Doors Open: A Bay Area Reopening Series – Juanita MORE!

Juanita MORE!Photos by Molly Kish & courtesy of Juanita MORE! // Written by Molly Kish //

Juanita MORE! – Activist, Philanthropist, Entrepreneur & LGBTQ+ Representative

Walking into the home of Juanita MORE! feels more like you’re entering a museum than a TenderNob residence. After being greeted by her French bulldog Jackson scampering down the hallway, you enter the gorgeous garden apartment and are immersed in a time capsule of art, photos and memorabilia spanning her entire career. In her 30-plus years as an activist, philanthropist, LGBTQ+ representative and Bay Area icon, MORE! has been a muse for countless creatives and has inspired upwards of eight public art murals currently gracing the streets of San Francisco.

Her legacy, however, is one deeply rooted in her passion to represent and serve the various communities that she and her chosen family are ingrained in. Utilizing her many talents and immense reach, MORE! has been able to raise an astonishing amount of awareness and over $900,000 in donations to help keep queer culture and art thriving within the Bay Area.

Catching up with MORE! shortly after she was elected Empress of the Imperial Council of San Francisco, we spoke with her about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the LGBTQ+ nightlife scene and what she has done to further evolve her fundraising efforts. We also discussed how California’s reopening last week will play a huge part in this year’s Pride celebrations, her annual charity party and the future of events in the Bay Area.

Juanita MORE!

Showbams: We’re finally at a point where California is coming out of the social, political and economic chaos of this past year. As someone who is directly involved with almost every community that has been affected by COVID-19, how are you feeling?

MORE!: I’m feeling super hopeful and super excited, but of course I’m a bit hesitant because I have been isolating and encouraging people to do that. We’ve gone through a year of being emotionally suppressed in a way that we normally don’t as humans. So, that’s going to take me a minute to snap out of. It’s gonna take little steps, not me just diving in. I’m not ready to do that. I’m still walking outside my house with my mask on, being super cautious and still abiding by all the rules.

Showbams: As a Bay Area artist, activist, philanthropist and entrepreneur, were you able to draw strength from any previous experiences that helped you to remain focused and diligent during this past year?

MORE!: Yes, definitely my chosen family. Right away we created a pod with my drag mother, best friend and also the Emperor to my Empress Mr. David Glamamore and one of my drag children and business partners, (who is also like one of my sons) Cole Church. We just knew we had to create this little pod because we’ve always taken care of each other. We decided that every Sunday the three of us are going to have dinner, and every now and then we would bring one other person in. They’re the ones in my life, in general that keep me grounded and focused in what I do.

You know what I do is very public and it has been until this went the other direction, but for me, as public as Juanita is, I really love when it’s not. That helps me re-energize, and it helps me become more creative. So at first I was like, “Oh, this feels OK, sort of,” because I don’t really go out. I mean when I do, it’s Juanita and it’s either work or it’s to have a really great time. When I was doing drag normally, it sometimes was like 2-3 times a week and that’s a lot of drag! I just wanna be in my apartment. I mean … you’re in my apartment now, it’s a great nesting space! I made it super comfortable. So yeah, I would definitely say my little pod helped get me through. My chosen family and I have a big chosen family, so there you go.

“As public as Juanita is, I really love when it’s not. That helps me re-energize and it helps me become more creative.”

Showbams: As someone who has been a mother and mouthpiece for queer culture in the Bay Area, what was your initial thought when the industry flatlined over night?

MORE!: Well, one big concern was that most of my friends work in nightlife, from every part of it in lighting and sound people to DJs to venue owners … like just absolutely everyone! You know, the bar managers, the bartender, the barback, then the performers and the designers who are making the dresses for some of the artists. It just kept going even further and further. I ended up hooking up with the San Francisco Bay Area Nightlife Committee because we all felt like it was a much-needed time to start digging up resources and find fundraising to help people stay afloat. That struggle is still happening. Even though we’re seeing something on the horizon and it looks better, there’s still people who have not worked one day in a whole year. My friends who run events were just like, done.

The SF Party Store that was on Post Street, right around the corner from me you know, it was part of my walk! Jackson would go in there, and I would walk through to see if there was something I needed and it’s just gone. Fantastico, gone. Places where we would go to get things, now I’m like, “Oh my God, I gotta order this online?” It was part of my everyday.

Juanita MORE!

Showbams: It seemed like almost immediately after news broke, you began to activate organizers, producers, entertainers, venue owners and more to develop the San Francisco Queer Nightlife Fund. Can you take me through the process of how you were able to get it up and running so quickly?

MORE!: Well, the team that was working on it … they’re a little more tactful at doing that kind of stuff than I am. I mean, I became the face of it and the voice of it for a lot of reasons. I have a huge reach, so it was good to put it to use for that situation. Everybody on the team was super invested. I think they’ve given out over $300,000 over the past year, which is amazing. Sometimes it just paid someone’s rent.

“I literally had people come up to my booth and cry when they saw me, because I had not seen them in a year.”

