Somewhat buried in Saturday's Chron was an eye-opening article by Marisa Lagos on San Francisco clubs being targeted by the state's department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC)--the feared institution which regulates businesses who serve booze, including restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs. According to the article, popular nightlife destinations including Slim's, the Great American Music Hall, Café Du Nord and Bottom of the Hill, are being sweated hard by ABC for seemingly minor infractions--which may not be infractions at all, but a shift in enforcement policy. As Lagos wrote, "Some of the clubs say they only recently learned about the new rules, which are not written into state law and haven't been enforced in the past."
At issue is the all-ages designation for clubs which also serve food. Apparently without prior notification, ABC has decided that for such venues, fifty percent of their revenue must be derived from food sales - an entirely unrealistic notion, given that most nightspots make most of their money from the bar. Several of the targeted clubs have challenged ABC's legal authority to set such a requirement. ABC has also taken affront at the fact that the Great American Music Hall opens at 7 p.m., not 5 p.m., as stated on the venue's application permit (though bands are served food at 5).
GAMH/Slim's publicist Leah Matanky says neither venue has changed its policy in the past two decades: "Anyone that has been to either club in the past 20 years will vouch for the fact that both venues have always operated as music venues that also serve food." She adds that ABC's policy has, in fact, changed "without ever informing us about new 'laws' that they have put in place, or ever having alerted either club about certain laws even when the license was issued and approved of."
Coming on the heels of the state agency's recent vendetta against the DNA Lounge, it seems fair to question what ABC's real agenda is; regulating nightclubs with ticky-tack infractions to the point where they are forced to go out of business doesn't seem to be in the best interests of anyone. And ABC's Gestapo tactics seem a bit heavy-handed. According to Matanky, "ABC has gone after all clubs with an All Ages license, DNA included. Their goal seems to be to put each said venue out of business, in whatever way possible."She questions whether such venues are threats to public health and safety, as ABC alleges, noting that there have been no community complaints against either the GAMH or Slim's. All-Ages music venues, she emphasizes, "are an extremely important part of arts and culture... we believe that we are playing a vital role in preserving tourism and providing safe community entertainment in SF."