“I love this city! And I love you!”
A tipsy twentysomething wearing tie-dyed leggings high-fived me as I passed him on Divisadero Street. At 11 p.m. on a Monday, the normally quiet corridor was alive with revelers celebrating the eve of San Francisco’s reopening.
At the corner of Fell Street, the line for Madrone Art Bar was a dozen deep. Vaccination cards in hand, nobody wore a mask.
Michael Spike Krouse, the venue’s owner, greeted me at the door and ushered me inside. Three weeks ago, he and his staff revived their popular Motown on Mondays party series—an event I hadn’t been to since my own tipsy twentysomething days more than a decade ago. Tonight promised to be an extra special celebration.
“People are excited; they want to have some fun and hug each other,” Krouse explained, adding that this evening marked the first of a seven-night stretch of parties to mark The City’s resurgence. “I’m really stoked I don’t have to be a COVID cop anymore.”
True to his statement, there wasn’t a COVID cop in sight. In the corner by the bathrooms, two young women in tank tops clinked shot glasses, downed their drinks and giggled. “We should have waited ‘til the birthday boy got here,” one of them said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. On the dance floor across the room, a small crowd gathered around a man in a glittered one-piece, clapping their hands and egging him on as he mimicked break-dancing moves.
The fedora’d DJ switched from a Michael Jackson medley to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The crowd cheered. Hands waved in the air. It smelled like sweat and Tecate tall cans and lime, the classic Motown on Mondays elixir. The only indication of the prior year-and-a-quarter hiatus was the space to move freely around the bar. (According to Krouse, Madrone hasn’t returned to its full capacity quite yet).
I made my way through the back door to the parklet to take the pulse of the patrons. Nobody seemed all that interested in talking to me about existential feelings the reopening provoked—tonight was all about a party.
“I don’t care how anyone else feels, I just want to dance!” A woman exclaimed in a British accent, dismissing my journalist’s line of questioning and breezing back inside to return to the music. Two of her friends followed, making a conga line with their arms.
“Should I be cautiously optimistic or worried?” Riaz Abudulla, a physics teacher who’s been out dancing for the past several weekends, shrugged. “I’m just super excited; almost giddy. If anything, I have a slight anxiety that I should be more anxious.”
Erica Davis, a mental health practitioner, agreed. “I just want to meet people and make as many new connections as I can,” she said. “It’s a new beginning. You can create a new life for yourself.”
Back on the dance floor, the clock struck midnight. There was no countdown or fanfare, just more movement and merriment. Out of the corner of my eye, I’m pretty sure I spotted a prominent elected official drinking whiskey on the rocks. But I left him alone, lest a newspaper editor ruin his night on the town.
A sweaty guy in hot pink aviator sunglasses and a messy ponytail sidled up to me. He reeked of tequila, but he looked elated.
“I love your outfit,” he gushed, pointing to my metallic silver sneakers, arms outstretched. “Can I have a hug?”
I recoiled. “Sorry, uh…we’re still in a pandemic.”
If the night was any indication, that excuse probably won’t hold up for much longer.