Showbams: Throughout your 30-plus years of service in the Bay Area, your fundraising in the LGBTQ+ community has been nothing short of legendary. Was it hard to adjust your methods and tactics during the pandemic?

MORE!: Yes. Last year it was tough to fundraise and was challenging for sure. To get everyone focused and be a part of a fundraiser that was online and in a different way and with so many, it became oversaturated. It’s almost hard to watch now. I mean, sometimes you know, there’s three things happening at the same time! I’m here with my iPad on one, another on my phone and I’m trying to watch and support everybody. But some great stuff has come out of it. There’ve been some baby drag queens that we may never have heard of until they got on the internet.

Juanita MORE!

Showbams: Your philanthropic efforts have really included everything from virtual charity events to telethons, dance parties, art mart appearances and even bake sales! The LGBTQ+ community came up with so many creative ways to get through this past year. Were there any particular concepts you saw that were your favorites or you hope carry over into the future of fundraising?

MORE!: Oh wow, you know the Noe Art Mart was super special. I’m great friends with the organizers, Chris Hastings and the Lookout bar. When I did the first one, it was at that moment where people were just stepping out of their comfort zones to be outside. I literally had people come up to my booth and cry when they saw me because I had not seen them in a year. So that was super, super special, and also it gave young artists the opportunity to showcase their stuff, which they may have not had an audience for even pre-pandemic.

So, now I’ve got people hooked on my CBD bath salts and granola. People even start texting me in advance, like “Hold that for me, save that.” I’ve got some people who are so addicted to the bath salts … one of my friends in the East Bay, I get a photo of him every time he uses them. He’ll text me, “I had to stop and take a bath today, I was having a day.” I’m like, “That’s what they’re for!”

“If you have to bring your vaccination card and show it at the door, you gotta do that! If it’s a problem for you, then you’re not supposed to be at my party.”

Showbams: Aside from your background as a philanthropist, you’ve always had very strong political convictions which have manifested into amazing feats of activism throughout the Bay Area. Including over the past year, your call to action for the “March To Remember And Reignite Hope” as well as during 2020 Pride for “The Peoples March & Rally – Unite to Fight.” When organizing these events, did you ever feel conflicted about rallying people to activate and support when it also was during the time you were telling people to “stay the fuck home” and be cautious, especially around the immunocompromised and elderly members of the community?

MORE!: The first one was the “March to Reignite” in the Castro and that was literally, maybe just two weeks before we went into lockdown. The feeling like that was going to happen was already in the air. It was a beautiful turnout, one of my friends Ken Jones, who passed away last year, got to speak. Ken has been an activist for the longest, longest time and spoke in front of Badlands about racism and that kind of stuff. Then “The Peoples March” I felt like it was going to be safe because it was outdoors and that was already June so we had started to get a rhythm of how we were operating around each other with masks and such. That was a beautiful day. A lot of people did come up to me after and say, “That really felt like Pride to me.” When you look back at why Pride started in the 70’s, they just desperately needed to be seen and accepted, so they did it and we did something really important that day as well.

Juanita MORE!

Showbams: Having taken place during Pride weekend, the march really brought the focus back to the original protests and the reasons for them during what has now become more of a commercial celebration. Looking at this year’s theme of “All In This Together,” do you think that tone will remain?

MORE!: I believe so. I think a few things are in play for me this June. With our restrictions lifted and San Francisco doing so well, the Governor is saying that June 15th is opening. Well, to the LGBTQ+ community that means, “Oh, you’re opening in the middle of Pride.” That’s a whole new thing! Of course, there still is so much more activism that attention needs to be brought to, but there’s also room there for a celebration. So, I feel like all of those things are definitely going to happen.

“But I also can’t think about it because it makes my wig too big.”

Showbams: You’re famously quoted in saying that “once this is all over, we’re going to have a hell of a huge party.” Is the iconic Junaita MORE! Party making its return this year?

MORE!: I’m working on some form of it, and I’m also working on The Peoples March. I mean to date, I’ve helped raise over $900,000, which is absolutely insane, and it helps support non-profits, which I think are very important. I’m working on planning it, have looked at some spaces and I think I’m going to be able to do it under all the guidelines. I’m that person, and I have to be.

I was talking to a friend and they were asking, “Well, what are you going to do?” I just said, “If you have to bring your vaccination card and show it at the door, you gotta do that! If it’s a problem for you, then you’re not supposed to be at my party. That’s OK. I still love you, and I’ll see you another time.” You know I have such a big family here, and it’s going to feel good to get as many of them together as I can. Also, I really feel like the community is pushing for and the circle of everyone that’s fully vaccinated is so large now, so that’s good.

Juanita MORE!

Showbams: One more reason to celebrate is your coronation as the Empress of The Imperial Council of San Francisco. With its legacy as a non-profit fundraising organization benefitting diverse communities and charitable initiative projects, you truly are the perfect fit. However, you’ve mentioned that you and The Court work in different ways and that you wanted to bring some fresh energy into the system, to push them into new and exciting directions. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?

