Because certain blocks of the Mission were zoned for both residential and light-industrial uses, you might not always have a house for a neighbor. On Alabama Street between 21st and 22nd streets, the Here Collective is a co-working space and event venue in a formerly industrial building that has played host to quirky, very-San-Francisco-sounding 24-hour-long comic performance pieces and cannabis brunches. It’s part of the urban fabric that makes life here wonderful and unique.
This week, Jack Daniel’s has taken over the Here Collective for a “Pop-Up General Store,” which feels fundamentally different from artsy weirdos extemporizing in front of randomly generated images at 3:30 in the morning. Although the high production values are in keeping with Here Collective’s overall vibe — and it should be emphasized that there’s no alcohol served — a certain corporate quotient spurred a couple of neighborhood tipsters to write to SF Weekly to investigate. (One claimed that Jack Daniel’s supported Trump, which feels like a stretch. If anything, Jack Daniel’s seems to have gone in a progressive direction, admitting the role that an enslaved man played in the whiskey’s creation. But also, corporations aren’t people.)
In any case, we went to check it out. Staffing the door were extremely friendly people with Southern accents that may or may not have been ersatz, and a grumpy-looking cop milled about, seemingly suspicious that a branded boozefest could possibly be as dry as the Tennessee county where Jack is distilled. Inside, you can sample sweet tea and hang out at the “sensory bar,” where, as at a pre-2015 California distillery, you can smell and learn but not taste. You can take a virtual-reality tour of the Lynchburg facility where it all began, or get a $5 haircut at a barber shop. There’s also a barrel-making demo by a genuine cooper or someone who can convincingly play one. Beards are conspicuous and well-groomed throughout.
In all, it seems like a pop-up for makers and craftspeople that happens to be sponsored by Jack Daniel’s, as an almost routine part of a venerable brand’s effort to stay fresh by exploiting that ineffable Mission cool. And if you ask anyone who does anything creative for a living how they manage to get by, they will tell you that this is the way of the world these days — something that goes for the staff, the artisans, and the people running an independent venue in an expensive city. But even though it closes no later than 7 p.m. every day this week (and wraps up on Saturday, July 22), something about Jack Daniel’s’ week-long general store doesn’t really pass the do-you-want-this-on-your-block? test. It’s very much open to the street, it’s prominently emblazoned with corporate branding, and there’s a twee, moneyed slickness of the kind that dovetails all too neatly with slippery-slope gentrification and displacement. They were even offering free pedicab rides from Dolores Park to the pop-up over the weekend.
SF Weekly asked Here Collective cofounder Elle McGraw — who happens to live next door with her husband, six children, and two dogs — if the Jack Daniel’s event represents a new direction for the space, or if it was just a one-off.
It’s the former, she emphasized.
“Jack Daniel’s approached us a few months back about potentially opening their pop-up shop in the space,” she said. “My husband and I were really impressed with JD’s production crew and thought it would be a blast to host this event. It has been a blast to see our beloved space transformed!”
With respect to the neighborhood, McGraw said that she “always envisioned building a close-knit community in our space that one-off events like JD just don’t create. We hope to always create a gathering place for like minded people to work, play, and eat so small events like brunch or holiday gatherings will be a part of the space. However, our goal is to expand the co-working aspect in the coming months.”
So there you have it. If your blood is boiling, remember that without philanthropy from Wells Fargo and Philip Morris, there’d be a lot less theater and a lot fewer art spaces in a country that views state subsidies as a Trotskyist plot. Then again, who wants to go to a whiskey pop-up without any whiskey? Mull it all over while getting fitted at the fedora station.
Jack Daniel’s Pop-Up General Store, through Saturday, July 22, at Here Collective, 930 Alabama St.