State Senator Scott Wiener is reviving his efforts to extend last call in San Francisco to 4 a.m., arguing that the move would be a boon to the city’s nightlife culture and economy. But in the Mission, many bar owners are skeptical.
One who isn’t is Ben Bleiman, who owns four bars in San Francisco, including Teeth on Mission Street. He is also the founder of the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance.
Bleiman stood beside Wiener at a press conference last month to announce the reintroduction of the senator’s bill to extend last call.
“New Orleans, London, Chicago, New York City — every place that’s world class allows people to stay at a bar until at least 4 a.m.,” he said.
Wiener has used such backing as well as the support of organizations like the Golden Gate Restaurant Association as proof of widespread industry support for his bill. But across the Mission, it was difficult to find other owners who shared Bleiman’s enthusiasm.
Many, like Carey Suckow of Doc’s Clock on Mission Street and H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir on 16th Street, said that while they can see the cultural benefits of some bars staying open later, neither would pursue it for their own business.
Others are flat-out opposed to the proposal as a whole.
“It’s a terrible idea,” said Peter Athanas, who owns Kilowatt on 16th Street.
For him, it’s one of the aspects of the bill that is particularly bothersome: bars would have to apply to extend their hours, a process that would favor areas with less of a residential presence.
“Most likely, that little bar in your quiet neighborhood will never be open until 4 a.m.,” Bleiman said.
For Athanas, this is a problem and would create an “unfair playing field,” he said.
Even if the opportunity to stay open later were offered to all, Athanas said he doesn’t believe two extra hours would bolster profits.
“Lights on, water on, employees to pay — as an owner, I don’t see an increase,” he said.
Athanas is not alone in questioning the profitability promised by the bill.
“Do I think it’s a zero-sum game?” pondered Tom Tierney, owner of Pop’s on 24th Steet. “Yeah, probably.”
Daniel Hyatt, bar manager at 25 Lusk, who lives in the Mission and has worked in the neighborhood on and off for nearly two decades, said that staying open for two more hours won’t mitigate the high cost of labor in San Francisco.
On the list of cities with later last calls, the only one with a higher minimum wage than San Francisco is Washington, D.C., at $15 an hour — and San Francisco will catch up to that rate next year.
More importantly, D.C. and others on the list, including Chicago and New York City, allow businesses to pay workers who make tips — like bartenders — less than the minimum wage.
Bleiman said that a 4 a .m. close would allow San Francisco and the five other cities included in the bill (Oakland, Los Angeles, Sacramento, West Hollywood, and Long Beach) to compete with other major cities for cocktail convention business and tourism.
However, it’s unclear if San Francisco is wanting for visitors. The city had another record-breaking year in 2016, according to San Francisco Travel.
This isn’t the first time that attempts to extend last call in California have been made. Former State Senator Mark Leno proposed the change several times, most recently in 2013. And Wiener introduced a slightly different version of his bill earlier this year.
That first bill encompassed the whole state, instead of just the six cities Wiener now wants to focus on. The Senate Public Safety Committee approved it in March, but in September, Senate Appropriations Committee replaced it with a task force to investigate the risks of extended hours.
In late November, Wiener announced he will introduce a revised bill affecting only those cities that have demonstrated support for his efforts.
Bleiman called efforts to keep the state’s last call time at 2 a.m. “embarrassing” and “prohibitionist.”
For other Mission bar owners, however, other concerns take precedence.
Pop’s Tierney, for instance, said that while he has no “negative feelings about the bill,” he isn’t looking to expand his own hours.
“I’m in a neighborhood,” he said. “I’ve got people who live above me and around me. I don’t foresee us wanting to make more of a presence past 2 a.m.”
Pop’s opens at 6 a.m., to serve those who work through the night.
“We feel like we’re doing our part to service outside the regular hours already,” Tierney said. Also, he added, “we need time to clean.”
Others in the Mission said that a later closing time doesn’t align with the realities of San Francisco’s nightlife scene or civic infrastructure.
“San Francisco is not ready for that kind of extension,” said Shea Shawnson, a manager at Elixir.
For him, the biggest problem is San Francisco’s lack of early-morning options for public transportation.
Allowing bars to stay open until 4 a.m., he said, gives people “two more hours to imbibe without an [affordable] way to safely get home.”
To introduce this bill without first extending the hours of public transportation is “putting the cart before the horse,” Shawnson said.
Will Popko, who manages Bear vs. Bull inside the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater on Mission Street, said that many people already face a dilemma when going out in San Francisco: leave early to catch the last train home, or stay out and pay for a pricey ride later.
He said he’s worried that later hours might increase the number of instances in which people decide to forego both options and get behind the wheel.
Data compiled by the AAA Foundation for Safety shows drunk driving is most common on weekend nights between midnight and 3 a.m. However, Senator Wiener’s office has aggregated research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to show that, nationwide, there is no correlation between later last calls and DUI-related deaths.
Still, many agree that a robust public transportation system is a necessary component to a thriving nightlife.
“If you’ve got public transportation running 24 hours — and restaurants open later serving people food after they’ve been drinking — it works,” said Daniel Hyatt.
To Hyatt, the absence of those things, coupled with the city’s sleepy reputation, its high cost of labor, and the difficulty of finding people who will work all night, make the idea of a later last call a tough sell in San Francisco.
“I’m not opposed to the option for people,” he said. “I just don’t see a lot of people jumping to it.”
Popko said he can see it benefitting venues and nightclubs, which may already stay open until 4 a.m. but are currently required to stop serving alcohol at 2.
He also wonders if a later last call could expand all forms of nightlife in San Francisco, including dining.
“I would love to be able to go get some amazing dumplings at 4:30 in the morning if the mood strikes me,” he said. “Maybe it will change the city.”
Others, however, don’t feel San Francisco needs to change.
A manager and bartender at The 500 Club, who goes by Bone, scoffed at supporters of the bill’s reasoning.
“We’re not a world-class city unless we have bars that stay open until 4 a.m.?” he asked. “That’s ridiculous.”
Kilowatt’s Athanas agreed. “[San Francisco] is still a beautiful place to visit,” he said. “And you’ll feel better the next day.”