SAN FRANCISCO – City leaders are grappling with how to revitalize downtown San Francisco as work from home trends and record high office vacancy rates continue to impact businesses.
As Kenny Choi shows us, lawmakers are pushing an idea of “open entertainment zones” that could change the urban landscape, especially for bars in the city.
“The Wheel” at California Jack’s in Nob Hill still spins.
Bartender Mack Holman is back doing what he does best after a long hiatus.
“San Francisco has always been, as Anthony Bourdain recognized, ‘a good drinking town’,” said Holman.
Thursday evenings get a boost, with office workers commuting into the city instead of working from home. Even so, Happy Hour in a post-COVID world isn’t bustling like it used to.
“I think it has gone down a bit and places don’t stay open as long as they used to,” said Holman.
“It has changed. It’s slowly coming back to life,” said Mario Linares.
“Business is so unpredictable. Week over week it’s hard to say how much staff we’ll need and how much product we need to buy,” said California Jack’s manager Brooke Lloyd.
Local bars, like California Jack’s are ramping up events like guest bartending nite booked by companies to benefit charities, scheduled in advance to offset downward trends, industry insiders say are linked to less drinking by Gen Z’ers, fewer tourists, office vacancies, and perceived street level crime.
“It’s a great way to engage the community and show people the bar. It helps us in driving top line revenue. It helps a lot,” said Lloyd.
Another initiative to boost sales for bars is to greenlight “entertainment zones” through Senate Bill 76.
“Somebody can buy a beer and walk outside. Walk across the street like they do in New Orleans or Austin,” said San Francisco Entertainment Commission President Ben Bleiman.
Bleiman is pushing for the bill allowing cities to establish “entertainment zones”, where brick-and-mortar bars and restaurants can sell alcoholic beverages for outdoor consumption in street closures, like outdoor street festivals, along with outdoor vendors.
“That will bring people into the city. People are going to want to live near there, in the city, if you have that. I think entertainment is going to fuel the recovery,” said Bleiman.
Entertainment zones could ignite restaurant sales in hard hit areas like downtown San Francisco.
Anzu Restaurant and Bar near Union Square has endured, firing up new creations to its signature Omakase dinner, even as nearby businesses have shuttered.
“We’re trying to make it better everyday and at the same time innovate by coming up with new dishes that are creative to make people want to come back,” said Anzu Restaurant and Bar Executive chef Adam Mali.
Bartenders like Holman remain optimistic, whether California Jack’s stays open or not.
“Bar scene and restaurant scene aren’t going anywhere. It’s vibrant here,” said Holman.
The City is advocating for State Senator Scott Weiner’s bill SB 76 to pass and says it will work to establish Entertainment Zones, as permitted.
Those zones would be allowed in 2024 if it becomes law, possibly as soon as this fall.