In 2017, DNA Lounge was granted the status of
"Legacy Business" by
the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Small Business Commission.
This is the narrative portion of our application to the program.
It provides a history of our first thirty-two years!
Section 4: Written Historical Narrative
a. Provide a short history of the business from the date the
business opened in San Francisco to the present day, including the
The building housing DNA Lounge was constructed in 1920. It went
through many years as a manufacturing site for early automobile parts,
a foundry, a warehouse, and various other incarnations. It first
became a nightclub in 1983 as the leather bar "Chaps."
On November 22, 1985, DNA Lounge was born. Jim English, Jeff Mason
and Brian Raffi bought the club and reopened it as DNA Lounge. The
original doorman was recruited from a New York club called Area, and
maintained very strict door control; you had to look very cool to get
in. It was the hottest club in the city for quite some time. Some
nights there'd be more people outside trying to get in than there were
DNA's first regular DJs were Ted Cousens, Adam Fisher and Brian
Raffi. Spencer Coppins was the first manager. One of the early doormen
was Doc Martin, who went on to be a famous house DJ.
Much of the House and Psytrance scene in San Francisco found its
birth at DNA during this period. This is also when Prince started
showing up after playing arenas to wind down by playing more, but for
In 1994, DNA Lounge was sold to Tim Dale and John and Rob
Schneider (of Saturday Night Live fame). They had a very popular disco
cover band every Friday night for several years, but the place pretty
much fell into disrepair and off of the radar.
The current owner, Jamie Zawinski, bought the club in 1999,
leaving his career in the software industry. He had been one of the
founders of Netscape, and an early pioneer of open source.
Since then, DNA Lounge has been a constant home for both dance
parties and live music, regularly hosting all ages concerts, as well
as a mixture of popular 21+, 18+ and all ages dance parties.
In 2011, DNA Lounge expanded by purchasing the adjacent pizza
restaurant next door. After some extensive remodeling, during which
time the club was able to remain open, DNA Lounge annexed the second
floor of the building next door, expanding from a two room club to
either a four room club or a pair of two-room clubs able to operate
independently and side by side.
Because of that, it's not uncommon to witness evenings where one
door opens into a kandy rave, and the other opens into a black metal
show. It is this kind of extreme diversity of our entertainment
offerings that brings us the most pride.
On November 22, 2010, on the occasion of DNA Lounge's 25th
anniversary, The San Francisco Board of Supervisors issued a
proclamation declaring the date to be DNA Lounge Day, "to convey the
City's sincere respect for their ability to successfully run an
entertainment business for the last 25 years."
On the same day, Mayor Gavin Newsom presented DNA Lounge with a
Certificate of Honor: "With your atmosphere of safe and lively
entertainment by internationally recognized artists, your tributary
entertainment lounge greatly contributes to the rich cultural history
of San Francisco's entertainment scene and our beloved historic South
of Market District. Thank you for your committed excellence to all
things great that continue to make San Francisco unique and dynamic."
b. Describe any circumstances that required the business to cease
operations in San Francisco for more than six months.
c. Is the business a family-owned business? If so, give the
generational history of the business.
No, Jamie Zawinski is the owner and Barry Synoground is the
general manager, both since 1999. Technically, both are partners in
the controlling LLC.
d. Describe the ownership history when the business ownership is
not the original owner or a family-owned business.
1985 through 1994: Partnership between Jim English, Jeff Mason and
Brian Raffi. 1994 to 1999: Partnership between Tim Dale, John
Schneider and Rob Schneider. 1999 to Present: Jamie Zawinski, owner,
and Barry Synoground, general manager.
e. When the current ownership is not the original owner and has
owned the business for less than 30 years, the applicant will need to
provide documentation of the existence of the business prior to
current ownership to verify it has been in operation for 30+
years. Please use the list of supplemental documents and/or materials
as a guide to help demonstrate the existence of the business prior to
Documentation of the existence of the business prior to current
ownership to verify it has been in operation for 30+ years is provided
in this application.
f. Note any other special features of the business location, such
as, if the property associated with the business is listed on a local,
state, or federal historic resources registry.
The building at 375 11th Street is considered a "Category B
Property" for the purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act
a. Describe the business's contribution to the history and/or
identity of the neighborhood, community or San Francisco.
