Codeword

April 7, 2016

Those of you tuned into San Francisco will already know that last year jwz (owner of DNA Lounge and ex-Netscape hacker) opened a new venue down on 5th and Folsom called Codeword. Reading his posts on the subject are fascinating.

Unfortunately, the operation doesn’t seem to be doing very well:

Business at the new restaurant has been terrible. Business at the new club has been beyond terrible. Like, the attendance on many nights has been so low that we lost money by being open at all.

Let me preface this by saying that the DNA Lounge is the best club in the city. All things considered, it may even be one of the most interesting worldwide given the huge variety of events and thematic creativity that’s put into the place (Berghain of course probably still reigns supreme). Death Guild is easily my favorite regular event in SF, and parties like Cyberdelia are close to the best commercial evening activities possible within the legal framework of California 2.

All of that said, the choice to open a new club on 5th is a little astonishing. I live on the block, and can attest firsthand that this area is a cultural wasteland as far as SF is concerned 1. Although the population density is quite high due to the unusual number of residential high-rises in the area, the residents are generally well-to-do white collar workers who decided to stay in SF instead of going out to the suburbs. They’re at home watching The Food Network, not out clubbing.

The immediate location isn’t doing the place any favors either. As noted in his posts, construction is incessant and likely to be a near-permanent fixture. Folsom St itself is one half of split highway through the heart of SF and its high speed traffic makes being anywhere near the street incredibly unpleasant (unlike the DNA Lounge’s much calmer 11th St). There are no other interesting establishments within a block or more, with anything commercial being either a gas station, sex shop, auto mechanic, or convenience store. It’s also just far enough away from Moscone and Westfield that conference goers and shoppers will never see it.

All I can think to suggest is that he try to pick up some of the daytime “cafe people with laptops” crowd. Although certainly not the most lucrative clientele in existence, they do buy drinks and fill tables during the day. With newer cafes being built without Wi-fi and practically without tables to ensure that people don’t overstay their welcome 3, and older establishments slowly being priced out of business, this demographic increasingly has nowhere to go. Given that Codeword’s Internet is already good, they probably need only advertise that they serve responsibly-sourced and locally roasted coffee that costs at least $5 a cup (and possibly also install some reclaimed wood tables) to get the hordes in the door.

Either way, I wish jwz the best with respect to the project. As a not-totally-dispassionate observer of SF, it’s incredibly relieving to see interesting venues opening instead of closing.

1 Note that I call it a “cultural wasteland” because I’m comparing it to the standards of SF. Relative to almost any other area in any North American city, it’s still doing alright.

2 I grew up in the 80s and rank Hackers among my favorite movies ever, so my opinion may carry some bias.

3 See any location of Sightglass, Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, or Ritual.

Codeword was published on April 7, 2016.

Find me on Twitter at @brandur.

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