Most eighth birthdays involve clowns or bumper bowling, and they often end in sugar rushes and stressed-out parental chaperones hitting the bottle pretty hard once the last minivan arrives to scoop up the last kid. More importantly, they only last for a couple of hours, tops. But for Public Works, an eighth birthday is an excuse to rage the way LCD Soundsystem describes, have a party “like in Spain where they go all night / … Or like Berlin where they go another night, all right!” Starting on Friday, Sept. 21 and lasting until the morning of Sunday, Sept. 23, a 30-hour-plus party means that eight truly is great.
“We figured for the eighth, we’d roll with the infinity and try to get the neverending party,” Public Works founder Jeff Whitmore tells SF Weekly. “With that, you’ve got a pretty good lineup of a lot of different styles.”
Among the acts slated to perform are Floorplan, Danny Daze, and Lena Willikens and Xosar with Matthias Meyer — who Whitmore describes as “very big with the Berghain set.” S.F. staples like Electroluxx’s Ethical Drugs, Superinto.It, and Bjor (who will be joined during their time slot by Robin Simmons of Odyssey). Polyglamorous’ Beya, Mark O’Brien, and Major will play, as will returning hometown favorites Honey Soundsystem, who threw their 10-year anniversary rave at Public Works last year. There’s at least one in-house staff member who’s got a crew (Nonsuit), who’s opening the loft on Friday evening.
These are symbolically important bookings for a well-regarded venue — once a grow space and later a site for porn shoots — that’s known for closing down the dead-end block of Erie Street east of Mission for a good time. But more than that, they reflect how nightlife has shifted over the years. Public Works and Mighty — which has since become the Great Northern — were established in part as a reaction against the ostentatious nature of the early-2010s ultra-lounge, with its bottle service and the elevation of conspicuous consumption over genuine hedonism.
Further, Mighty initially kicked into high gear after the Burning Man-related organizers for a New Year’s warehouse party got tipped off that their chosen venue was set to be raided.
“They’d promoted it a bit and word got out that this illegal underground party was going to happen, so they moved it into Mighty that night,” Whitmore says. “It was a great start for what we intended on being: a space that could house these events.”
Rather than installing lighted floors and catering to a clientele determined to drink $400 worth of Belvedere vodka in a V.I.P. section, Public Works rode the early days of Facebook when everyone organically saw every post of everything they “liked” to become more of a club for the people.
Soliciting feedback from the nightlife world, Whitmore and company put in a high-end soundsystem and a floating dance floor “that gave a little bit of ease to the knees.” Having more than one room was always in the cards, and in terms of genre, Public Works’ programming has always been a mix. The space has hosted Non Stop Bhangra for seven years, and Hard French has been there several times. Via Noise Pop, Big Freedia has played there, too — and Public Works also houses cultural events on weeknights, like The Moth, Odd Salon, and Speechless.
The very nature of the underground has changed, Whitmore says. Long-gone are the days when promoters would make a few phone calls to bartenders, who would direct everybody to after-hours parties once 1:45 a.m. rolled around. You can say that social media, or the very concept of virality, has collapsed the pipeline by which underground culture slowly infiltrated the mainstream. In practice, this means an act that Public Works takes a chance on could play the upstairs room for a modest fee and end up filling the main room a year-and-a-half later.
“That was the whole idea behind the space, and what I love about it to this day,” he says, adding that “the underground is not typically made up of people making six-figure incomes.” Along with the Midway, the much-larger club on the far side of Dogpatch that Whitmore co-founded, Public Works exists to restore and maintain a sense of adventure in nightlife. One of his favorite aspects is the benign confusion that besets some newcomers.
“We’ll have two parties, and when people come up, we’ll be like, ‘Which party are you here for?’ It’s, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I just heard Public Works,’ ” he says. “We want to be that space that gives a little something to anybody that wants to come out.”
While the nightclub industry is not known for their career employees, the core group that worked alongside Jeff Whitmore eight years ago to open Public Works (Marina Kawagishi, Betty Bigas, Peter Blick, Chris McDonnell, Melvin Ferriera, Ryan Ormsby) are still making it happen today.
Public Works’ Eight-Year Anniversary, Friday, Sept. 21, 9 p.m. – Sunday, Sept. 23, 10 a.m., 161 Erie St., $38-$48, publicsf.com