Harry Denton, owner of San Francisco’s Starlight Room, moved to The City in 1965, “during the height of the Haight-Ashbury scene,” according to the biography on his popular nightclub’s Web site. The consummate party host, he is also involved in numerous charitable causes in San Francisco. He tells us about his mother, the power of positive thinking, and the secret to his success.
Is there a “golden rule” by which you live your life? Well, I’m not really religious — I say what comes around goes around. My simple “golden rule” is think positive not negative. Be thankful for what you have and don’t worry about what you don’t.
Who would you say has been the most influential person on your professional life? My mom, period. My whole life she’s always been the one that says, “Harry, you have an ability to accomplish anything you want with hard work.” My mother taught me that and the basics of life. Also, she’s an inspirational person, to me, and a lot of other people. She’s 93 years old. She lives in a small town in Idaho, where I’m from. She can still drive during the day — she gets up every morning, Monday through Saturday, at 6:30 a.m., drives to the next town five miles away and swims at the YMCA. And she didn’t even start until she was 60 years old.
What has been the secret to your success? I’m in the nightclub business, so I think the secret to my success is making everyone feel comfortable; making the room feel like my own living room.
How has the nightclub scene changed since you first entered it in the mid-80s? Oh, I’ll just say it. You just can’t fire anyone these days. There [are] so many more lawsuits. You have to be so much more careful hiring people. That makes me sound like an a–hole, but I’m really not. And when I started, with Harry’s on Fillmore in ’86, there weren’t that many drugs around. The change I see in young people in partying nowadays, they’ll pop a couple of Vicodin and then go drink. I never grew up with any of the popping-the-pill thing.
What has been the best part of your job? And what has been the worst? The best part is being successful. And they all say in business, it’s location, location, location. I got a great location. The hardest part is seeing someone in the business go down.
What’s something about you people would be surprised to know? That I have 123 pairs of shoes. I don’t know if a lot of people know I play the piano. My socks are folded perfectly in drawers by color. Oh, the most surprising thing, I handle it, but I am extremely neat. I have a real thick carpet, I vacuum the carpet every morning before I leave the house.