The party vibes hit you right as you step onto the El Rio patio. Imagine the sounds of old-school R&B songs like “People Everyday” by Arrested Development or “Make It Last Forever” by Keith Sweat floating on the air, as folks in-the-know pack the dance floor and sway to the beat, ribs in hand.
R&B and Ribs is the brainchild of Kelvin Castellanos, DJ and former sous chef at Nopalito, and is produced every other month with chef-friend Eric Ehler, of the upcoming Outta Sight Pizza, who handles the ribs end of the equation. “I always wanted to find a way to bridge both of my favorite things together, which is music and food,” Castellanos says. “My original idea was, let me invite different DJ friends and then invite different chef friends as well; the only rule will be there has to be ribs on the menu and then for the DJ, the only rule is that there has to be R&B music vibes all day.”
For those who grew up on old-school R&B, this party is a welcome addition to the Sunday bar scene. The event has been running since 2018, but the day party hit the peak of its popularity with an event at the end of February 2020, two weeks before the shutdowns happened in March. The parties were, of course, halted, but there was no question over whether to bring it back once gatherings were allowed again; Castellanos said many attendees of that last event reached out during the pandemic with appreciation that R&B and Ribs was their last party before lockdown. “People have been really taking a liking to it,” Castellanos says. “So I feel like we’re onto something.”
The party roared back in July 2021 and has been gathering steam ever since, eventually landing at El Rio’s lush outdoor patio every other month. At every event, expect crowds dancing and singing along to the music, paired with backyard party food — except it’s made by a chef with serious professional chops. Ribs are a necessity, but rather than complicate things, Ehler understands the assignment and, going with the flow of the party, offers what he calls “dad ribs.”
“I started doing ‘dad ribs’ because it’s blatantly not barbecue, it’s not low- and slow-smoked ribs, you know?” Ehler says. “There’s no dogma to it. Everyone can get down on a cooked, kinda sweet and tacky, smoky, fall-off-the-bone rib. … It’s something that you can crush super fast and dance.” Ehler plans his menus around the dad rib, adding in “something on a bun” like a hot dog or chicken teriyaki sandwich, vegan and vegetarian options, plus a wildcard or two. Ehler’s friends, Sean Walsh and Kelly Teramoto of pop-up 2x4 bBox have also jumped in to add in a few items, Ehler says, such as spam musubi — all easily snackable, picnic-y food. Ehler promises nothing costs over $15; two ribs can be picked up for $8, for instance, or a mac salad for $5, or the aforementioned spam musubi for $2.
It’s clear to see the events are a hit not only with attendees but also those running the 1s and 2s; DJs like Castellanos, Four Color Zack, and SpydaT.E.K. spin older hits like “Creep” by TLC and “Rock Steady” by The Whispers, while those in the crowd dance. “I think all the DJs really love playing the party, because it’s not a club gig,” Castellanos says. “It’s very much like you can play a lot more eclectic sounds during Sunday afternoon.”
Ehler says that despite the fact that neither he nor Castellanos are San Francisco natives, the events create an opportunity to carve out their own niche and bring soul back into the city. “I have my hands in my other projects or whatever, but [R&B and Ribs] is also just something that continues to push the idea of bringing Old San Francisco back,” Ehler says. “A lot of people do come up to us and say, ‘Wow, you guys are bringing culture back, this feels like such an OG San Francisco vibe,’ which is probably the best compliment that we can receive,” Castellanos adds.
R&B and Ribs will be hosting its next party at El Rio (3158 Mission Street) on June 5.