Update: Mission Local has learned the inspection will not happen today and Rite Spot will not open tonight.
When the Rite Spot Cafe first opened its doors for business in 1952, Eisenhower was running for president and the Mission District was experiencing an influx of Latinos who would shape the district’s character.
For 60 years, the classic Mission bar operated on the corner of 17th and Folsom streets, until it was shut down last November because of repeated food safety violations.
Now, after a 10-month hiatus and some renovations, the Rite Spot could reopen as soon as today, with an updated kitchen and bathroom.
The atmosphere will be the same at the “funky little dive” famed for its sassy bartenders, said manager Annie Southworth. The venue will sport the same blood-red walls and will continue to host local musicians. “It’s just a little bit tighter of a ship,” Southworth said.
Rite Spot owner Jose Hu spent approximately $150,000 on renovations, Southworth said, mostly to modernize the kitchen with new counters, sinks, ventilation and appliances. The bathroom has also been updated to be wheelchair accessible.
Hu adopted the changes to comply with health codes and as part of a planned update to the 1960s-era kitchen, said Southworth.
On Nov. 29, 2011, Rite Spot was directed to cease operations due to repeated high-risk violations, according to health inspection reports. The reports detail a persistent cockroach infestation dating back to at least 2010, and repeated findings of unsanitary conditions. There were “chronic problems with this particular place,” said Senior Environmental Health Inspector Sheldon Lew.
“Bringing it up to code was pretty important,” Southworth said.
The building’s age was part of the problem. As Mission Local reported in August 2010, it can be more difficult to seal older restaurants from pests. This is one of the first steps toward addressing vermin problems, Lew explained.
There’s work to be done yet to get the Rite Spot ready for its reopening. An inspection report from Sept. 4 shows that the owner has more gaps to seal and wood surfaces to upgrade. Southworth said in an email that the contractors were unable to finish the work in time for the planned Wednesday opening.
The city wants to see businesses succeed and pass inspections, said Lew. “The time we spend on one facility takes away from the time we need to spend on other facilities.” He estimates that each inspector is responsible for inspecting about 300 establishments per year.
A second inspection is scheduled for today. If it gets the go-ahead from the city, the Rite Spot will be ready to open its doors tonight.
On Monday, designers Fiona Bruce and Miles Stegall hung their bold, pop-inspired prints on the Rite Spot’s walls in anticipation of the reopening. “We came out to do this show right before the place closed,” said Bruce. Now the exhibit can go on.
Musician and vocalist Lily Taylor was a frequent performer at the Rite Spot before it closed. The venue was a key part of the local music scene, she said. “I’m just super happy that it’s opening up again. I think it’s important to have eccentric places … and keep the character of the local neighborhood.”