It’s easy to romanticize the Barbary Coast because that was historic debauchery. But what about today’s sin and sizzle on Broadway?
A spike in street violence in recent years caused a neighborhood backlash. The strip clubs were blamed, even though topless dancing had been around for a half-century and burlesque before that.
Yet the incidents were scary: sidewalk brawls, a customer thrown out of a second-story window, a drive-by shooting.
The biggest culprits, however, didn’t have stripper poles. They were dance clubs with shady music promoters who advertised to an even shadier clientele.
Then there was the dive bar at Broadway and Kearny Street with a porn shop next door and an illegal brothel upstairs. All in one of Broadway’s oldest buildings, dating back to the Gold Rush and rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake. The same San Francisco family has owned it through countless incarnations.
An 88-year-old woman living in Hawaii currently holds the title, which made it easy for tenants to trash the building and street. When her grandson, 34-year-old Jordan Angle, found out, he made it his mission to save the building — and Broadway along with it.
Angle quickly learned that redemption is costly. There was $75,000 in city fines, then $2.5 million to gut and rebuild the entire structure. But the toughest obstacle was getting the neighborhood to trust him when he proposed a new bar called Tryst.
“Everyone was sensitive about the problems on Broadway and I didn’t communicate well with the opposition,” Angle said. “I had a steep learning curve.”
A diverse coalition of resident groups and business owners recently joined forces to improve Broadway — and not just steam-clean the sidewalks. They want to create a better balance of what the street offers.
“We had a monoculture of adult entertainment and dance clubs, and monocultures don’t do well in nature,” said Joe Carouba, who owns several Broadway strip clubs, including the Penthouse Club. “We needed something else.”
Angle found support when he repositioned Tryst as a music lounge with a full kitchen so a happy-hour crowd could stay through dinner and into the night. He will target tech and financial professionals — ages 26 to 45 — as they leave downtown office buildings or return home on Google buses.
Cocktails will be “artisanal,” which means they won’t be cheap.
“I’m pricing to the clientele I want,” said Angle, who also plans to offer weekend brunch and sidewalk table service to bring a new demographic to Broadway earlier in the day.
“That’s music to my ears,” said Stephanie Greenburg, president of the Southern Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Association. “If Tryst can cater to a hip and sophisticated crowd with great food and atmosphere, it will inspire more Broadway tenants to do the same.”
Tryst is still under construction and should be open before New Year’s Eve.
Angle’s fiance, Erin Schuurman, said she hopes the new lounge makes it more comfortable for women to come to Broadway. She said the street’s topless clubs are OK, as long as the women choose to dance and the conditions are safe. But she wants to make sure Tryst is designed with “a woman’s point of view.”
She promises details like purse hangers at the bar, clean restrooms and male patrons who match the high-end ambiance.
“As a woman who just wrapped up her 20s, I have a good idea what women want,” she said.
Calling it Tryst was Schuurman’s idea. She doesn’t shy from Broadway’s history or its role in San Francisco culture.
“We all want a place to go where we can blow off some steam, be a little naughty and have a tryst,” Schuurman said. “You can have a night of fun and let it all hang out without it being destructive, illegal or dangerous.”
Joel Engardio lives west of Twin Peaks. Follow his blog at www.engardio.com. Email him at email@example.com.