Virgil’s Sea Room closed permanently in February 2021, after eight years of affordable drinks and fun trivia nights. It was sad news for barhoppers and fans of the queer bar at the top of Mission Street, where it borders on Bernal Heights. But now, a trio of local bartenders, with a lot of affection for the neighborhood and bar, are grabbing the keys. Mothership is the name of the new bar taking over the space, which will be rocking a far-out and funkadelic space vibes, and it’s planning to open this fall.
Mothership is a team effort with a trio of new owners: Joanna Ricco was a bartender at El Rio for eight years, before launching her practice as a psychotherapist in the last couple of years. Alicia Griffiths has tended bar for Brass Tacks and Junior, before becoming a video producer in the last couple of years. And Sean Mabry worked at the Knockout across the street for an impressive 12 years, he says, in every capacity.
All three may pitch in behind the bar at the new Mothership from time to time, but Mabry will be running the day-to-day operations. They’re all old industry friends: Griffiths and Mabry are actually a couple, who met-cute on the dance floor of the Knockout, and used to belt karaoke at El Rio when Ricco was working a shift. Griffiths lived just around the corner from Virgil’s for 10 years, and Mabry moved in with her for the last five years of those.
Mabry self describes as “a huge sci-fi nerd,” with an extensive collection of vintage T-shirts, and after a wildly imaginative brainstorming process, the friends landed on “Mothership” as the right name for their first bar. “We want the place to feel like a home base,” Ricco says. “Mothership could have alien vibes, but the whole concept is this is your home base, your community is here.” But, Griffiths interjects, “there is also a funkadelic space vibe,” which was “very important.”
They aren’t planning on gutting Virgil’s, the bar they’ve known and loved for so many years, but they will be repainting the interior in jewel tones for more “cool spacey vibes,” and loading up the back patio with plants for a “lush mother earth.” Cocktails will be “fresh, forward, and unpretentious,” Mabry says, featuring fresh juices and house syrups, with pitchers and carafes for the patio. They’ll also be pouring natural wine and craft beer and cider, along with creative no-ABV and gluten-free options. And they’re keeping it affordable with a beer and a shot, too. Mothership won’t have a full food menu, but there may be a few snacks, and as was the case at Virgil’s, it’s cool to go grab a taco and bring it back (“if you clean up after yourself”).
The goal is to eventually bring back some of the events and the sense of community that this space has been known for, which doesn’t just mean parties, but also events for nonprofits, pop-up vendor fairs, book fairs, plant sales, and more. Riding on the reopening energy from this summer, Mothership hopes to open by mid-fall 2021. “For us, it feels like coming home,” Griffiths says. “We’ve been serving these same friends and community for more than 15 years.” And, “it’s home turf for all three of us,” Ricco says.