MORE!: The founder of The Imperial Council, José Sarria, was a civil rights activist and a community leader, and I sort of am that as well. In some ways, I feel parallel — we’re doing the same things in different decades. I’ve been asked to be Empress before and I’ve always looked at their schedules and been like, “Oh my God! You guys are so busy, I can’t fit that into my schedule!” But then last summer, I watched the documentary “50 Years of Fabulous” and it really inspired me. It spoke to me and said, “You need to help them now, and you need to shine a brighter light on the organization.”

So, of course I’m going to raise money for them, that’s definitely going to be a thing. They’re a vehicle to spread that money back out into the community in a different kind of way than I do. It’s totally fine, as Empress I still will have influence on where the money goes, which is great. As far as social media, I want to make them more relevant. We’re living in a time of social media, it’s happening! The organization is a huge part of the city and has been forever. “50 Years of Fabulous” shows when it’s heyday really was, but I still feel like there are so many important things that we can focus on.

“At this point, it’s almost like Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy. They have a thing, right?”

Showbams: The Council is currently involved in an initiative that you’ve expressed excitement about. Can you further explain or offer any more details on what the LGBT Asylum Project is?

MORE!: I’ve worked with the LGBT Asylum Project since their conception, and I was one of the first persons to jump on board to champion and support them because I knew it was the right thing. Something that the director said to me was, “You really just came out and supported us when we were just a baby organization and that made such a bigger group of San Francisco look at us and see what we were doing, that we take it seriously and you really helped us get off the ground.” I love when that happens, and I don’t know that I sometimes intentionally do it, but I’m so happy when it does. I can’t remember how many years now that they have been running, but the director just recently said that to me and I never thought about it. I’m sure that’s happened in other places as well, and I’m super proud of it. But I also can’t think about it because it makes my wig too big.

Juanita MORE!

Showbams: Emperors didn’t start getting elected to the court until 1972 and existed separate from the Empresses until 1983. But currently elected alongside you as the reigning Emperor is your longtime collaborator David Glamamore, officially making the current empire “The Court of More is MORE!” Was this an intentional joint campaign?

MORE!: No, and we couldn’t run it as one. I mean, the story of me meeting David is just so special and we have been truly best friends, mother, father, brother, sister and he’s my drag mother and I’m his drag daughter. When I met him in New York, he was doing drag before me so he considered me the very first MORE! boy. It’s so crazy! Now after 35-plus years of knowing each other, we finish each other’s sentences.

We’re best friends, but also on artistic projects, we feed off each other and make things just so beautiful together. I also own the most amount of clothes that David has ever made. The biggest collection, I have over 3,000 pieces! It’s gotten to the point where other designers have said they want to make me something, but at this point, it’s almost like Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy. They have a thing, right?

We’ve collaborated on so many things together that our minds just are the same and we end up seeing the same beauty in things. I mean, I can call David on the phone and say, “Oh, I bought four yards of this fabric and how should I move my pattern on it?” He lights his cigarette and says, “Hmm, just move your pattern down 15 inches and swing the arm over to the left 30 inches.” Or sometimes, he’ll just take a snapshot of a drawing he did that’s just a scribble and numbers, and I get it. That’s the part that other people are like, “Are you freaking kidding me? You just got off the phone and you’re going to cut that,” and I totally get it. I’ve done this with him for 30 years. I’m glad we’re doing this together. We’re also just great support for each other, like emotionally.

“When we come out of this, it’ll happen and it’s going to be good.”

Showbams: Going forward, can you think of one positive thing about this last year that you hope will carry over into the reopening of the Bay Area music and entertainment scene?

MORE!: For me, I think that I got a moment to kind of look at my life from another kind of way. Like I was saying earlier, I don’t really go out and I only really am ever doing so as Juanita. Well, all of the sudden I had to deal with that. That person who doesn’t go out. So, I think I learned a little bit more about myself as I’m adulting even more and knowing that when we come out of this, it’ll happen and it’s going to be good.

Editor’s Note: Since this interview, Juanita MORE! has scheduled her 18th annual Pride party at 620 Jones for this Sunday, June 27th. The 2021 celebration’s main focus will be on reigniting the LGBTQ+ nightlife scene in SF and will feature DJ sets from Bay Area talent as well as a live performance by singer Kaleena Zanders. All advanced tickets have been sold, but both cash and evening tickets (from 6-10:30 p.m. PT) will be available at the door. For more information on the beneficiaries of this year’s ticket sales, please visit and


Doors Open: A Bay Area Reopening Series – Public Works

Public WorksBy Molly Kish //

Public Works – San Francisco

As the Bay Area continues to move into the least restrictive of COVID-19 tiers, many SF music venues remain optimistic for the months ahead. Public Works, much like The Midway, is another multifaceted space that has taken the outdoor approach for its event programming, converting an adjacent alleyway into a DIY lounge that also offers its own dining experience.