DNA Lounge has been a San Francisco nightlife institution for 32
years. There is a constant flow of live music from local to national
touring acts. It is intricately intertwined with San Francisco's rich
entertainment history and has provided a home for innumerable
subcultures from Deep House, Psytrance, Swing, Metal, Indie Rock,
Mash-ups, Dubstep and Goth, through the recent revivals of burlesque
and circus arts, and most recently the growing Synthwave scene. Much
of the House and Psytrance scene in San Francisco found its birth at
b. Is the business (or has been) associated with significant
events in the neighborhood, the city, or the business industry?
DNA Lounge is known for several notable repeating events of
significance in the nightlife industry:
- Bootie SF, occurring every Saturday, is the longest-running and
most popular mash-up party in the world and is possibly San
Francisco's most popular weekly party.
- Death Guild is the longest-running weekly Goth club in the
- Hubba Hubba Revue is a world famous monthly show at the heart of
the modern burlesque movement.
- Trannyshack, the world famous drag event, made its
monthly home at DNA Lounge from 2009 through 2014 (when Heklina bought
WAR ON FUN
DNA Lounge was a significant, unwilling participant in what was
commonly referred to as the "War on Fun." At a time when businesses
were struggling in the 1990s and 2000s, the California Department of
Alcoholic Beverage Control stepped up harassment of bars, clubs, dance
halls and live entertainment venues of all types. DNA Lounge was among
the clubs targeted. The business survived some notable conflicts with
state and local regulatory agencies due to the DNA Lounge's management
team's devotion to the arts and their willingness to stand up for what
truly makes San Francisco great rather than backing down to
When Jamie Zawinski bought DNA Lounge in 1999, the San Francisco
Police Department was in full control of nightclub permitting and were
extremely hostile to nightlife. They attempted to use the change of
ownership to deny operating permits to the new owner, despite the fact
that the business was not materially changing in any way. This
resulted in an extremely long and expensive legal battle. One result
was the City demanded extensive soundproofing, which basically meant
replacing the whole front wall of the building, among other
things. That massive project resulted in the club being closed for 16
months, from March 2000 through July 2001.
After many years of successful operation as a 21-and-over
nightclub and concert venue, DNA Lounge added a kitchen and converted
its liquor license to all ages, the better to serve the local live
music community. The San Francisco Police Department and California
Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control tried to deny that change,
with no legal basis. When their denial was overturned on appeal, they
immediately sought to permanently revoke DNA Lounge's liquor license
in an apparent act of revenge, calling the club a "Disorderly House
Injurious to the Public Welfare and Morals." The claim? Lewd behavior
by customers, surreptitiously witnessed by undercover officers at a
gay dance party. The long and expensive legal battle resulting from
that eventually resulted in a 30 day suspension in January 2001.
Much of the local press referred to the several years surrounding
this dark period of San Francisco's history as the "War on Fun." These
clubs weren't accused of serving alcohol to minors. Nor were they
accused of attracting crime or violence. They were just attempting to
present entertainment to all-ages audiences. Some examples of
citations included the following:
- Bottom of the Hill was cited for not serving enough Mexican
- Café du Nord was cited for serving food at 8 p.m. instead of 5
- Glas Kat was cited for not being open for lunch.
- Great American Music Hall was cited for not serving enough food.
- Red Devil Lounge was cited for noise, with ABC disregarding
local noise ordinances.
- Slim's was cited for not serving enough food.
The battle for DNA Lounge was arguably one of the major
contributors to the creation of the San Francisco Entertainment
Commission, which stripped the San Francisco Police Department of
their strangle-hold on nightlife permitting.
c. Has the business ever been referenced in an historical context?
Such as in a business trade publication, media, or historical
Yes, lots. We have documented many awards and press mentions at
with the information included in this application. Among other things,
DNA Lounge has been recognized as "Best Dance Club" in various local
publications every year for the last decade.
