Jamie Zawinski (JWZ) signed a lease 17 years ago for the SoMa space to house DNA Lounge. Unfortunately, the eccentric live music and event venue recently announced that they may soon close permanently due to financial issues…unless other options present themselves.
A recent blog post by the owner speaks very candidly about the financial troubles saying that this is not a wishful call to action, however, the resulting outcry from DNA Lounge loyalists may have led to a change of heart. On Christmas Day, a new blog post surfaced with a more positive (but not overly promising) tone and a link out to their new Patreon page from the owner.
JWZ started his career in nightclub management back in 1999. He has lived in San Francisco since 1996 and before that resided in Berkeley since 1989. Prior to his food and entertainment ventures, JWZ worked as a programmer and was one of the founders of Netscape and Mozilla.org. He has been involved in the free software and open source community since the mid-1980s.
DNA Lounge has hosted countless shows over the past two decades, often serving a space for a variety of electronic music sub-genres. Alternative shows such as psytrance, burlesque nights, and rock operas were common. Most notably, regular Bootie party nights started at DNA Lounge back in 2006. Previous to that, Bootie was hosted at Cherry Bar over on Folsom, a business purchased by JWZ and transformed into an all-ages venue called CodeWord.
“DNA Lounge has always been a political project: an attempt to move the needle of culture in this city,” JWZ wrote on the club’s website. Regulars consider DNA Lounge to be a haven of free expression. But attendance has dropped 15% in 2016 and over the past few years, DNA Lounge has been hemorrhaging money.
CodeWord opened in November 2015 (after a two-year legal battle) at 917 Folsom St. in the former Qi Ultra Lounge space. “The basic concept is the same…a restaurant in one portion and nightclub in the other,” said Barry Synoground, general manager of Codeword and DNA Lounge. CodeWord hosts weekly parties, primarily featuring DJs, Tuesday through Saturday nights.
The restaurant portion offers a 24-hour pizza parlor, DNA Pizza (another JWZ venture), which serves coffee in the mornings, salads and sandwiches in the afternoon, and pizza and beer through the night. There are currently two DNA Pizza locations in SF.
CodeWord supposedly represents only about 1/2 to 2/3rds of JQZ’s financial problem, which means closing CodeWord is not a solution for saving DNA Lounge. “Even without that boat anchor around my neck, I still can’t afford to keep DNA afloat,” says JWZ. DNA Lounge has been hemorrhaging tons of money (around $380,000 annually) all on its own and needs more than 800 visitors a week just to break even. Eliminating CodeWord would help, but not enough because, “…Codeword has no business to speak of…we’re screwed.”
DNA is still accepting bookings, but JWZ is searching for community funds to revive the beloved club. Some have suggested JWZ should mimic Borderlands Books on Valencia St., which announced a sponsorship system a couple years ago to collect donations and “repaid” members. The result was more than 300 people immediately pledged $100 per month to keep the doors open.
Oddly enough, when Borderlands was previously in danger of closing back in February 2015, JWZ wrote a post titled, “Borderlands Books owner doubles down on douchebaggery,” using the owner’s unfortunately phrased remarks about the burden of minimum wage increases, calling all bookstores a “nonviable business.”
There are many theories for why DNA Lounge is struggling, such as the infrequency of 21+ shows, which are likely costing revenue opportunities from low sales of alcoholic drinks. DJ dance parties have basically the entire business model since opening day and the venue has not had much success with corporate event planning.
Others have cited the poor working conditions and management as the root cause of DNA Lounge. DNA Pizza does not have the best track record for accurate and complete orders, there have been whispers of rude staff, and other venues/groups/performers have shared negative perspectives about paying for bar service and bartenders.
In any case, supporters can currently give one-time donations on the club’s website or contribute or on a monthly basis via the DNA Lounge Patreon. So far, the Patreon has collected pledges worth just over $2,100 of the $8,000 per month target, representing one month’s liability insurance. Whether the future is going to be along the lines of a more flight or fight approach, and/or a new business model, is yet to be determined.