Continuing our “Doors Open” coverage of the Bay Area music and entertainment scene, we spoke with Public Works general manager Rob Casanovas to see how he and his team have been creatively adjusting the past year to survive the pandemic.

“Public Works is a very community-oriented venue. It does a very good job at trying to be as inclusive as possible and really putting that in the forefront in terms of how we book, present ourselves and the types of organizations we bring in and try to help out. It doesn’t really matter how big or small a promoter is, we’re really just trying to lay the fertile ground for them to grow.” – Rob Casanovas, General Manager

Public Works - alleyway

Walking into the SOMA venue during the morning hours feels more like you’re entering an art collective in the middle of a renovation. Naturally lit by giant skylights, Public Works’ main room is filled with houseplants, construction and stage equipment that otherwise would be tucked away or in use during normal operating hours.

Casanovas apologizes for the state of things, explaining that aside from being in the middle of internal restructuring and hiring back many original staff members, he has been working on several projects to retrofit the venue’s interior. But even after being employed at both 111 Minna Gallery and Mezzanine, Casanovas wasn’t sure if he was even ready to jump back into things when Public Works hired him to be its new GM in September.

“COVID wiped out the staff completely. When I came in, there was the bar manager and owner and that was it. When it happened we kind of kept people around for like two months, thinking that was going to be it and that we’d get back into it in June (2020). Then after going into a COVID depression for a bit, I got a phone call that Public Works was trying to do an outdoor thing and they needed somebody to run it. I was like ‘Alright, I could do that for a little bit.’ I wasn’t really ready to get back into the nightlife right away, after Mezzanine … I was like ‘I don’t know if I really want those hours anymore’ and I was really more interested in trying to help out with the art scene up here. But then I came in and I met Jeff the owner and he was just super rad. He cares about the community and really cares about the arts in the city, which was a big soft spot for me.”

Public Works - building

Located at the foot of a dead-end alleyway, Public Works is in a unique location to capitalize on the “shared spaces” legislation that Mayor London Breed put into effect on March 16th. As part of SF’s crisis response strategy to sustain the locally owned small-business sector, the venue was able to transition into an outdoor dining experience by acquiring a “Just Add Music (JAM)” permit that allows for arts and culture activities to be the primary use of the space.

“When I came in September, we were like ‘Let’s try to do this outdoor thing,’ and the first week, it was absolutely terrifying. That weekend there were Friday and Saturday shows, and at points I literally had my hands on my head staring and thinking, ‘How am I going to control these people?'”

Public Works - decorative shelf

Facing the ever-changing entertainment regulations and hearing about other failed, early-pandemic events, Public Works made sure to tread very lightly in cooperation with COVID-19 guidelines and local municipalities. Though the venue doesn’t have an attached kitchen or commissary, it enlisted local pop-ups and food trucks while staffing servers and bartenders to ensure that all food service was run legally and seamlessly.

“The whole switching to outdoor dining wasn’t the hardest, but it was just adding another cog to the wheel. Making sure everyone remained distant, had a meal and taking the time to explain all the new rules to everyone. Like in order for this to happen it needs to be a dining experience. Explaining that to some people who aren’t used to it was kind of difficult. But I would take the time to really break it down for them and let them know that we’re not breaking the bank here. Whatever the food vendors sold, they took home — they made all their money. We’re literally trying to run this to cover operations, and if we can make an extra $500-1,000 to put towards rent, then we’re stoked.

Eventually people started getting it, knowing that ultimately we wanted to bring value to what we’re doing. We weren’t just trying to throw a DJ out there with some tables and call it a day. I mean, we load everything in and out, every single night. We put out all the plants, tables, decor, stanchions … we built and painted the palettes! We’re really trying to transform that alleyway, so that it has a good vibe.”

Public Works - DJ booth

Aside from having to change their business model and battling undeterminable factors such as rising COVID-19 rates and Bay Area weather, Casanovas says the venue’s main concern throughout the past year was making sure that their guests’ comfort levels were respected and maintained.

“What really changed for us was how we approach putting on events and take into account everyone’s comfortability levels. The spectrum of who believes in COVID and who cares about masks, that all exists. But in order to throw an event you have to be able to make sure that it’s comfortable for everybody and be able to enforce the rules in a very manageable and happy way. The service-industry aspect really starts ringing true a lot more. When we’re in a nightclub, not saying you can just be an asshole to somebody, but you have to be way more gentle now.

If me putting on a mask makes someone else comfortable then I’m good with doing it. That’s kind of where we’re at. Until they say that we don’t have to wear them anymore, at Public Works if you’re standing then you have to wear a mask. Mask on, dance on! We have people that will book like three tables, so of course they’re going to want to hang out. All we say is to make sure that you have the correct amount of people at your table who can physically sit there. Just don’t be in a circle, masks off, chopping it up. Most everybody that comes by is super receptive and really nice and understanding. The return really is how grateful everybody is. Everyone sees the work that we put in, and it’s nice. It’s fun to even interact with people again, so it’s all worth it.”

