson and you have been listening to lost spaces.