When Txutxo Perez leaves his job at Central City Hospitality House in the Tenderloin at 6 p.m., his day is far from over.
As owner of SUB-Mission, the only all-ages anarchist venue in the Mission, the 50-year-old Perez, who works by day as an art mentor with the homeless and low-income community, has at least five more hours until he can wind down for the night. Equipment checks, e-mailing, alcohol stocking and phone calls to staff are all on his laundry list before the doors open.
“We have a different vision than people who just run a business,” Perez said. “We all know what the city lacks.”
After sharing the 18th and Mission space with a restaurant, two collectives, three art studios and an all-artist staff for two years, his gallery runs more like a commune than a business. But Perez said that getting the place — once a Chinese restaurant — to blossom has taken three years and a lot of work.
“The permits were a pain in the ass. Our five different electrical installations needed permits. We only have one door out to the street, and it’s a lot easier to get a permit if you have two. The city can be pretty mean.” Strangely, the alcohol permit was the easiest to acquire, Perez said.
Before the permits came through, the venue made rent by hosting underground shows at his old studio, Balazo, on 24th and Mission. Although illegal, Balazo — named after a nearby restaurant Perez designed the interior for — was spared any trouble with police. When the lease on that space expired, Perez found his current spot on one of the district’s busiest corners, Mission and 18th.
On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, Perez arrived at the venue in the middle of Happy Homo Hour, a weekly event run by Socorro Hernandez, a staff member and silkscreen artist. “A queer-friendly happy hour is not common in the Latino community,” said Hernandez. The place was empty. It’s the weather, Hernandez said.
People come to SUB-Mission for many reasons, said Perez, who steered away from defining the venue too narrowly. While the typical lineup includes anarchist punk and metal bands, he welcomes all kinds of events — fundraisers, arts, and music from around the world. Last week the venue held a concert to raise money for a man’s immigration lawyer.
At the bar, Perez’s cat, Bandita, perched atop a pillow and lethargically watched the bartender, Janine Arnold, as she sliced limes to serve preliminary drinks to of-age guests.
Arnold, a leather-maker and drummer in the punk band Jellybrains, occupied an upstairs studio space before becoming a staff member. She said the venue is a hit because it provides something for kids to do in an adult-oriented neighborhood.
At 8 p.m., we considered the lineup — six local bands on two stages. Members from Clarissa Explains It All, Havarti Party, and Poor Sons began unloading equipment.
As audience members started to trickle in, Hernandez checked IDs and collected the $5 admission — a typical price for live music at SUB-Mission. Perez said it’s unfair when young artists and musicians perform or showcase their work for next to nothing. SUB-Mission bands take home 50 percent of the profit, while gallery artists who sell their work keep it all, he said.
Perez’s vision is inspired by the anything-goes warehouse nightlife he discovered in 1992 when he first arrived in the Mission. However, underage drinking and raucous behavior isn’t the reputation he wants his business to absorb.
“People have the tradition about going out and getting wasted, getting into trouble,” said Perez. “We’re no bar, and don’t want to make our business selling booze. Our business is more culture-oriented.”
That said, SUB-Mission doesn’t want to limit anyone’s fun. If someone looks too drunk, Perez tells them to just drink a bottle of water and return later.
On Saturday, the band Commissure started off, requesting to play its hypnagogic instrumental music in the back room. Gone is the slow business pace of happy hour. Kids are jammed wall-to-wall, some standing on the back bench just to see the tops of the performers’ heads. The low rafters give the back a squatter-esque feel, but many bands prefer the low ceiling, said Perez.
After their set, one by one, the bands took the main stage. The main room of SUB-Mission is enormous. At the rear, an old flame-painted bus-turned-sound booth hangs over the bar. Television sets dangle from the van in place of wheels.
The elevated stage provided a perfect lift-off spot for guests to crowd surf during the rambunctious Clarissa Explains it All — an audience favorite — and the boisterous garage sounds of Havarti Party and Poor Sons.
As the headlining band, Poor Sons, slid into its final song, a piñata above the stage showered strawberry candies onto the audience below, but few seem to notice.
A little after midnight, everyone had dispersed. Perez, who saves a flyer from every SUB-Mission concert, added another to the stack.