There has not been a new alcohol license granted to a Castro bar since 1987, but there probably will be soon, as the SF Board of Supervisors has approved an updated zoning ordinance.
Despite the Castro’s reputation as San Francisco’s center of LGBTQ nightlife, no new liquor licenses have been granted to bars there in 34 years. As the SF Business Times reports, “Believe it or not, zoning rules in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood have prevented new bars from opening there since 1987.” That’s thanks to an arcane piece of legislation from 1987 establishing the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District, which has since only allowed purchases and transfers of old liquor licenses, no new ones for the neighborhood.
But that arcane piece of legislation just got updated. The Chronicle reports that the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a loosening of Castro District zoning to permit new bar licenses in the area spanning Castro Street from Market to 19th Streets, and 18th Street from Diamond Street to Noe Street.
“It feels like common sense: You should be able to open a bar in the Castro in 2022,” the measure’s author, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, told the Chronicle.
Mandelman got a bit more technical with the Business Times. “It isn't fair or good to preclude new folks from starting a business, especially when those folks are queer women, trans people and people of color, and especially with the level of vacancies we have in the neighborhood," he told the paper in a statement. "This ordinance will help make the Castro a more welcoming and diverse place that still retains its unique identity."
As the Bay Area Reporter explains, this all springs from an attempt to open a wine bar at 493 Sanchez Street at 18th Street. The proposed new owner, Suzie Jennings, was told by City Hall that the Neighborhood Commercial District (NCD) rules would not allow a new liquor license there. While the legislative fix does address her issue, it's too late for Jennings' original proposal, because the space she originally wanted is now occupied by a pilates studio.
The new rule would go into effect March 6, and Tuesday’s vote was the second reading of a vote that had already passed on January 11. And it will hopefully put a dent in all the Castro storefronts going vacant, or legacy businesses being bought up by entertainment conglomerates.
Image: Ted C. via Yelp