Public Works - tables

With COVID-19 restrictions starting to ease up in California this spring, Casanovas says it’s pretty much full steam ahead from this point on. Although the transition has been nerve-wracking, tireless and even a bit overwhelming at times, he and his crew are beyond excited for the endless possibilities in the months to come.

As we walk through the building, Casanovas points out the various projects he’s working on and you can physically see his face light up when explaining what he envisions as the end result. He mentions how he looks forward to transforming the space, bringing in new types of talent and using this moment as a jumping-off point to expand upon Public Works’ identity as a communal space and venue.

“Honestly we feel like we have a pretty big responsibility right now. Our team is getting rebuilt and we’re kind of seeing who wants to be a part of it. I mean how many people get to come out of a pandemic and usher in a new scene? It’s gonna be crazy.

We really wanted to do something to keep it alive and really get ground level with the people who want to keep doing stuff. To see who’s out there and who wants to play! Right now we’re doing this for scraps, but we ARE doing it. Music has always been up in the forefront and everything else always trailed in the back, so now we’re really trying to close that gap. We really want to come out a lot more art forward and are going to try and bring in a lot more visual and theatrical elements. We’re talking about exactly what we can do to kind of give a little more. I don’t want to come back and just be a DJ in a room and like that’s it.

The only reason we are in this business is to throw a party and make sure that everybody can kind of let loose and bring the chill back into the world really. That’s what we’re really trying to think about now. Like how do we do this and in the right way.”

Check out Public Works’ event calendar for tickets here.


Doors Open: A Bay Area Reopening Series – Matt Haney

By Molly Kish //

Matt Haney – Supervisor, San Francisco Board of Supervisors (District 6)

Matt Haney has Bay Area advocacy in his blood. Raised predominantly by his mother in the East Bay, Haney was born into a family of civil rights activists and developed strong opinions about societal injustices. He noticed early on the ways in which his values were underrepresented in local politics, so he decided to get involved in efforts to reform them to support the communities that he was a part of while growing up.

Over the last decade, Haney has held roles as a faculty member at Stanford, an eviction defense attorney and a national policy director. He has served as vice president, president and commissioner of the SF School Board, and in 2019, Haney won in a landslide victory to become the supervisor of District 6, which stretches from the Tenderloin to Treasure Island. In the past year, he has not only assumed the position of budget chair on the Board of Supervisors, but has also worked tirelessly alongside the small business and entertainment commissions to introduce critical legislation that will help keep local, independent venues alive amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just days after the launch of his SF Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund, we caught up with Haney over a veggie omelette at a Market St. café to discuss his passion for preserving the culture and community of the Bay Area music and entertainment scene.

Showbams: Throughout your career you’ve worn many hats, so what ultimately made you want to run for the Board of Supervisors and led you to represent District 6?

Haney: I think a lot of it for me was recognizing the potential that the Bay Area has, when it comes to providing opportunity and a quality of life for everyone, wherever they are. We have a certain responsibility here, that is unlike many other places in the world and I had the opportunity to be a part of that.

I was working with a lot with families as a school board member and that led me to want to support my neighbors in other ways including: making sure they had housing, jobs and a future here in our city. This feeling is what led me to get more involved in citywide issues and ultimately to run for the Board of Supervisors.

He stops mid-thought to signal the waitress and asks for hot sauce and ketchup.

Haney: I think District 6 is one of the most special places in the world. It has just a tremendous amount of culture and history and the most “San Francisco” neighborhood in San Francisco, the Tenderloin. District 6 houses a lot of the growth and innovation in our city, and representing this area is an opportunity to try to make all of that work for everyone, better than it is now. Especially when it comes to some of the wealth and incredible opportunities that are here, I’m constantly thinking of how we make sure that they’re shared more broadly and that people have access to all the things they need to survive and thrive in our city.

“I think District 6 is one of the most special places in the world. It has just a tremendous amount of culture and history and the most ‘San Francisco’ neighborhood in San Francisco, the Tenderloin.”

Showbams: Over the last year, you’ve been a huge advocate for creating lifelines for independent music venues. Were you always interested in including music and entertainment into your political scope or was this something that was prompted by the pandemic’s effect on the local economy?

Haney: Ever since I’ve lived in San Francisco, I’ve been involved in the nightlife and music community here. In 2007, I moved in with a close friend who was one of the biggest event promoters at the time, his name is Nate Mezmer. So from that I got to know DJs, venue owners and all the challenges they had in operating here. I also saw from that time until now, many of those venues disappear. I witnessed the ways in which these venues, DJs, artists and bartenders were being pushed out of San Francisco and how it really impacted our culture and community here.

So much of the history of San Francisco is about different groups of people who were kicked out of other places and thought that they were alone. They came to San Francisco and were able to find each other here and in many cases that happened through nightlife and music and art. That’s a huge part of what I love and what’s so special about San Francisco and a lot of those venues are in my district now, so I really made it a big part of my goals to support them.

