Johnny Davis of Bender's is feeling optimistic. Photo by Julian Mark

A man walks into a bar. Period. 

Today marks the first day in more than a year that San Francisco bars can partially open indoors without having to provide food to customers. That means all bars can finally reopen after more than a year of pandemic-related turmoil. 

Although many bars have been open indoors since mid-March at partial capacity because they’ve provided meal options to customers, bar owners still hailed today’s milestone as a small turning point. 

“Monetarily, it’s not a game-changer, but it is a step in the right direction,” said Ben Bleiman, who Teeth at Mission and 19th streets, among several others. 

He said that most bars have been open at partial capacity since March, when the city relaxed its restrictions on indoor dining, and most bars will keep serving food to continue operating at 50 percent capacity. Bars that do not serve food can only open at 25 percent capacity, and every bar must seat their patrons. 

As San Francisco moved into the state’s “yellow tier” this week, pool halls and bowling alleys could also open at 50 percent capacity, and outdoor gatherings may expand to 75 participants. 

“It’s gonna be a battle for us until we get back to 100 percent capacity,” said Johnny Davis, a co-owner of Bender’s at South Van Ness Avenue at 19th Street. 

And a battle it has been for Bender’s, which remained largely dormant for an entire year and, like many bars, considered closing down. But the rock ‘n’ roll bar made it, thanks to donations from loyal customers. It began welcoming patrons inside precisely one year after bars were forced to close last March.  

“Folks are definitely still hesitant to come out and join the rest of the party,” Davis said. “But, as more folks get vaccinated and we move forward, folks are getting more comfortable.” 

Marisol Gonzalez, an owner of Lupulandia, a Tijuana-inspired bar and restaurant on Mission Street between 18th and 19th streets, was getting the bar’s interior ready for customers. It was the bar’s first day of business in many months, even though it has had the option to serve food since March.  

“It feels like the right time,” Gonzalez said, adding that being able to serve drinks and food at 50 percent capacity, “we might be able to survive this.” 

The spacious bar and brewery has a capacity of 143, meaning that Gonzalez can serve 70 guests.

Of course, she added, “We’re looking forward to 100 percent.” 

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. We love Johnny and the team at Bender’s. Hoping they and all bars/restaurants and services can recover quickly, safely and fully.