Is it true that people are going out to bars less often now than they did three years ago? That may not be true in many parts of the country, or even in parts of San Francisco, but for some neighborhood and after-work bars, things still haven't gotten back to normal.
The Chronicle points to a handful of examples of bars that continue struggling, including The Four Deuces, a neighborhood Irish pub in the Sunset. Owner Tim Mullins says that he's just barely breaking even these days, after a couple of years of losses, and he's still waiting for the day that "normal" business returns.
"People aren’t going out like they used to,” Mullins tells the Chronicle. “They got used to staying home.”
Is that true, though? It's certainly true that any downtown bar that used to count on happy hour crowds mid-week probably is still struggling. And the habits of the work-from-home set are likely different than they were, with fewer weeknight mistakes.
As Hoodline reported last week, Whitechapel, which used to depend on Civic Center, Federal Building, Mid-Market and courthouse after-work crowds, is closing for the winter and the owners sound uncertain about what the future holds.
"Our neighborhood has not rebounded in the way we’d hoped — so many local workers are still remote and nearby offices are barely occupied," the Whitechapel owners said.
But the bar scenes in neighborhoods like the Castro and the Marina appear pretty much back to normal, even with weeknight crowds — though Dry January may not be the best barometer. This may just be place- or neighborhood-specific, and/or the three years of a global pandemic have left certain bars in the dust, their former clientele having moved on or moved out of town.
Perhaps we are just looking at an extension of a trend that was much discussed before COVID was even on the radar. It's been noted in many places that younger Millennials and Gen Zers are tending to be more boring, more home-body-ish, and "sober curious," as this Teen Vogue piece reported last year.
As one recent college grad framed it, "The world is just generally terrible and it’s nice to have something that I can control."
Then you have those goofy pop-up "experiences" that land in town and give younger drinkers a special reason to go out — stealing some market share from the bars that operate here full time.
All told, we may be looking at a world in which fewer bars will need to exist, and the shakeout may already be happening. If you have a neighborhood dive you love and you don't want it to go away, you had better make it more of a habit to support it — at least once Sober January is over — because it may not survive forever without your liver's help.
Photo: Madhu J./Yelp