Despite a high-profile love affair with craft liquor, San Francisco has a slightly odd relationship with liquor licenses, those golden tickets that empower the slinging of over the counter hooch. Thanks to a weird set of laws and some generous grandfathering in our grandfathers’ day, the city already has more than twice as many licenses as we’re technically allowed.
This, of course, makes new certificates even more precious than half of the artisanal whiskies and handcrafted spirits in the state. Which is why the state hasn’t handed down any new licenses to the city since 1939.
For perspective, that was only six years after President FDR and Congress put their heads together to repeal prohibition coast to coast. Ever since then, while San Francisco has been far from dry, the chances of expanding our libation zone have been downright barren.
Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed off on State Bill 1285, which allows five–yes, only five–new licenses in San Francisco. The interesting thing, however, is where the bill by State Senator Mark Leno doles out these prized licenses.
While any number of small businesses in the Mission, Dogpatch, Hayes Valley, or South Beach would push each other down a flight of stairs for the chance to touch one of the new, non-transferable permission slips, they’ll actually be granted only in the Bayview (Third Street corridor), the Excelsior (Mission Street blocks), the Sunset (Taraval or Noriega Street), Ingleside (along Ocean Avenue), or in Visitacion Valley or the Portola District along San Bruno Avenue.
Clearly, Senator Leno (and the governor, to whatever degree he minded where the sugar would be sprinkled) means for this to be an opportunity for neighborhoods on the rise that may need an economic shot in the arm, rather than in corridors already well established. Leno refers to it as a "neighborhood restaurant bill" aimed at streets "with a lot of vacant storefronts."
The ABC will issue licenses via a lottery 11 months from now, presumably to give applicants time to come up with the nearly $14,000 fee. And to think, it used to be all you needed to set up a saloon in San Francisco was an arm capable of pouring whiskey for miners and the presence of mind to at least get off of the boat before trying to set up shop.
- SF To Get New Licenses [SF Business Times]
- SF Gets First Licenses in 77 Years [SFist]
- SB1285 [California Legislature]
- 2016 Legislation [Leno]