“So much of the history of San Francisco is about different groups of people who were kicked out of other places and thought that they were alone. They came to San Francisco and were able to find each other here and in many cases that happened through nightlife and music and art.”

Showbams: In December, you introduced your SF and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund legislation in a special meeting with the SF Board of Supervisors. Can you elaborate on how the meeting went and the key initiatives of the proposal?

Haney: I was committed to putting forward this fund, even before we knew where the money was going to come from. It was a bit of a leap of faith in some ways. In December we were still facing a pretty bleak outlook concerning the city’s budget, but we decided to introduce it anyways and started to develop the provisions with the venues, entertainment and small business commissions. In January it was decided we needed to put at least 1.5 Million into it, and then as things moved forward I proposed for us to double that. Luckily, we all ended up on the same page.


We tried to make the application as simple as possible and are offering awards of at least $10,000. So that’s either 300 grants at $10,000, 150 at $20,000 or … I feel that some may even get upwards of $50,000. A lot of them have really high rents and are actually in need of 100’s or 1,000’s of dollars so we’re not going to be able to meet the whole thing, but writing a venue a check for $50,000 is meaningful.

We get briefly interrupted by a fellow diner who wants to express his gratitude for Haney’s work involving tenants rights. He graciously acknowledges the man, asks him how his particular experience is and orders a refill on his coffee. In that moment, it was apparent how ingrained and conscientious Haney was of the everyday issues that residents in his district were facing. The fact that someone felt comfortable enough to approach him while he was dining and engaged in conversation was not only a testament to his character, but also to his involvement with the community that he both resides in and represents. He apologizes and continues …

Haney: There’s always some politics ya know, the mayor initially did not want to put money into the fund that we created so we had to say, “Well, things have changed a little bit because I’m the budget chair now, so it’s just gonna happen.” It was kind of wild to have that level of power and be able to use it for something really important. It was the first real opportunity I had to do so in the new position.

For the last couple of years I was more of a flamethrower. So when the introduction of this fund came about I was still in that role and everyone kind of said, “Whoa, OK … you want to just take some money and give it to venues? Where’s that money coming from?” I said, “I don’t know yet” and then was able to move into a position of more power in relation to the budget, which allowed me to actually get the funds.

“It was kind of wild to have that level of power and be able to use it for something really important.”

Showbams: So the applications went live on April 21st, providing upwards of 300 grants for the initial funding. Do you feel optimistic that there will be a phase two of funding?”

Haney: I’m optimistic that we will add more money to the fund. We may need to learn from who applies, what the need is and change it accordingly in terms of targeting. In fact, some of what we’re going to need to focus on I think not just for these venues, but for small businesses more broadly, is commercial debt relief. Some of these venues may be getting the $25-50,000 dollars and they can’t even begin to have a conversation about their back due rent.

Each venue I think is in a different position because the only thing that has been universal is commercial eviction protection. Some of these venues may have just put pause on all rent for this past year, and now they have to have a conversation with their property management if they don’t own their own building. Then, the result is that they’ll have to negotiate some sort of payment plan and we’re going to have to figure out how we can meet up with that. So, that’s what I think might be the next phase of this.

We’re going to have to help these venues with their debt, but I hope they start to make even more money than they did before the pandemic. I hope that we can be more supportive of them and recognize their value, as to not make everything so hard for them to operate here. We need to protect our independent venues so that they can thrive and grow here and are able to create more spaces and events, to give them opportunities to do just that.

“We need to protect our independent venues so that they can thrive and grow here and are able to create more spaces and events, to give them opportunities to do just that.”

Showbams: Once the Bay Area opens back up, what’s the first venue that you would like to attend an event at?

Haney: I do miss a number of venues in my district. In the Tenderloin, I go to Black Cat and PianoFight a lot and I look forward to being able to go back to those two for sure. In the other parts of my district, I will definitely be at 1015 Folsom and 111 Minna Gallery when they reopen.

I really hope that by mid-June, if things go as they are now, that most of these venues can open at 100%. There’s no reason that I can think of — the vaccines have been very widely available for months — that a venue can’t allow a 100% capacity if everyone has been vaccinated. You should just be able to show your card or whatever, unless the vaccine starts to break down in some way. Then we’ve got a lot of other problems besides our venues.

“There’s no reason that I can think of — the vaccines have been very widely available for months — that a venue can’t allow a 100% capacity if everyone has been vaccinated.”

As we commiserate over the shows we have missed with the hope for some rescheduled dates soon, Haney finishes what was left of his side salad and asks the waitress for the check. His phone has been blowing up the entire interview, and it’s only in this moment that he glances at the numerous missed calls and texts. The waitress exchanges some cheerful banter with him as she finally places where she recognizes Haney from, and in return, he compliments the service and quality of his omelette. As he waits to sign the check and starts to visibly drift back into work mode, I ask him one final question.

Showbams: Have there been any positive takeaways from the events of the past year?

He pauses for a second and takes a long, deep breath before replying.

