On Monday night at Rite Spot Cafe on Folsom and 17th streets, 7-year-old Issac Swanson was breaking loose on the dance floor. At the longtime bar and venue, Issac has been known to do this — but usually to the sound of live music, not the recorded oldies coming out of the speaker system.
“He’s seen more instruments here than most children have seen,” said Issac’s father, JT.
But not of late: Rite Spot has not featured its usual calendar of music since early January, when the San Francisco Entertainment Commission discovered Rite Spot had been operating without an entertainment license. In fact, the famed small venue, a stop-through for many jazz and alternative musicians, has never had an entertainment license in its decades-long history of featuring local acts.
“This is a business that’s been operating with entertainment forever, and we realized they didn’t have a permit,” said Entertainment Commission Director Maggie Weiland.
On Jan. 3, Weiland said, a commission inspector stopped into the bar by happenstance and thought it was “awesome” — but checked the commission’s database and discovered it didn’t have a permit.
That visit meant Rite Spot has had to suspend its live music for the last month and a half. A hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 18, will determine whether live music will continue there. “They haven’t received any opposition,” Weiland said. “I imagine they’ll fly through the hearing easily.”
Weiland added that the commission views every property zoned for entertainment as an asset, as “we went through some major zoning changes in the Mission years ago.” If someone decides to change the building’s use, she said, it could be harder to legally host entertainment shows there in the future.
“That’s why this is so important,” she said. “If we find a place that’s been doing entertainment for a while, we want to make sure we bring them into compliance now.”
Since the pall was cast over the Folsom Street bar in January, patrons and neighbors have written letters supporting Rite Spot’s permit application.
“We have enjoyed decades of uniquely good times in this ‘sub-cultural’ venue,” wrote Debbie Horn, the owner of the Mission District’s Royal Cuckoo, in a letter of support posted on Facebook. “The Rite Spot is iconic, after almost 70 years as a cherished spot, and about 40 years of uniquely S.F. Shows.”
Horn added that “Small venues are in dire economical and vulnerable positions due to increased costs and 20 other extreme factors going on currently.”
Indeed, in January, news broke that Amnesia on Valencia Street, long a haven for local acts, will close its doors Feb. 29. Confirming the closure, Owner Craig Wathen said in a statement last month that the “hard truth is that this business is not fiscally sustainable.”
With San Francisco’s hot real estate market, venues that feature local bands have been shuttering all over town.
But luckily, for the time being, Rite Spot is fighting to continue on.
Ginger Murray, a bartender at Rite Spot, said she can’t wait for the Monday night standup comedy nights to return — and she’s confident they will soon.
“For me,” she said, “what’s been really nice is the outpouring of people really enjoying that this place exists.”