d. Is the business associated with a significant or historical
We have hosted concerts by a vast number of significant and
sometimes historical musical acts, including but not limited to:
- Afrika Bambaataa
- Alien Sex Fiend
- Incredibly Strange Wrestling
- Chris Isaak
- Cypress Hill (the "Insane in the Brain" music video was shot
here in 1993)
- Digable Planets
- Digital Underground
- Front 242
- Henry Rollins
- Lydia Lunch
- Invisibl Skratch Piklz
- Jello Biafra
- Mark Farina
- Nina Hagen
- The Prodigy
- VNV Nation
- Amanda Palmer
Prince performed at DNA Lounge several times over the decades. SF
Weekly reported on Prince's show in April 2013:
SF Weekly; Prince Delights Himself (And a Small Crowd) at DNA
Lounge; By Ian S. Port:
"Prince is, of course, a consummate showman. But the best part of
last night's performance at DNA Lounge was the show on his own
face. Watching him appreciate his exquisitely talented bandmates, make
orgasmic expressions at his own fire-throwing guitar work, or giggle
while punching the silly percussion effects on his keyboard, it was
clear that a Prince show like this isn't about him trying to make the
crowd happy. It's about him making himself happy. Your joy, as an
audience member, comes from watching Prince use everything at hand to
give Prince pleasure. [...]
"No performance from The Artist would be complete without a
demonstration of his funk credentials, and we got plenty of nasty
grooves in the two-hour set. Prince bounced around instruments, from
guitar, to vocals-only, to keyboard, even at times demanding the
five-string bass from Ida Nielsen to show his own considerable skill
at slapping. 'Funk is in my DNA,' he insisted at one point, and we
were in no position to argue. [...]"
Twenty years earlier in 1993, Paste Magazine reported on Prince's
show at DNA Lounge:
Paste; Listen to Two Prince Sets at the DNA Lounge from 1993; By
"Prince and his band would occasionally play unannounced aftershow
parties at local nightclubs, often into the wee hours of the
night. These aftershows were the hippest place to be and provided
Prince and the New Power Generation musicians had the ability to
intimately connect with a small audience of hardcore fans. These
performances also allowed Prince to experiment with his music,
performing new, unreleased and cover material as suited his
spontaneous whims. These performances often took on an even wilder
abandon than the official concert dates and those lucky enough to
attend experienced something not soon forgotten.
"The Act 1 Tour hit San Francisco on April 10, 1993 and San Jose
the following night. One of the most memorable aftershows occurred
after the San Jose date, when Prince and the New Power Generation
returned to San Francisco and partied into the wee hours at San
Francisco's DNA Lounge. Taking the stage at 3:30am, they proceed to
tear it up for another two sets before a highly enthusiastic small
club audience. Taped by the Bill Graham Presents crew, who provided
sound reinforcement for this late night appearance, this remarkable
recording faithfully captures Prince and the New Power Generation in
high spirits, laughing and joking their way through two sets jam
packed with the undeniably danceable, sex-fueled style of music that
made Prince such a phenomenon. [...]"
e. How does the business demonstrate its commitment to the
We pride ourselves on being one of the safest and most diverse
spaces in the city. DNA Lounge is host to countless vibrant
communities and thousands of regulars. We've had many years of the
most diverse, weird, interesting calendar of any venue. A typical
month here include bands and DJs, comedy, lecture series, circuses,
robotic exhibitions, dance performances and hair shows. We strive to
provide a home for a whole lot of truly amazing art.
DNA Lounge has always been a political project: an attempt to move
the needle of culture in this city. To provide a forum for a wide
variety of art that makes this city a better place. DNA Lounge is
putatively a business, but it is also activism.
A political, cultural and artistic project like this does not come
cheap. While we consider DNA Lounge to be monumentally successful in
all the ways that truly matter, monetarily, the club has always
operated at a significant loss.
We frequently host events for charities, community organizations,
and political causes such as the AIDS Emergency Fund, Red Cross,
Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, California Music and Culture Association
and the St. James Infirmary. We have also provided community meeting
space for a number of local organizations like the SoMa Leader
Council, SoMa Bend Neighborhood Association, SFPD Southern Station,
Eleventh Street merchants and various community outreach meetings to
address potential developments in the neighborhood.
f. Provide a description of the community the business serves.
We take pride on being one of the safest and most diverse spaces
in the city.
DNA Lounge is host to countless vibrant communities and thousands
of regulars. We've had many years of the most diverse, weird,
interesting calendar of any venue. A typical month here doesn't
include just bands and DJs, but comedy, lecture series, circuses,
robotic exhibitions, dance performances and hair shows. We always
strive to provide a home for a whole lot of truly amazing art.
Our wide variety of events also means a wide variety of age
ranges. At some of our all-ages dance parties, two thirds of our
guests will be under 21, while at our burlesque shows, most of the
customers will be in their 40s or 50s. At rock concerts, the guests
tend to be 18 to 30 years old.