Haney: The incredible resilience of the city, its businesses and our residents. The businesses and people that are still here really fought through a lot to stay in this city. I think coming out of the pandemic, it’s going to be really important to recognize, develop a greater appreciation for and not take for granted.

I think that’s what makes me hopeful and now we as a government acknowledge how much the Bay Area needs venues and places to see each other, celebrate and be inspired.


Doors Open: A Bay Area Reopening Series – The Midway

Photos courtesy of The Midway // Written by Molly Kish //

The Midway – San Francisco

On March 15th, 2020, bars, nightclubs, wineries and brewpubs all across the Bay Area were told to close effective immediately under California state order as industries long considered to be the backbone of the Bay Area’s cultural identity were shattered overnight by COVID-19.

While restaurants and retail began to slowly continue operations, the state’s color coded reopening plan left venues shuttered. Without any clear indication or timeline as to what the future held, SF’s nightlife was left to wonder when (or if), they’d ever be able to announce “Doors Open” again.

Amidst this last year of pandemic chaos, several local entities demonstrated resilience in preserving the city’s entertainment infrastructure. Setting the precedent for the rest of the country through unwavering passion and innovation, this series highlights key figures and institutions that continue to survive, fight for and usher in the re-opening of the Bay Area economy.

To start things off, we feature a SF venue that has progressively and successfully transformed in order to keep its doors open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: The Midway.

Providing moderated crowds with uniquely intimate and COVID-19 friendly experiences, we spoke with The Midway’s assistant general manager Andrea Kirk about the struggles, endurance and ingenuity it takes to run an entertainment space during a global pandemic.

“The Midway is an intersection of art, culture, technology and food. We really aim to bring together all of those different elements that would be considered to be part of the creative realm and to be a canvas for different types of ideas that are coming through.” – Andrea Kirk, Assistant General Manager

It’s 3 p.m. on a Thursday, and The Midway patio is surprisingly active. Technicians are testing speakers, managers are laying out floor plans and several forklifts continue to load in tables, chairs and audio equipment. The energy is bustling. Kirk arrives and suggests that we relocate to the venue’s main room to avoid the noise.

Sitting at a table staged for an upcoming event, Kirk proceeds to laugh and lament about the absurdity of everything, humbly recognizing the fact that it’s a privilege to even have the opportunity to be interrupted by a load-in this afternoon. She’s still processing the emotions of the pandemic and subsequent toil it took on the Bay Area as she candidly discusses the moment it all became real and the past 18 months at The Midway.

“I mean, I think that there was definitely a certain level of disbelief. Not in a ‘is COVID real?’ sort of way but more of a ‘Is this really happening?’ It felt very surreal. Having to drop everything to a 250-person capacity effectively meant that we had to shut everything down. Afterwards we went into shelter in place for the two weeks which then was extended and extended again and it just was sort of like, ‘What is happening in the world?’ and not even having words to even identify thoughts or feelings about it. Just being really in shock.”

During the months leading up to reopening, Kirk’s main focus was to keep optimistic, explore all creative options and maintain open and honest communication with the staff. As businesses stood by watching the Bay Area dance between colors on the tier system, the staff of The Midway decided to be proactive with their options.

“I remember when we were approaching our initial ability to reopen, which I guess would’ve put us into the purple tier the first time and it was really such an experiment for us. We realized that outdoor dining was going to open and that we have our café on site, so one of the things we kept doing regularly was have a weekly staff check in. It really helped for all of us to stay on the same page.

This allowed for us to really have the conversation and realize that ‘Oh, wait we do fit this criteria?’ and raise the question of ‘Do we actually think anyone would come out, if we did it?’ You know those first several events I think we were losing money on them, but we really felt that it was so important to have something for people to do. When I say that I’m not just talking about the people who are coming to these events, I mean it was really important for us psychologically. Our team having the ability to do something and have ‘work’ … many tears of relief were shed.”

The Midway made its best efforts to comply with the city’s fluctuating live entertainment regulations, with initial events ranging from comedy shows to movie nights and even outdoor drag shows. Providing one of the only spaces in the Bay Area to engage in socially distant entertainment, the venue operated for about six weeks before it ran into its biggest obstacle yet.

“There was obviously that fact that we were shut down, which I think everyone knows about. The funny part was when an article was published about it months after the fact, people assumed that it had happened again, when it hadn’t. I think that was really hard because first of all, on that evening we were less than 10 minutes away from the end of the event and of course this is when the cops show up. When they wrote us up, they were saying ‘Oh, you guys don’t have food and you don’t have this or that,’ and literally my chef was walking out and the rest of the kitchen staff was still on site. It was just one of those moments where you’re thinking, ‘This looks so much worse than it is.’

Most disappointing was not the fact that we got a lot of feedback from the health department or anything like that, it was actually that they straight up gave us a cease and desist order instead of anybody reaching out to contact us. It was point blank ‘You have done all of the things wrong’ and ‘Let’s get the lawyers involved,’ which was really unfortunate.”

