Brick & Mortar

Brick & Mortar Music Hall hasn’t been around that long – just a couple years – but it has already established itself as a vital part of the Bay Area music scene. From epic Noise Pop shows and first ever Moon Block Party in the Bay Area to countless record release parties and just all-around stellar shows night after night, it seems like every other killer show that I have to be at is going down at the former jazz supper club under the highway on-ramp.

So when news broke about the San Francisco Entertainment Commission placing restrictions on the club’s operations – an 80 decibel sound limit and earlier closing times, among other things – due to unresolved sound issues, the local blogosphere was all over it.

People freaked out that the club might be closing, posted messages of support for Brick & Mortar and live music in the Bay Area, and ranted against the Entertainment Commission and the yuppies ruining the neighborhood. Frustrated neighbors of Brick & Mortar jumped in with plenty of thoughts on the situation, most of them quite heated. And then, of course, there was the charge dropped by Jason Perkins, managing partner of Parish Entertainment Group, which owns Brick & Mortar: Perkins claims that the Entertainment Commission’s sole inspector, Vajra Granelli, is punishing Brick & Mortar for refusing to employ the security company Granelli founded.

The claim’s merit deserves scrutiny, which we here at The Bay Bridged are in no position to determine. We’ll leave that to the proper authorities. I did ask SF Entertainment Commission executive director Jocelyn Kane if she could comment on the accusation, and she emailed me: “I can say the City is taking all necessary steps to ensure that all staff are in compliance with all applicable laws and policies regarding incompatible activities.”

That’s a bureaucratic answer, I realize, but this could be an ongoing investigation for all I know, so I’ll leave it at that. Instead, given the fact that The Bay Bridged is all about the music community in the Bay Area, I wanted to focus on why there’s an ongoing battle between one of SF’s best new clubs and its neighbors. What’s the beef? And what’s the latest on Brick & Mortar’s status?

Good news and bad news

The good news is, the board of appeals has granted Brick & Mortar a new hearing, and all restrictions have been lifted pending that hearing, according to Perkins. So if you have tickets to a show coming up at Brick & Mortar soon, your tickets are still good, the music won’t be restricted to a mere 80 decibels, and the show won’t be getting cut off early.

Of course that is bad news to the neighbors with a legitimate beef against the club—and no, sadly, it’s not all yuppies who moved to SF last week because they took a job at Facebook and didn’t like the noise so they had the Brick & Mortar shut down. I wish it was, too, because I don’t like yuppies any more than you do. But there are people whose quality of life is being impacted by sound leaking out of Brick & Mortar, and in that regard the Entertainment Commission is just doing its job.

The thing is, the folks at Brick & Mortar know there’s a problem too, and they’re trying to fix it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I have played many shows at Brick & Mortar, and also hosted a launch party at the club earlier this year for a company I founded. While giving me the tour, the Brick & Mortar staff showed me all of the soundproofing that has been done to the venue. This was before the issue blew up and without my even asking. So I’m not just willing to believe Brick & Mortar management when they say they’ve been working to address the complaints about sound leakage—I’ve seen it myself.

Perkins told me via email that he has done three rounds of soundproofing improvements to the club, and is currently working on a fourth. “We have no problems fixing issues we know about,” Perkins says.

So what’s the beef?

It’s important to note that not all of Brick & Mortar’s neighbors have a problem with the club. In fact, many never did. “Most neighbors don’t experience any sound issues, and consider the club a neighborhood amenity,” says Stephen Schur, who lives directly behind Brick & Mortar, where the primary leakage issue is supposedly occurring, and has never heard any noise from the club.

But that’s not what everybody says. Take anonymous blog commenters for what they’re worth, but a lot of people speaking on behalf of the neighborhood seem pretty mad. The most extreme think Jason Perkins is not dealing with his club’s neighbors in good faith. Here is the perspective of Jim G (no relation to me, I swear):

Here is an example of Mr. Perkin’s opinion of his neighbors, and shows just how much he wants to “work with” us…

The links lead to a pic of a petition posted on a telephone pole (allegedly by Perkins, though that’s unconfirmed) seeking neighbors of Brick & Mortar to help save the club from people who “move into our City and then seek to change the scene to their liking.” It then implores: “SAVE THE MISSION from becoming a BEDROOM COMMUNITY for Silicon Valley!”

There’s plenty of overblown rhetoric like that from both sides of the club versus neighbor debate, but it seems like everyone just wants to work it out. Here’s a pretty typical comment, again from the SF Bay Guardian:

It was the neighbors who started all these complaints, and it was the neighbors who asked Vajra and the Entertainment Commission to get involved. The fact is that

[Brick & Mortar has] been out of compliance for a very long time and have made life very difficult for the surrounding community by their incessant loud noise. While one can argue that their neighbors live in a city and should be used to noise, Brick and Mortar popped up long after most of the residents have been living there, many for 30+ years, and the noise is well beyond a mere nuisance.

It should be noted, however, that this comment closes with the following, which is a sentiment many of the commenters, irate or not, go out of their way to express:

The neighbors do not want the venue to close, they simply want to coexist peacefully but Jason Perkins belittling of the neighbors over the years has made this impossible.

What has Perkins done to belittle the neighbors, aside from allegedly posting a petition calling them yuppies? I can’t say. I reached out to several of the irate commenters, hoping to hear their side of the story, but none of them got back to me. I’ll update this post if/when they do. (If you’re an irate neighbor, email me at if you’re willing to fill me in.)

So yeah, seems like there’s some bad blood between the Brick & Mortar and some of its neighbors. But again, this is all due to sound issues, which are all mutually acknowledged and being worked on right now. So…here’s hoping everything gets worked out to everyone’s mutual satisfaction, and we can all go back to rocking the fuck out at the Brick & Mortar with no worries.

We’ll update this post as the story develops.

Update [June 25, 2013]:
Looks like the Board of Appeals upheld the restrictions on Brick & Mortar’s operating hours and noise levels, according to the SF Examiner. That means that music in the club will be limited to 80 decibels and shows must end by 11:30pm on weeknights and 12:30am on weekends until soundproofing is completed. Luckily, as reported above, soundproofing is already underway, so there’s hope Brick & Mortar will be back to full operational status again soon.