Monday, April 23, 2012

The Bay Guardian 420 Party at El Rio

El Rio has been one of the coolest bars in San Francisco since it opened in 1978, and it remains so to this day. Its rabbit warren layout consists of a long, dark, narrow bar serving cheap drinks, back rooms for gathering and playing games, and an open-air backyard patio with wrap-around balconies and stages.

When it opened at Mission near Cesar Chavez (then Army Street), I remember the vibe being mostly Hipster Mission District Lesbian, but everyone was welcome and the mixture of races and sexual orientations was and seemingly continues to be refreshingly mixed.

The place also continues to cater to the young, scruffy and beautiful.

On Friday, April 20th, a late afternoon party was hosted by the San Francisco Bay Guardian in honor of "420" which has become an increasingly universal code for marijuana. The slang dates from the early 1970s when a half-dozen stoners at San Rafael High School met at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 after school and athletic practice before going on goofball adventures, usually involving pot. (Click here for an amusing article, "Sparking a Tradition," from the Boulder Weekly.)

April 20th is also Adolph Hitler's birthday and the 1999 Columbine massacre, but fostering a new tradition of celebrating the date as an annual Marijuana Appreciation Day celebration seems healthier than obsessing about those darker anniversaries.

I had come to the El Rio party partly to find out about the rumors that the 40-year-old-plus San Francisco Bay Guardian was in talks about being sold to the San Francisco Examiner, which in a historical sense makes no sense. Entertainment Commissioner Glendon Hyde above hadn't even heard the rumors, so it seems the party's hosts were being fairly tight-lipped.

The story had broken the day before in the East Bay Express, but the woman above was telling me not to believe everything I read, and that the Bay Guardian was going on strong as ever.

This was clearly delusional, as anyone who has watched the incredible shrinking free weekly over the years knows that their only ad revenue anymore is live concerts and medical marijuana dispensaries. Craigslist siphoned off the lucrative sex and relationship ads, along with every other kind of personal ad, because they are now free.

The reported $1 million dollar selling price seems strange, and presumably it's for the real estate on Potrero Hill. Founding publisher Bruce Brugmann bought the large headquarters building after successfully suing the SF Examiner and SF Chronicle in the mid-1970s because the two nominal daily competitors combined their Sunday advertising operations. At the time, the free weekly was filled with people working at below minimum wage as interns of some sort, and when the settlement came through, they presumed there would be some improvement in pay. They were wrong, and when they tried to unionize, Brugmann fought and broke their unionizing attempts.

His hypocrisy in urging everyone else in the world to respect union labor except for himself has been the largest blot on a paper that has often featured very good journalists, most of whom have leaped at the chance to go elsewhere to jobs where they were paid a living wage. One of the longest holdouts of the present era is editor Tim Redmond (above right) whose prose invokes some mild-mannered, Old Uncle Tim who pontificates with on-the-one-hand this, but on-the-other-hand that arguments which are an invitation to narcolepsy.

Another relative old-timer is Burning Man alpha male Steve Jones above right, whose reporting and insights tend to be unilluminating at best. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.


Greg said...

The Guardian is in the terminal stages of journalistic cancer. The break no news anymore, they have no insight into what's going on ,and the progressive movement is flailing away. They thought suing the Weekly would save them, but it didn't. Hope they smoked some great product the other day, they need it.

DbV said...

Thanks for your coverage. El Rio is a community center, isn't it, blessed as it is by the goddess Carmen Miranda.
I've been shocked & skeptical about the Examiner/Guardian rumor all week, but agree that SFBG has long lost its edge along with some of its dignity. That said, there's never been a bigger need for local & state investigative journalism and that requires not only dedicated writers but some deep pockets. Where are the 'angel' tech zillionaires who might fund quality content, not just chit chat re-tweet engines? Why isn't real journalism in the civic interest any longer? I love me some smoke as much as the next San Franciscan, but things do seem a bit hazy around here lately.

momo said...

Ah, yes, "The El Rio" is what my sister's friends called it. I will never forget dancing outside on a Sunday afternoon with the most splendid, gorgeous, lovely people.

sfwillie said...

Central to BG's initial mission was to stop the "Manhattanization," of San Francisco.

They failed.