DNA Lounge May Close in Wake of Declining Crowds

DNA Lounge, DNA Pizza and Codeword are operating at a $380,000 loss each year.

Popular nightclub and music venue DNA Lounge may not be long for this world, says owner Jamie Zawinski.

In an unusual move from a struggling business owner, Zawinski penned a long and transparent letter to DNA’s patrons on Monday, announcing that he’s spent $5 million of his own money on the venue in the past 17 years. But now, he says, the money has run out, and he’s worried the DNA Lounge, DNA Pizza next door, and all-ages dance club Codeword will all shutter, as they’re operating at a $380,000 loss each year.

DNA Lounge has been offering bumping shows in SoMa since the mid ’80s, with big names like Metallica, Cypress Hill and Prince taking its stage. Jamie Zawinski bought it in 1999, after getting a windfall from the early tech boom (remember Netscape Navigator?). He dropped an unspecified amount of money into the club, which was in dire need of repairs, and after a two-year renovation it reopened in 2001.

DNA Lounge’s popularity under Zawinski’s tenure seems to have peaked between 2009 and 2014, but “between 2014 and 2015, DNA Lounge’s attendance dropped off by about nine percent,” he wrote. “By the end of 2016, it had dropped by another fifteen percent.”

The declining crowds are a factor in the club’s current state, but even with San Francisco’s population boom, the numbers that need to be hit to recover are ambitious. “To break even, we need to increase our overall attendance by about 800 people a week,” Zawinski says. “And no matter how much I try to wrap my brain around this, I don’t know what the hell to do about it.”

One idea raised is to find an investor, but he’s the first to admit there would be no return. Grants are another option, but a muti-million dollar loan from the city didn’t seem to be able to save Yoshi’s. Corporate rentals are an idea, but hiring someone to manage that doesn’t come cheap, and despite all of this brainstorming, the truth of the situation is that time seems to be running out.

That said, if you want to save DNA Lounge, you may still be able to help: buy tickets for an upcoming show, go big on the bar’s cocktails, and buy a round of slices next door. Because as Zawinski puts it, “If you don’t support DNA Lounge, in a tangible way, it won’t be here any more. Hitting ‘Like’ isn’t enough.”

And unlike Hemlock Tavern, Elbo Room and Bottom of the Hill (which are all under threat from developers), this might be a club we actually have the power to save.

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