Our customers come from within San Francisco and all over the Bay
Area. For some events, we have to take into account the fact that BART
stops operating at midnight.
g. Is the business associated with a culturally significant
DNA Lounge consists of two adjacent buildings.
The main building is a large peaked-roof warehouse constructed in
1920. The main room is roughly 3,000 square feet and consists of a
large dance floor and stage. Circling the room is an open second-story
balcony that provides a view of the stage and main floor from
above. Two distinctive stairways flank the stage, leading up to a
second 1,200 square foot room with its own dance floor and sound
The attached building next door, constructed some time before
1950, houses our restaurant, DNA Pizza, on the ground floor. The
restaurant can be accessed both from the street and from inside the
club. Patrons are welcome to bring their food into the dance club, or
head out to the restaurant for a slightly quieter place for
conversations. Since our restaurant operates 24 hours a day, it's also
a great place for our guests to have some food while sobering up at
the end of the night.
Above the restaurant are two more rooms: "Above DNA" is a 1,200
square foot room with its own stage and dance floor. Behind it, down a
short hallway, is the "Dazzle Room," a 600- square-foot dance space
named for its dazzle camouflage-themed paint scheme.
Since Above DNA has its own entrance to the street, we often have
two unrelated events happening in Above DNA and in the Main Room, but
we also have the capability to combine the whole compound into one
massive four-room event, as we do every Saturday at Bootie.
h. How would the community be diminished if the business were to
be sold, relocated, shut down, etc.?
Because we take chances on such a wide variety of events, losing
DNA Lounge would mean that those events would have a difficult time
finding new homes. Some of them would probably end up in underground,
unlicensed and unsafe spaces. Some might not happen at all.
Many different subcultures have made their home here over the
years, and would find it tragic to have to scatter to multiple
Due to the concentration of entertainment businesses on Eleventh
Street, all of the businesses benefit from each others' presence. For
example, DNA Lounge's restaurant always gets more business when Slim's
has a show, and Butter gets a lot of business from folks who begin
their evening there before heading across the street to DNA Lounge. If
DNA Lounge were not here, it would significantly reduce the number of
people patronizing our part of SOMA. The fact that our block is bright
and loud and active is part of what makes it safe.
a. Describe the business and the essential features that define
DNA Lounge is an all-ages nightclub, concert venue, and 24 hour
restaurant and cafe. We have four different performance spaces,
including two stages.
The thing that most defines the character of DNA Lounge is the
diversity of entertainment we host here. Whereas most venues
specialize on either live concerts or dance parties, we have always
regularly done a mixture of both, as well as other kinds of stage
performances, lecture series, circuses, robotic exhibitions, dance
performances, hair shows. We always strive to provide a home for a
whole lot of truly amazing art.
We've had many years of the most diverse, weird, interesting
calendar of any venue anywhere.
b. How does the business demonstrate a commitment to maintaining
the historical traditions that define the business, and which of these
traditions should not be changed in order to retain the businesses
historical character? (e.g., business model, goods and services,
craft, culinary, or art forms)
Though Zawinski and Synoground have been running DNA Lounge for
"only" 18 of the club's 32 year history, we are always gratified when
Brian Raffi -- one of the people who first opened the club in 1985 --
stops by to DJ here because he always tells us how happy he is that we
have continued to deliver on the mission that he and his partners
began so many years before: to provide an inclusive home for a wide
variety of art and music, and to always try out new things.
c. How has the business demonstrated a commitment to maintaining
the special physical features that define the business? Describe any
special exterior and interior physical characteristics of the space
occupied by the business (e.g. signage, murals, architectural details,
neon signs, etc.)
Throughout the various remodels, DNA Lounge has always retained
its basic character as a cavernous, industrial dance club, its
aesthetic defined by its origins as a literal factory and warehouse.
d. When the current ownership is not the original owner and has
owned the business for less than 30years; the applicant will need to
provide documentation that demonstrates the current owner has
maintained the physical features or traditions that define the
business, including craft, culinary, or art forms. Please use the list
of supplemental documents and/or materials as a guide to help
demonstrate the existence of the business prior to current ownership.
The owners of DNA have maintained, and are committed to
maintaining the space as a bar and entertainment venue. And more
recently, also as a 24 hour restaurant and cafe.