When die-hard fans of the former Elbo Room enter its newly opened replacement, the Valencia Room, they usually say the same thing. “They say they wanted to hate it, but actually, they like it,” the Valencia Room’s Sylvia Holden says.
More patrons will soon make that assessment for themselves. The Valencia Room’s new neon sign, created by Oakland neon specialist Jim Rizzo, is up and turning heads on Valencia Street, and the downstairs bar is open to customers. A “pop-open” party with DJ sets will inaugurate the upstairs space this Saturday, May 25 — though Holden stresses that the Valencia Room is a work in progress. It’s a community-driven space that will develop with time and feedback, says her partner Davin Che: “Let’s not try to be a place that has everything perfect right away.”
Before settling on the simple new Valencia Room name, Che jokes that the team considered naming the bar “Condos.” That’s what everyone thought the Elbo Room was becoming — plans for a high-rise were even drawn up, and the former Elbo Room operators moved their business to Jack London Square.
But in the end, the building’s owners (and the Elbo Room’s founders) sold not to developers, as once considered, but to Steve Schefsky, an owner of Polk Street bar Playland and FiDi bar Topsy’s Fun House. Schefsky bought the building with his partner and two other investors, and brought in Holden and Che to run the business there.
“Steve is basically how I started my career,” says Holden, who bartended and booked jazz acts for Schefsky in the ’90s at his SoMa lounge Cava 555. Before the Valencia Room, she and Che owned a popular neighborhood bar in Brooklyn called Mary’s.
“To come back [to SF] after starting my career here, and for the location of the bar to be the first bar I went to when I moved to San Francisco [the Elbo Room], it’s very weird,” says Holden. “It’s [fitting].”
For Che, too, the Valencia Room is a homecoming: He’s a Bay Area native and longtime Elbo Room fan.
To fill the Elbo Room’s sizable shoes, the Valencia Room’s new owners first had to patch them up. They’ve upgraded everything from the physical bar, which was falling apart, to the bathrooms, which even Elbo Room staff avoided, maintaining beloved fixtures like pinball machines and church-pew booth seating.
“It was restoration over renovation,” says Che. New features include intricate magazine collages across walls and upstairs seating in a Studio 54-style from Valencia Street neighbor Harrington Galleries.
This weekend, the Valencia Room will test another new feature: A Void Acoustics sound system. DJ crew the Unusual Suspects will lead the music at Saturday’s party, featuring sets from DJ Sol, DJ Seven, Miguel Alvarado, Brent Northey, Chuy Fresno, Erik Love, Hella Becca, Shiva Tiffany, and Rolando. The festivities start at 6 p.m. downstairs and 9 p.m. upstairs, with a $10 cover for upstairs guests starting at 10 p.m.
To drink at the new bar, customers will find 10 taps of beer and several wines by the glass. Meanwhile, Valencia Room bartender Leo Gutierrez (Churchill, Blondies) will be fixing cocktails like a nonchalant (tequila, lavender bitters, grapefruit, and ginger beer with an Aperol float) and a vegan “egg white” Stargarita (a drink Holden has put on every bar menu she’s worked at).
“It’s a neighborhood bar first and foremost,” says Gutierrez, “you can enjoy a great craft cocktail, or just get a shot and a beer.”
That’s what many Elbo Room patrons used to do, and at the Valencia Room, a PBR and Old Grand-Dad is just $7. It’s hard to hate that.