San Francisco nightclub fills a sweet spot | Culture

Taylor Swift stans lined up in a semi-single line – abuzz with anticipation, waiting for RED: The Taylor Swift Dance Party to enter the DNA Lounge main room. A hundred yards away, a totally different crowd packed in a line. This group sported fewer cardigans, but shone just as iridescent with wearable sequins. They reunited for the 11th anniversary of Dystopia Drum & Bass, a DJ set presented on the Above DNA stage. From the gates, attendees of Mortified, “a comedic dig into teen writing, art, and media” poured in. With two stages, four dance floors, seven bars and a restaurant, DNA Lounge at SoMa popped up this Spring Friday to have something for everyone.

“It’s basically like heaven for someone with ADD,” says Daniel Imani, the venue’s talent buyer. “You can be anyone from a cowboy to a tattoo artist to a raver to a house chef to a techie. Any night.

The enormous house of music is tucked away on 11th Street between Folsom and Harrison Streets, one stem in a bunch of nightclubs along this strip. Across the street is Butter, a white trash-themed bar, and two doors down is Audio, a 70s-inspired space. Among the headbangers or burlesquers who frequent DNA, many share a unique quality: they are over 18, but under 21. And they need a place to party.

Despite the city’s six four-year colleges, DNA Lounge is one of the few venues in San Francisco that offers events for adults under 21.

“An 18-year-old can do pretty much anything. The only thing they can’t do is drink alcohol,” says Tu Vu, president of events company Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. , who often promotes acts with DNA Lounge “You can drive and go to rock concerts and you can go to strip clubs, go to college, but there’s this lack of access to entertainment. The cool thing about DNA is that they offer that.

The nightclub opened in 1983 as a leather bar, under the name Chaps. In 1985 it was reinstated under new ownership as DNA Lounge. In 1994, the keys changed hands, but the name remained. It was purchased in 1999 by the current owner, Jamie Zawinski. An early programmer at Netscape, Zawinski left his career in software to venture into the much more lucrative nightclub business (haha, just kidding).

Under Zawinski’s ownership, the space offered a supervised space for adults under 21 to experience the nightlife.

“We want a safe place for the younger kids to party, you know. Warehouse stuff has been clamped down significantly. And a lot of those things can be kind of a dangerous environment,” says Imani, referring to the riskier nature of unregulated parties, which may lack exit routes, proper facility infrastructure, or mitigation measures. risks.

California liquor laws require venues to be licensed as a restaurant if they are to host concerts for all ages or 18+. So in 2010, when the club expanded to the nearby pizzeria, Zawinski was able to allow over 18 events to take place on the dance floor. And beyond permits, pizza sales have helped offset lost liquor revenue due to younger clientele.

But the transition from 21 and over has not been a simple storyline.

For a year after the change, the club was embroiled in licensing disputes with the San Francisco Police Department and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The club, called by its prosecutors a “disorderly house detrimental to the public welfare and morals”, racked up $125,000 in legal fees, according to NBC Bay Area – but emerged victorious. Rather than being forced to close, the club suspended operations for a few weeks under a settlement.

Fun under fire was characteristic of The City circa 2010, Zawinski notes in an email to The Examiner. “Much of the local press referred to the years surrounding this dark period in San Francisco’s history as ‘the war on pleasure’.”

Legally, pleasure prevailed. But there are still anti-jouissance soldiers on the ground.

“There’s this kind of arrogance that comes with some of the over-21s, especially the over-30s,” Imani says. “They think, ‘Oh, these young people need to learn from their elders, they need to learn from us.’ But in fact, it should be the other way around. Most of the new music that comes out comes from the younger generation.

Vu, whose company was responsible for the Taylor Swift tribute, doesn’t change its events when it plans an 18-plus show against an older crowd, nor does the show. Really, it’s just the music that can differ based on demographics. If a performer has been around for a while or clearly caters to an older audience, the club will raise the requirement to 21+ – but primarily to make it conceptually more palatable to drinking-age adults who don’t like not the idea of ​​moshing. in a sea of ​​munchkins.

It’s a concern clubbing grumps have voiced – but it’s steeped in misconceptions, Imani insists. Even on an 18+ night, most guests (Imani dares an estimate of 70%) are still over 21. And, it’s sure to remind everyone, these kids are our future – and they’re definitely the ones bringing in the new artists.

“The 30+ crowd tends to be a bit jaded and just hang around…while the 18+ crowd, they’re having fun, they’re still zest for life,” he said .

At the point of Imani, research conducted in 2018 by Curry’s PC World, in the form of a survey of 5,000 people, found that after 30 years, clubbing was becoming boring, even taboo. The study found that 37 was the threshold for “too old”.

So shake up, kids.

cguaglianone@sfexaminer.com

Jerry C. Greiner