Bottom of the Hill
Via The OCMD, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an absolutely astonishing story this weekend about action by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control targeted at some of the City’s best venues, like Bottom of the Hill, Cafe Du Nord and the Great American Music Hall. This early sentence should get your attention:

Those venues could be forced to close, owners say, if the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, better known as ABC, continues to impose rules that club attorneys argue are legally questionable and often unrelated to booze or safety issues.

It’s not uncommon to hear about a quasi-legal venue getting shut down for operating without a permit or public complaints of excessive noise. It’s simply astonishing, however, to find out that three of the City’s most established, most respected venues have found themselves in the ABC’s sights not because of public complaints, but because of minor ambiguities in documentation, or because they aren’t meeting a particular food sales to alcohol sales ratio:

John Hinman, the attorney representing Cafe Du Nord, said his club was chastised by the ABC for opening to the public at 7 p.m. instead of 5 p.m., the hour owners put on their application form more than 15 years ago.

The owners explained that they open at 5 to feed the bands, Hinman said, but the ABC still challenged their state liquor license. The agency also demanded that the club start selling at least as much food as alcohol, he said, even though that condition was never on the license.

State Sen. Mark Leno should be commended for stepping up to the plate to fight for San Francisco’s live music scene and for recognizing the dangers of the ABC’s expansive and seemingly arbitrary power:

“I believe the ABC has a job to do – of course enforcing the current law and protecting public safety, but also protecting the well-being of businesses,”

[Leno] said. “In San Francisco, we’re doing very well at working out our differences locally, and when you have this outside force that has the power to issue and revoke license and put small businesses out of business, I take it very seriously.”

We’ll keep an eye on this story as it develops.