Gestalt. Photo by Lydia Chávez. Taken April 15, 2022.

Gestalt is on its last legs, and only more feet in the door could change that. 

The dive bar at 3159 16th St. known for live music, pinball, simple sausages and beer could soon close; it has just enough money in the bank to survive through May. After that, it’s anyone’s guess, said owner Dan Hawkins, but he remains optimistic.

“We’re fighting,” Hawkins said. “But we’re hanging on by a thread.”

Hawkins’ business account contains roughly $6,000, which will cover a month, maybe two months’ rent. Fortunately, both his landlord and Pacific Gas and Electric Company have given him breaks, he said. That doesn’t help the low amount of revenue, though. Lately, Friday nights average just $700 in sales, compared to a couple grand pre-pandemic. “It’s pathetic,” Hawkins said. 

He may dip into his own savings or ask a family member to help him get to the summer, when business is generally better. The bar is trying out various events in the hope of attracting more customers: Pinball tournaments, sports nights, new musical acts. Survival hinges on balancing the books. 

“It’s about fine-tuning my revenue and the expenses of this bar,” Hawkins said. “And about whether I can buy beer.” 

The Mission Pinball Club met for the second time on February 16, 2016 at Gestalt at 3159 16th St. Photo by Laura Waxmann.

He quickly learned in January that offering live gigs every night of the week was a “mistake,” because not enough people turned out. Lately, the Gestalt owner spends 30 to 40 percent of his gross earnings on music gigs, which earn a return “one-fifth of the time.” 

“It’s not the musicians’ fault, it’s just not enough people coming out yet. It will take a long time for people to get comfortable to come out in the bars, if they even care to,” Hawkins said.  

The drastically reduced crowds on 16th Street hurts the most. Before the pandemic, Gestalt used to feed off the “overflow” of Double Dutch guests across the street, but it’s shuttered, now. Other neighboring businesses that thrived on nightlife also sorely miss the late-night crowd. We reported last week that Arinell Pizza at 16th and Valencia streets may serve its last slice soon. 

Those who do come out don’t stay long. Because of the bar’s location and proximity to residential homes, Gestalt cannot apply for a cabaret license, which allows live performances or DJ sets until 2 a.m., Hawkins said. That means most performances end by 11 p.m., causing partiers to disperse toward Valencia Street and leave Hawkins “all alone in the bar.” 

Vernice Tafao and her friends watch the game at Gestalt. “For me, this is not just a game,” she said. “It’s tradition. It’s like a treasure.” Photo by Marta Franco. Taken February 2013.

Now that San Francisco has an extremely high rate of vaccinations, Hawkins said it’s time the city encourages customers to come back “and stop with the fearmongering.”

Hawkins received one $15,000 grant from the state and a Payroll Protection Program loan for payroll, but both are long gone. 

He didn’t qualify for a bar and live music grant because the bar didn’t offer music long enough. On top of that, the city sent him a bill last February to pay for current permits, and fined the bar $900 in penalties for missing last year’s deadlines. In total, the bill comes out to $4,600; he’s paying it on a $600 a month payment plan.   

“Ease up the fees and penalties,” Hawkins said. “I was just like, this is unbelievable. Are they trying to put me out of business? It’s bureaucracy at its worst. It really is.”

Nonetheless, the bar that’s been around since 2007 is still hanging in there. 

“We have a lot of people who really appreciate this place, and a lot of really talented people. The local regulars encourage me to keep going,” Hawkins said. If they do go down, “we will go down swinging.”

Gestalt has a GoFundMe. If you’re so inclined, donate here.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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6 Comments

  1. Nicely done. & thanks for spreading the word. Hope folks come out & support local spots like Gestalt & Arinell’s!
    -DJ TophOne
    (spinning at Gestalt next Friday the 22nd!)

  2. quite unfortunate, but i hope dan gives it a go through summer.

    his musical bookings are very good, but they’re just not attracting the crowds he used to get.

    the pandemic truly wreaked havoc on many local places.

    (great beer selection, btw)

  3. The so called drive bars in SF seems to be priced for yuppies. It’s a reminder of how Mission got gentrified. What was edgy and cool for the working class is no longer affordable to working class, instead it’s geared for those wealthier folks that moved in.
    I suspect more places will close until, regular people can afford stuff.

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