Mabuhay Gardens : A Tribute to the Mab



Following the screening of Bruce Conner's masterpiece CROSSROADS (1967), the nostalgic, punk-inspired show will take place at Casa Binan at 10pm.

On 443 Broadway in San Francisco, the "Fab Mab" doors are closed. However, the vintage posters that surround the legendary supper club evokes nostalgic memories of its youth. It was here that Dirk Dirksen worked with the owner, Ness Aquino to create the center of the San Francisco punk club milieu in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. 

Courtesy of David Ensminger (2015).

Courtesy of David Ensminger (2015).

In the early days of Mab, the supper club was struggling financially. In an act of desperation, Ness Aquino decided to lease the property for $75 a night. To their surprise, Aquino agreed to punk bands performing at Mab, despite being a known conservative. 

It would have never worked at that point if I had gone in there and been totally Punk Rock, because he wouldn’t have understood. So what I agreed on with him was that I’d put on a ‘show’ with costumes and props and skits. The deal was that I could come in on a Monday evening to try it out . . . the show ran for three weeks and kept building until Ness was so happy about it that I could do whatever I wanted.
— Mary Monday

Booking with Mary Monday opened the floodgates to working with other potentially influential punk bands with the help of entrepreneur and soon-to-be Mab promoter and emcee Dirk Dirksen. Before long, Dirksen invited Psyclone editor Jerry Paulsen to the lounge and shortly after the editor became the official ticket collector. This resulted in an explosion of punk music at the Mab as several early punk and new wave bands lined up. Despite gaining popularity for the venue, Psyclone was unable to make profit. As luck would have it, CBS picked up on the punk phenomenon and broadcasted a documentary on English punks just as San Francisco's KPIX Channel 5 aired its own program on the emerging punk scene at Mabuhay Gardens. 

Dead Kennedys (1979) at Mabuhay Gardens. Courtesy of HASHTHRASH, voltarized, BONG and hothcanada. 

Subsequently, V. Vale of City Lights Bookstore nearby to the Mab gathered funds to launch his own punk magazine Search and Destroy to celebrate the counterculture. At Mabuhay Gardens, Vale met Conner and asked him to publish his photos in the magazine. He believed their association would bring the same influential and simultaneously, defiant quality that Conner inherently possessed to the magazine's pages. 


Photographing live shows at Mabuhay Gardens deepened Conner's fascination with the punk movement. He approached his subjects with enthusiasm, dressed as a combat photographer prepared to fully immerse himself in the dynamic scene. 

I had always liked the idea of action photos. . . . Like—sport events. Basketball. They’re floating in the air, part of this suspended sphere, and they’ve got these beatific looks on their faces, they’re in anguish. Or combat photography. I always thought, gosh, combat photography. Maybe I could work on that.
— Bruce Conner

By integrating himself within the vivacious crowd, his images allows spectators to experience the energy of the shows. Not only that, but he defies the raucous perception of the punk scene by capturing what cultural critic Greil Marcus calls, "[the] silence of punk's unfulfilled outcry".  Despite the commotion, the images possess an uncluttered quality and demonstrate the closely- knitted community hidden behind the furious bodies reveling in loud music. He offered the unparalleled experience of viewing suspended action, that is typically experienced through sound. Conner's photographs capture the spirit of the time and place by exposing Mabuhay Gardens to its raw, visual core.

Courtesy of San Francisco Public Library.

Courtesy of San Francisco Public Library.

[Conner was] a key figure at the Mab, despite being characterized as a late-1950s Beat, assemblage, and funk artist and filmmaker
— Kristine Stiles, Conner's assistant in the 1970s

Conner's ability to convey a strong sense of Mabuhay Garden's atmosphere to the public eye, demonstrates the significance of the venue in the height of San Francisco's creative moment and the depths of the punk movement. Mabuhay Gardens left an imprint on the history of San Francisco, whilst Conner had revolutionized punk culture. Performing at the Mab became the induction for many iconic bands such as Devo, Negative Trend, The Mutants, Crime, UXA, The Avengers, among many others.

Courtesy of Bobby Castro.

Courtesy of Bobby Castro.

Bellas Artes Projects invites the public to attend Mabuhay Gardens : A Tribute to Mab on Saturday, March 3 at Casa Binan. The concert is inspired by the 1970s cultural revolution and angst-driven energy that Conner captured in his photos. To attend, please email us at and we will connect you with the reservation department of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.


Bellas Artes Projects