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Shotwells’s, Trad’r Sam’s, and the Knockout Shut Down for Alleged COVID-19 Violations

The head of SF’s bar lobby says he’s glad they did

This crowd of maskless, standing drinkers was spotted in San Francisco on October 31, 2020.

San Francisco’s Department of Public Health (DPH) has shut down at least 10 bars across the city, saying that even after repeated warnings, the venues continued to violate health orders intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. And according Ben Bleiman, the city’s most vocal defender of bars and nightlife, they should shut down even more.

ABC 7 was first to report that 11 bars and one coffee shop were temporarily closed by the DPH after public health inspectors say that the spots engaged in scofflaw behavior. Speaking to the broadcast station, Principal Environmental Health Inspector Terrence Hong says the closures were prompted by several issues, including “not properly socially distancing, gathering, and serving alcohol without a bonafide meal,” as well as “not having the patron sit with [a] bona fide meal” and “turning it into more of a bar,” as opposed to — as state and local health rules currently require — a seated venue at which food and drinks are served.

In an earlier iteration of its online article, ABC7 said that the venues that were shuttered due to health order violations include the Knockout (3223 Mission St), El Trebol Sports Bar (3149 22nd St.), Coffeeshop (2761 21st St.), the Valencia Room (647 Valencia St.), the Midway (900 Marin St.), the Endup (401 6th Street), Shotwell’s (3349 20th St.), Delirium Cocktails (3139 16th St.), Trad’r Sam’s (6150 Geary Blvd.), Mr. Bing’s (201 Columbus Ave), and Amsterdam Cafe (930 Geary Blvd.) According to DPH spokesperson Jenna Lane, that list is accurate, but she hastened to add that all of those closures were only temporary, and that as of November 11, all the bars had reopened.

When contacted by Eater SF, Bleiman said that this was the first he’d heard of the closures, but “I’m glad.” Bleiman’s the head of the California Music & Culture Association (CMCA), a 450-member-strong lobbying group for San Francisco’s bar and nightlife industry. He’s also the president of the city’s Entertainment Commission and owns the Tonic Nightlife Group, the business behind popular bars like Teeth and Soda Popinski’s. He declined to speak about any bars by name, but said that he, and the members of the CMCA have been “really upset” by “bad actors” in the nightlife space, and that he’s happy to hear that the city is closing down venues where social distancing and mask rules aren’t being enforced.

Here’s how it works, Lane says: Members of the public will call 311 to report a scofflaw business, and inspectors with the DPH’s Food Safety Program will then conduct “a thorough investigation” that includes independent verification of the violation, an inspection of the premises, and “education to address any lack of understanding of the health order requirements.”

Most of the notices of violation the DPH has issued to bars have involved “improper or lack of proper facial covering...improper social distancing and facilities serving alcohol without a bona fide meal.”

Lane says that all of the venues on the list “were temporarily closed due to ongoing, repeat violations,” as “facilities who are repeat violators of the health order, are considered a public health and safety risk and are directed to temporarily close until such a time that a (re)submitted Health & Safety Plan is reviewed and approved by the Food Safety Program.” Before they’re allowed to reopen, “the department conducts an on-site compliance check prior to allowing a re-occupying of the facility,” Lane says.

“People can’t get it right all the time,” Bleiman said of the maze of restrictions facing bars, which include rules on music (not allowed, as it causes people to raise their voices to speak and this increases the potential for viral spread), televisions (they’re not allowed to be on indoors), and the types of meals a bar must serve to be allowed to also sell a drink (the state Alcoholic Beverage Control requires what they call “bona fide meals,” as opposed to, say, chips and dip). But the bar owners he works with “are all trying to do their best,” Bleiman says, which is why places that fail to follow the rules “deeply offend us.”

Of specific concern, Bleiman says, are places where “people are standing around, drinking, with no masks and like it’s business as usual.” (Current health orders require patrons of bars that serve food to remain seated, as that’s the best way to maintain social distance.) “Then the music’s blaring, people are yelling...they’re spreading the fricking virus and then none of us can open.”

Bleiman isn’t the only one who’s observed risky behavior in bars. Not only did ABC 7 air footage of maskless crowds at El Trebol and Mr. Bings, but an Eater SF tipster, who was dining outdoors on Halloween, says they went inside the bar to use the restroom, and was confronted with “a crowd of maskless people.” (That’s their photo, above). When they asked the manager why no one was masked, they were told “because they’re drinking...” An attempt to contact the bar for information on its policies was not responded to as of publication time.

Even San Francisco Mayor London Breed, as part of her explanation for why all indoor dining must cease as of 11:59 p.m. on Friday, the 13th, called bar-goers out for special criticism, saying “people are hanging out at bars and people are getting comfortable and complacent.” It’s something that Bleiman says he’s witnessed as well, and he says “it’s just incredibly offensive.”

“95 percent of [bars] are enforcing the rules as well as they can,” Bleiman says, “and then these other places take advantage of the situation and making money when businesses that comply are barely hanging on.” For now, bars that serve food can continue to serve patrons outdoors after Friday, while bars without food — which had hoped to reopen “mid-November,” per SF’s recently scrapped timeline — remain completely closed for an indeterminate period of time.

“We don’t want to be lumped in with them,” Bleiman says of scofflaw bars and restaurants, which he notes “are going to make more and more people sick, and keep us shut down for so much longer that we would be if people just followed the rules.” So he’s glad the DPH cracked down on these venues, and he hopes that it will continue, saying “we encourage the city to find all the offenders and either bring them into compliance or close them down.”