S.F. Board of Supervisors creates Music and Leisure Venue Restoration Fund

Lynn Schwarz, co-owner of Bottom of the Hill, poses for a portrait at Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco’s venue, which has been closed since March 2020. Schwarz recently spoke publicly at a meeting of the regulators’ budget and finance committee calling on them to support the San Francisco Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund. Photo: Marlena Sloss, special for the chronicle

The San Francisco board of directors unanimously voted Tuesday, February 9, to set up a San Francisco Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund to provide grants to venues hit by the pandemic.

The mayor’s office pledged $ 1.5 million to the fund suggested by supervisor Matt Haney in December. Any venue that meets at least two of the following criteria will be given priority: 1) There is an “imminent risk” of being closed. 2) it is at least 15 years old; 3) it’s an official legacy business; 4) its maximum capacity is less than 1,000 customers; 5) It is important for a particular cultural district.

The Office of Small Business will manage the fund in collaboration with the City Controller, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Entertainment Commission.

“We anticipate that many of these venues will also have access to federal funds from the Save Our Stages stimulus,” supervisor Haney told The Chronicle after the fund was handed over. “But we don’t want to take any chances with these venues because they are so unique and important. We want to make sure there is a special fund in place to make sure they are not left out. “

Lynn Schwarz, co-owner of Bottom of the Hill, poses for a portrait at the venue. Schwarz is optimistic with the adoption of the San Francisco Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund. “I’m just very hopeful that we can save the scene for the first time,” says Schwarz. Photo: Marlena Sloss, special for the chronicle

Immediately, the San Francisco organizers celebrated the approval of the fund, despite realizing that $ 1.5 million won’t go very far.

It’s extreme, extremely wonderful, ”said Lynn Schwarz, partner at Bottom of the Hill, where she is also the lead booker and bartender. The Portrero Hill venue has some cash to pay the bills thanks to a grant from the Hellman Foundation (which oversees the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival at Golden Gate Park) and other sources, but Black estimates those dollars will run out next Month.

“I am very grateful that it finally happened. Personally, I wish it had happened a little sooner, ”said D’Arcy Drollinger, owner and artistic director of the Oasis gay nightclub in South of Market, adding that $ 1.5 million.is not a number that is going to have a significant impact on all of the venues that so desperately need them. “

D’Arcy Drollinger illuminates the ghost light on the stage of his Oasis nightclub in San Francisco. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Mickey Darius, general manager of the Lost Church (another Hellman Foundation grantee), says the mayor’s $ 1.5 million allocation “shows that we worked as a squeaky wheel, but it doesn’t ensure that the Lost Church gets some of it. (The fund had no money behind it when Haney first suggested it.)

Darius added that local event associations he belongs to – a fundraising group called the Independent Venue Alliance and a lobby group called the San Francisco Venue Coalition – have conducted internal surveys to get a more accurate estimate of real needs for the nightlife and entertainment industry. Using anonymously submitted data on profits, losses and the number of employees, the groups calculate that they will need $ 48 million to cover their losses.

“We don’t try to do things like, ‘Oh, if we ask, we just let them turn the tap on,” said Darius. “We try to be realistic about what we ask.”

To that end, Schwarz and Darius hope the venues can make up the difference with the help of the private sector, and Haney supports that opportunity.

“We’re going to put a vehicle across the city so people can donate to the fund,” he said, citing the precedent of Give2SF, the city’s COVID relief fund, which accepts private donations. However, this new vehicle would be intended for entertainment venues. He also noted that the Venue Relief Fund is permanent and hopes it can top up its coffers as part of the city’s next budget cycle.

Lynn Schwarz, co-owner of Bottom of the Hill, poses for a portrait at the venue. Photo: Marlena Sloss, special for the chronicle

At stake is the city’s identity – a San Francisco without venues like Bottom of the Hill “wouldn’t be the city a musician would want to live in,” said Schwarz, while Drollinger said Oasis couldn’t go on without help.

“I am heavily in debt. The association is heavily in debt. I’ve put my savings into it. I’m all there, ”he said. “It’s so frustrating to say, ‘You can’t start your business and we won’t find any help for you.’ ”

Even so, Drollinger has adapted during the pandemic, creating meals on heels where a drag queen brings a gourmet meal to your home and performs a lip-syncing concert outside your door. Oasis TV with the news and gossip segment “Hot Trash”; Rooftop and parklet food when no closings are imposed on the city; the Suds & Studs fundraising campaign, “a socially distant, large gay car wash”; and now trivia and bingo as virtual team building activities for companies.

D’Arcy Drollinger brushes a wig for drag shows at his Oasis nightclub in San Francisco. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

“It feels like we’ve kept starting new businesses,” he said, adding that each of those new businesses has startup costs and each network is often only enough to pay its employees.

Insurance, rental, and utility bills are not lost, and minor expenses add up. Drollinger still needs to fix the alarm system if it breaks, or replace the outside TV screen if it’s stolen, or repaint the building if it’s destroyed. Fixing a leak in the locker room isn’t going to happen – although it’s now damaged wigs, he said.

And he put on 40 pounds from the stress.

I keep asking myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” The worst that could happen is that Oasis doesn’t exist for a while like it does now, ”he said. “I can’t even wrap my head around this reality.”


  • Lily Janiak

    Lily Janiak is the theater critic for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: ljaniak@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @LilyJaniak