Caroline Brown, owner of the new 24th Street Bar, sat composed in the naturally-lit, wood walled space, reveling in the launch of the bar’s new website: a launch into the world of social media, that she knows little about.
That, she said, will be easy. What was more difficult was moving into the space in June that was formerly home to The Attic, a dive bar with stiff drinks and beloved to some. The Attic’s previously blacked out skylights have been replaced by the 24th Street Bar’s natural light. Concrete covers the floors and donated books fill its shelves.
“There’s a lot of people who miss The Attic, and there still are some people that really want that deep-dive bar back in the neighborhood, and I am hoping that they will give me a chance,” said Brown, who got an early introduction to a backlash in the comments on the 24th Street Bar’s opening on Uptown Almanac, Tablehopper, and SF Weekly. Some comments called the project “the epitome of classic gentrification.”
The reaction took Brown aback.
“I’m not some cool, trendy young person that’s trying to open up the latest fad. I’m not trying to run a popularity contest, I’m trying to run a business and provide for my family,” she said.
She knows the Mission well because 13 years ago she moved her mom, a Cuban immigrant, to a senior home on Capp Street so that she would be in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood.
And, she knows the bar business well. Born and raised in New York City, Brown became a bartender at 16. She loved it and when she moved to San Francisco in her 20s she continued working in various bars around the city.
She soon met her now-late husband – restaurant kids, she said – at a nightclub where they both worked. The two got married and ventured into development and real estate, having two kids along the way.
Brown, who is now 48, said they had moderate success with real estate and developing properties throughout the Bay Area, but then her husband was diagnosed with cancer. After he died, she took a few years off to be with her family and then she decided to return to what she knew best – the bar business.
“After my husband passed, it was a huge decision to go back into the bar business, because I’ve been out of it for so long,” she said. “I wanted to go back into something that I was really intimate with at one point in my life and something that I was really comfortable with, and it some ways it has felt like an old shoe.”
Her hopes for the 24th Street Bar aren’t anything fancy – no frills, no hype, just a bar where you can relax, have a drink that’s moderately priced in a clean environment, and converse with a bartender who knows your name. Almost like the TV show Cheers. Simple.
“I think I owe it to the neighborhood to let me know who I am, the new Latina opening up a bar in the city. I’m a mom, a widow, with two kids, who has a ton of experience in this industry, who loves to cater to people and make people happy, and I’m a business woman. I’m pretty normal,” said Brown.
For now, normal means working seven days a week.
“Bar business is a true labor of love,” said Brown. “It’s a day-to-day operation, it never sleeps, so you never really have any time off because when the doors are closed you are worrying about all things you need to fill it with, so when the doors open its ready for your customers.”
Though dealing with the Planning Department, the Board of Supervisors, contractors, and especially locals who loved the old Attic, can be difficult, Brown believes that she hit a “home run” when going through the hoops of getting her business open.
“I am a businesswoman and I’ve been in business a long time for myself. More than anything else I think it’s being comfortable with your decisions and being comfortable with the people that you work with,” said Brown.
And she couldn’t be happier with the team she has put together. Currently, Brown employs seven bartenders and one doorman for the weekends. The bartenders, she said, are all from different bars in the city who decided to come and work for her.
Jeffrey Ortega, a bartender at 24th Street Bar and previously at The Orbit Room, said that working with Brown has been a delight.
“Me and Caroline hit it off right away,” said Ortega. “That’s how I knew and was like ‘Okay this is going to be fun!’”
Ortega’s aware of the skepticism, but has hopes that customers will change their minds once they meet Brown.
“They don’t know who she is, they don’t know who we are,” Ortega said. “We are kind of on the front lines because we are developing new relationships and we want to earn people’s patronage.”
Brown said that even though there was some negative comments and press after her Board of Supervisors meeting, the neighborhood has been nothing but supportive. And, it’s a good thing.
“I want it to grow old with everyone,” Brown said. “I want to create something that is going to be here forever.”