It’s only Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays right now, but you can now ‘dive’ back in to the special magic of an El Rio cocktail paired with their new food menu.
It’s not big news when just any bar reopens for to-go cocktails as outdoor dining slowly returns to San Francisco. But it is big news when that bar is El Rio, Mission Street’s iconic LGBTQ bar, which reopened Friday to many delighted Mission District passersby and motorists who slowed down to roll down their windows while pumping their fists and roaring approval toward a finally reopened El Rio.
The bar is currently only operating weekend hours (Fridays 4-8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 2-6 p.m.), as they announced on social media last week.
But it’s worth the trip for any old-school El Rio fans who may no longer live in the bar’s immediate vicinity, as the establishment has been completely closed for the duration of the pandemic this far. A GoFundMe effort to support El Rio staff, a Human Rights Commission and Showtime business preservation grant, and a gift from the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Music Relief fund has been essentially their only income since March 2020.
Pesky regulations from the California ABC (Alcohol and Beverage Control) dictate that your to-go cocktail “must be sold with meals.” To that end, El Rio has partnered with Frisco Pink to serve tamales ($5 each, available in pork, chicken, or cheese) and El Rio rolls (Two for $6, basically “Mexican egg rolls” with pork, chicken, havarti mushroom, or soyrizo con papas.)
El Rio will also look a little different than the last time you visited. The front facade of the building is now a colorful purple mural by J. Manuel Carmona and Simon Malvae, which was painted onto the building during these shelter-in-place months, so you may have missed it.
The bar has also introduced some sweet custom El Rio merchandise. "We launched a t-shirt campaign called Arts from the Hearts where we partnered with local LQBTQ+ artists and allies to design shirts for us to sell via merchlink," El Rio general manager Lynne Angel told SFist. "A percentage of each sale goes to different local organizations we want to support through this current health crisis." (These organizations include the Transgender Gender-Variant & Intersex Justice Project, Ladies' Night at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, VisibiliT, and the Planned Parenthood location on Valencia Street).
You may recall that El Rio quietly almost closed down for good, as we learned in September 2019 that the building was being sold, and the bar had no guarantee of a future lease. But the city of San Francisco stepped in and bought the building, turning the upstairs units into affordable housing managed by the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA).
So El Rio may only be open limited hours and just on the weekends, and only for take-out to-go service. But the place is certainly worth coming out and supporting, because El Rio is one of those institutions that represents the San Francisco that you want to see.
El Rio is open for to-go food and cocktails Fridays 4-8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 2-6 p.m
Note: This post has been updated with comment from El Rio.
Images: Joe Kukura, SFist