MUSIC In late October, I spent a particularly thrilling evening at Annie’s Social Club, watching North Carolina-by-way-of-Venus band Valient Thorr fling copious sweat beads into a beer-soaked crowd. Annie’s, one of my favorite spots in San Francisco, was the perfect setting for the show cozy (but not cramped), dark and low-ceiling’d enough to feel like the coolest basement ever, and packed full of friendly punk and metal fans. On that night, the décor had been ghoulishly enhanced in honor of Halloween, complementing the bar’s usual mise-en-scène red lighting, a black-velvet painting collection, and ever-present horror and sci-fi flicks on the bar’s TVs.
"I always tried to make it feel like an extension of my living room, where people could just come in and feel comfortable, no matter what scene they were in," says the joint’s namesake, Annie Whiteside. On Nov. 13, Whiteside and co-owner Sean Kennedy announced, via the SF Indie List (where it was soon widely re-reported in local blogs and media), that Annie’s Social Club would be closing New Year’s Eve. Though the posting didn’t offer a reason, Whiteside is forthright in her explanation.
"The recession just got the best of us. We tried really hard to keep the place going, but with the recession the last two years it’s just been really hard on us," she says. "The overhead in San Francisco is so high, and our mission was really to support small bands and small touring bands, and keep our cover low and keep our drink prices low. Try as we might, we still just couldn’t cover the bills."
Annie’s Social Club opened at Fifth and Folsom streets (site of the storied CW Saloon, which closed in 2002) in 2006. Prior to that, Whiteside had operated Annie’s Cocktail Lounge, a little further South of Market, for seven years. Annie’s Social Club built off Whitehead’s experience working at Slim’s and other local music venues; besides bands, Annie’s hosted rock n’ roll karaoke, stand-up comedy, and burlesque shows.
"It’s a community of people I really liked supporting and being part of," Whiteside says. She’s especially upset about saying goodbye to her employees, who’ll all be out of jobs come 2010.
"I feel so badly that they are all gonna be out of work at the beginning of the year, which is a horrible time to look for work," she says. "So anybody out there who wants a good staff, I got a great staff."
Add Shawn Phillips, who books metal shows at Annie’s and other venues under the moniker Whore for Satan, to the list of folks who’re sad to see the club close.
"It took a special person like Annie to bring back the old CW Saloon format when she reopened it as Annie’s Social Club," he says. "Those people are few and far between these days. Annie’s was a home away from home for a lot of people."
Whiteside, who says she hasn’t met the incoming occupants of Fifth and Folsom, didn’t want to comment on the future of the space. It doesn’t seem likely, though, that raucous noise will be part of its milieu. Phillips points to clubs like Thee Parkside, El Rio, the Knockout, and the Hemlock as being well-positioned to help fill the void after Annie’s shuts its doors.
"The live music scene in SF may miss its footing in the pit and land on its ass for a second, but we’ll pick it up, someone will give it its shoe back and it’ll keep going," he says.
Whiteside, too, will keep going she hopes to eventually regroup and open "bar No. 3" if and when the economy ever turns around. For now, she’s grateful that Annie’s had such a great four-year run.
"It’s been a lot of fun," she says. "I want to thank all the bands and other performers and staff and customers for supporting us for as long as they did. Believe me, I cried a lot of tears when we had to make this decision. I feel like I’m losing a member of my family. It’s been really hard. I’m sure some people don’t care, but the people who do care, care a lot and that has meant a lot to me."