It’s a hot Saturday night in San Francisco. Forget that we’re in a drought that’s lasted four years and counting. Forget that warm nights aren’t special anymore. The city’s unemployment rate hit a record low of 3.8% this past year. The streets may as well be paved with gold and we’re a boomtown again, baby. It’s like the first dotcom party all over again—except this is even better. Tech companies throw lavish parties for their employees and there’s plenty of meat on the proverbial bone for the rest of us. Right?
I remember tales from the first boom when I was still living a modest existence fresh out of college on a friend’s futon in Washington DC. I heard about offices that paid people $20 an hour just to sit around all day so they could boast the minimum amount of employees to fulfill requirements for their imminent IPO. I heard stories of champagne brunches and million dollar bonuses. And I heard about epic after-parties that weren’t really after-parties because the party never stopped in San Francisco.
A few weeks ago, I met up with my sister, Alana, at Urban Putt, the steampunk hip mini-golf spot in the Mission, where she works as a manager. Over espresso martinis and hip hop, I wondered aloud where the after-parties in SF are these days.
“Alana,” I said, “Where do you go out after you finish up your shift?”
She shrugged her hard-working 28 year-old shoulders. “I normally go to Virgil’s on my way home.”
“Virgil’s is great,” I said. “I love their patio. But what else? There has to be something late-night worth doing?”
Another shrug. “I dunno,” she said. “I think people probably go to hotel rooms and small house parties. It’s not New York.”
I was stunned. Alana’s been living in SF for almost two years. She bartended in Philly and she went to college in New York. When Nicki Minaj was in Brooklyn for a show with Lil Wayne, she spontaneously flew from SF to NY and surprised her friends with tickets. I go to Alana when I want to find restaurants, bars, or basically anything cool in the city. She wears sunglasses at night. Need I say more?
I decided that night that I would go out in SF and find out where people go after their main event is over. What do they do when they still have momentum from the show? When the midnight oil is still burning. When you’re ready to keep the booze flowing and you’re NOT going home yet because dammit, you live in a boomtown and what’s the point of shelling out $3000/month for a studio if you’re going to spend your Saturday nights streaming Netflix?
Armed with a few fun-loving friends and my iPhone voice record app, I went out in search of inspiring nightlife. I chose Slim’s as much for its location as for its history. Located in SOMA, it was founded by R&B legend Boz Scaggs. I was excited to hear that the bands playing that night were almost exclusively local talent. I assumed that people following California bands would know where to head out afterwards.
I arrived just in time to see “Sunrunners,” a San Francisco band with deep grooves and a love for echo effects. The lead singer, Stephen Loase, jams on the keyboard and belts out catchy vocals. The band sounds like an edgier Beach Boys. I ordered a dirty martini from the long bar and settled in with the rest of the crowd.
Next up was Eyes on the Shore. They were outstanding. I felt the familiar joy of catching a band on the way up. I switched to beer, and feeling generous, bought my friends a round. Shouting over inspired lyrics from their song, “Kids on the Run,” and then a bluesy Beatles cover, I yelled at my friend, Matt, that Eyes on the Shore were the real deal. “It’s like California Western Blues,” I shouted at him. He nodded, and kept sipping.
After the set was over, I found some of the band members at the merch table and they were kind enough to let me interview them in the green room while The Union Trade was onstage closing out the night. Of course I was curious about their music, but I wanted to find out what local rockers do after they finish playing a set on a Saturday night. Surely this would be my Almost Famous moment. Pretty soon we’d be partying with groupies and painting the town red (or some new color I hadn’t even heard of). I told my friends I’d be right back and hopped down a set of stairs that led behind the stage at Slim’s.
We sat on couches around a coffee table and talked. Eyes on the Shore was formed in 2013. Antrom Kury on guitar and Kayan Golkar on bass have been playing together since they were 15. After high school, they spent four years searching for a lead vocalist. They auditioned some 60-70 singers before they found Cory, scrapping the standard craigslist ad for a video of the band.
Says Cory: “Every day I was going through hundreds of Craigslist ads looking for a band. I couldn’t find anything. Then my girlfriend stumbled on a link that said: ‘Surf Western Project.’ This was the end of 2012. They had an interview video to find a singer. The background music was the stuff that reminded me of my childhood…local bands.”
We talked for the next fifteen minutes about the direction of the band and why it was special to play a show at Slim’s. Kyle smiled and said: “My first time in here, I walked into this room and Chino Moreno from Deftones handed me a bottle of vodka. I have seen a lot of friends on this stage. We were just talking about Queens of the Stone Age, and how Josh Homme and Dave Grohl have been here.”
Finally, I thought, this would be the moment when we decided where to go next. Sipping my water, I casually asked: “So, what do you guys do after a show is over?”
Without missing a beat, Kyle replied: “For local shows, we go to our beds. We drink a lot of water. If we’re on tour, we get in the van.”
I rephrased my question. “If you’re not playing, where are you guys on a Saturday night?”
Cory: “I’m a total foodie. My girlfriend and I are probably out eating ethnic food in Oakland. We’re out if there’s a good local band to support.”
As I finished up the interview, a stage manager came in and told us that we needed to get going because Slim’s was closing. It was just past midnight.
I found my friends and we walked across 11th street. The two obvious choices to continue the night were Butter and Bergerac. Many of my friends were already coming up with reasons to call it a night. I soldiered on.
I’ve spent many nights at Butter and they all end with me stumbling home drunk after one too many of their ‘white-trash’ drinks. Choices include, Junkyard Dog, Shotgun Wedding, and my personal favorite, the After School Special, which is a mix of Vodka and Grape soda. If you’re hungry, there are plenty of treats like tater tots, mini corn dogs, and deep fried mac and cheese. The DJ played a reliable mix of classic rock and hip hop. The large projector screen showed “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” When the DJ played “Don’t Stop Believing,” the crowd belted out the familiar Steve Perry lyrics as if their lives depended on it.
I left at the height of the frenzied singing and moved along to Bergerac. Attached to Audio Nightclub, Bergerac is an elegant SOMA cocktail bar. It’s inspired by the “legendary Villa Nellcote, an old French mansion where the Rolling Stones recorded their seminal album Exile on Main Street.” I was very impressed with their service and strong drinks. Anne Sophie, one of the waitresses, dressed stylishly in black, served me an outstanding Mezcal cocktail. The DJ spun an upbeat mix of disco house, and the bartenders took breaks to stand on the bar, gargling a mixture of alcohol and then spitting it across an open flame, breathing fire for the entertained crowd.
I sat in a plush armchair and drank my fill. Put another great San Francisco night in the books. As I heard the bartenders shout out last call, I made a final attempt to see where people were heading. Most everyone was heading down the block for a late night taco or crepe, not an open bar in sight.
I recently learned that Venture Capitalists are forever in search of the unicorn: a company that will eventually be valued at $1Billion. I fear that the San Francisco after-party has become its own type of unicorn—hard-driven city-goers that avoid chasing late night parties in favor of Sunday brunch. While that may be true, I’ll hold my breath and continue the hunt for SF’s late night scene.