On July 22nd, 2020, The Midway was amongst a large sweep of businesses that were temporarily closed by the San Francisco Health Department. Along with the EndUp, The Knockout and Valencia Room amongst others, the venue’s live entertainment and dining experiences were once again placed on hold just weeks after it got up and running.

“We’ve since come around and been able to really have more of a real conversation with them. It’s been a balance to do this both safely and in a manner that people feel comfortable, which aren’t always the same thing.

There was a lot of back and forth during the shut down. Some very valuable information was exchanged but also with consecutive frustration when for example: you’ve got redlined documents in which we stated ‘tables and chairs are cleaned between guests,’ and we get told, ‘You need to say tables and chairs are sanitized between each guest’ I do feel like a lot of that could’ve happened in a really good conversation and that it didn’t need to go the way it went, but again, there were good things that came out of it too. We definitely revamped a few things, including how our security worked and service was conducted.”

After adjustments were made to comply with the new standards, The Midway was able to continue with their operations within a matter of weeks. The current outdoor layout spans two full city blocks accommodating more than 100 tables, all of which are limited to four people per designated space. The patio remains open with access to two outdoor bars and the venue’s café, Madame Zola’s Fortune, is providing both brunch and dinner menu options.

“Some of the changes just sort of happened naturally, like how we have the ability for people to do contactless ordering from their tables. This was something that we had just started to do via online ordering with our café, for our neighbors. I think we were some of the early adopters of that, and now you see it at just about every restaurant that I’ve been to in multiple states at this point. It was really nice to just be able to do that, and it definitely has been the thing that has allowed us to successfully scale. Getting 100 tables out here is a lot, especially if you have service. So, the online ordering has been really key in our ability to operate at the level that we are.”

Transitioning from streams and virtual events into full scale performances was no easy feat. Besides the logistical nightmare of attempting to book artists who were available and interested in performing, The Midway faced the challenge of creating an audio experience that would be comparable to the venue’s main room, but outdoors.

“We had to uninstall a bunch of equipment from one of the rooms here and really dig into our inventory to make sure that we were able to hit the sound outside, which in part was due to the new standards but also conversations with the neighbors, who have been absolutely amazing. I’m grateful that they are very supportive and they basically have an open invitation to come to any of the shows, (they just have to let us know so that we can reserve them a table).”

Though navigating the last few months has been no easy feat, Kirk remains positive in the fact that the venue has booked a consistently busy event calendar that people continue to remain excited about. As the vaccination rates rise in SF, the possibility of a “return to normalcy” in 2021 becomes more and more realistic by the day. Even with the current limitations, The Midway has already started to book their several indoor spaces for upcoming events and dining series.

“As for additional culinary things coming up, they’re still kind of in the works, but we’re developing a series of different types of tastings, food and liquor pairings. We’re very excited about those. In terms of the exhibits, we actually opened up our ‘Artist in Residence’ program, which was supposed to be a six-month cohort and it’s now going to be like nine or ten months just because we had opened and shut. We’ll be doing some shows with them later in the fall, and we actually are going to be launching some workshops with the artists as well.”

Instead of viewing this past year as an insurmountable challenge, Kirk and The Midway’s staff have taken risks to provide the Bay Area with an ingenious spin on outdoor entertainment. By utilizing its property and assets to their full potential, The Midway has not only been able to work around barriers other clubs have not been able to, but it also has produced events and concepts that have exceeded so many of their guests’ expectations.

“Well, our brunch has been really successful, and I think that there’s at least some elements of that we would love to keep. It’s funny because I moved to San Francisco just about four years ago and one of the things I said was that ‘I still love to go out and go dancing, but I just don’t know if I want to be up until 4 a.m. for much longer. Then I thought, day parties … day parties are great in the Bay Area!

They’ve been so good for our café, to really just come up with solid menus and develop them to shift seasonally. Whereas before, I think a lot of our café food was based on what corporate events would say they’d want on their menus. We will always have certain key dishes, but now there’s seasonal changes that will happen as well. So, I think from a creative aspect there is a lot more going on now.”

Looking toward the future, Kirk sees no slowing down and expects California — should things continue to trend positively — to be back in action in accordance with the statewide projection of June 15th. She remains grateful for The Midway’s ability to survive the challenges of this past year but could not be happier for the proverbial end in sight.

Remaining cognizant of everything that the venue has been able to endure, Kirk mentions how she has been humbled and changed personally by the pandemic. Her main takeaway, however, is much more indicative of the strength of her work force as well as her genuine leadership and core values as the venue’s assistant GM that truly make The Midway a relentless force in the re-opening of the Bay Area.

“No. 1 thing that I have gotten out of COVID is an emphasis on how we all work together. In my opinion, The Midway has always had a family vibe and I roll my eyes a little because I know that people say that and it’s annoying. But we really had each other’s backs through this across the board, and I am super duper proud of this team and how they’ve worked together.

I would say secondarily was the need for people to get out and have a way to do that in a safe manner. But 100% it has all been to make sure that our staff is taken care of.”

Check out The Midway’s event calendar for reservations here.