23-Mar-2012 (Fri)
Wherein I talk about some 11th Street history.

This is not a timely story, or related to current events, but not a lot of people seem to know it these days, and you might find it interesting.

There are two (or three, depending on how you count) decades-old nightclubs lying fallow on our block, and that's kind of sad.

I may have some of the dates and details slightly wrong here, so please let me know if you have corrections.

Part 1: The Oasis:

What was once known as The Oasis is on the Northwest corner of 11th and Folsom. This was a fairly large club with two rooms inside and a roof deck. One bizarre feature of the place is that it actually contained an indoor swimming pool under the dance floor. I never saw it actually open, though: every time I had been there, the pool cover was closed and functioning as a dance floor. It was kind of flexible, though, and I always wondered whether we were going to fall through some day. And whether there was still water in the pool to catch us if so. (I saw Nine Inch Nails play there in 1994, and the way that floor flexed and tilted was terrifying! DNA's own David King was pressed into service that night as a human carabiner: a speaker stack was sitting on the corner of the pool cover and was tilting in a rather deadly manner, so Dave's job was to sit on top of it and hold onto a sprinkler pipe all night!)

Oasis parties were largely outside, on the roof deck. It's hard to imagine that happening in in today's San Francisco, right? Well, when the condos moved in across the street, in the brick building on the Southeast corner, that was pretty much the beginning of the "lofts versus nightclubs" wars. The newly-arrived suburbanites complained about the noise, and the Oasis owners responded with, basically, "We were here first, go fuck yourselves."

That approach didn't work out so well, and The Oasis was forced out of business by SFPD in 1998.

In 1999, a woman named Anne bought The Oasis and divided it into two clubs, "VSF" and "Caliente". She was, of course, forced to agree to never again allow customers onto the roof deck, and the potted palm trees up there have been rotting ever since. She also lost the "late night" permit: The Oasis had been allowed to operate 24/7 like DNA Lounge, but VSF and Caliente had a 2 AM curfew forced on them.

VSF never did a lot of business, and as far as I can remember, hasn't been open since around 2006.

Caliente is a much sadder story: they were open for about nine years, catering mostly to an older Latino crowd, when SF's most notorious cop, Larry Bertrand, took it on himself to start paying them regular visits where he would ensure that the customers were all over 21 by lining them all up against the wall outside and demanding their papers. In other words, he did his best to make an ABC enforcement look as much like an INS raid as possible to the people he was harassing.

After the second time this happened, the customers just stopped coming back, and Maurice Salinas, the owner of the Caliente business, just said "Fuck it, this isn't worth it", and walked away from his business. Bertrand had won, and that space has been empty ever since.

I guess Anne still owns the building, and has decided that having two nightclubs sit vacant for years is the best use of that investment? Beats me.

Part 2: Paradise Lounge:

Paradise Lounge was the club on the Southwest corner of 11th and Folsom. It was huge space with multiple rooms, and a second floor with a separate entrance to the street, letting them run multiple unrelated events on the same night. It had a small but nice stage with good sight lines, a balcony, and in the 90s they did live music there almost every night. I saw Sharkbait there more times than I can count. At many of those shows, you could line up to get into a cage with a stack of televisions and beat them to death with a baseball bat. It was a simpler time.

In 2001, Paradise got some new owners (some dot-com guys with more money than sense who thought, "Hey, a nightclub sounds fun!" What kind of dummy does that, I ask you?) As they were Burning Man raver types, they had no interest in live music, so they ripped out the stage and ran the place as a dance club for a few years. I think the club changed hands a few times after that, and around 2006, someone put the stage back in (in roughly the same spot, but smaller). They rarely did live music there, however.

Then in 2008, a new potential owner came on the scene. The story goes that this was some young kid with no experience at running a club, but who had a rich dad. Dad agreed to fund the club, but only if the kid got himself some partners with actual experience running this kind of business. He hooked up with a few experienced folks including former Entertainment Commissioner Terrance Alan, and things seemed on track for the place to re-open. But then two things happened:

First, the group of them decided that Paradise Lounge had a "terrible reputation" (which is crazy) and what they should do was rename it and re-build the place from scratch. So they immediately started in on the demolition phase of their remodeling project. They knocked out all of the interior walls, pulled out the existing bars and plumbing, and basically stripped the place down to the studs.

And then... wait for it... the kid with the money disappeared off the face of the Earth, leaving his partners holding the bag.

So they took a completely functional nightclub, that needed at best a coat of paint and some re-upholstery, and they destroyed it. It's been empty ever since, and at this point, if someone gave you that business for free, I'll bet you'd be half a million dollars away from selling your first beer.

It's the tragedy of the decade.


7 Responses:

  1. Rick Hargett says:

    I moved to SF (8th & Harrison) in mid 2009 and went to a couple of events at Paradise, so it was open through then at least. I think you mean the Southwest corner for Oasis and the Southeast corner for Paradise. Thank you for the details.

  2. Lun Esex says:

    The locations of the clubs as described in blog entry is correct, and you are not.

    I'd been going to both clubs since the late 80's.

    Bondage-a-Go-Go was actually at Vsf for a while.

    Adrian and his now defunct band Blue Period had an awesome glam rock monthly club at Paradise Lounge called Glitz where they'd have guest bands come in and then always play live themselves.

    Both Paradise Lounge and Vsf/Caliente were shown on the TV show Nash Bridges. Vsf/Caliente was the club were the goths were hanging out (in the day time... and the places was filled with lit candles... and the guy they were looking for was sleeping/hiding in a coffin. Ah, Hollywood...). Paradise Lounge was the club Joe Dominguez wound up co-owning with the widow of someone he'd been trying to partner with in a get-rich-quick scheme. In the show they used the loading door next to the stage as if it was the main door.

    Oasis had a sister Club Oasis down in San Jose. It also had a pool, but it was outside, instead of under the dance floor (though it, too, could be covered and turned into a second dance floor). I went swimming in that one, once.

  3. Lun Esex says:

    BTW, thanks much for the updates on the statuses of those two clubs. I have many fond memories of live shows at Paradise Lounge, and a few less (and many indifferent) memories of "The O"/Vsf/Caliente.

  4. DoctorMemory says:

    "...he would ensure that the customers were all over 21 by lining them all up against the wall outside and demanding their papers."

    Ah, liberal San Francisco.

  5. malderor says:

    I got my nose broken at that NIN show in '94 at the Oasis. For me it was the exact moment "industrial" music changed from interesting and avant-garde to dance-metal for jocks.

  6. BrianBaresch says:

    As you may be aware, the owners of several clubs in Austin's Sixth Street district were arrested this week on drug and money-laundering charges. No telling when those spaces will reopen (or whether they'll still be nightclubs).

    The authorities at least had the foresight not to make the arrests till after SXSW was over.

  7. nagleonce says:

    Re the Oasis pool dancefloor: "It was kind of flexible, though, and I always wondered whether we were going to fall through some day."
    That happened in the mid-1980s. when Dangergirl was DJing. Yes, there was water in the pool. Nobody was seriously hurt.