San Francisco's Castro District allows new bars for 1st time in more than 30 years

San Francisco's Castro District will likely soon be welcoming new bars for the first time in more than 30 years. The Board of Supervisors have now voted to overturn rules that banned the opening of new bars in that neighborhood.

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman says he hopes that rolling back restrictions will welcome new businesses, and will help fill vacant storefronts in the area.

The LGBTQ+ neighborhood is known for its nightlife, but over the years the number of bars in the area has dwindled to fewer than 10. 

Supervisor Mandelman said a woman looking to open a piano bar in the area ran into legislation from 1987 preventing the opening of new bars in the Castro. So Supervisor Mandelman proposed changing the rules, which the board of supervisors has now unanimously approved. 

"There's simply the opportunity for someone like this woman who wanted to open the piano bar to come to the community and say 'I'd like to do this, I think it'd contribute and can I have your support to do that,'" said Supervisor Mandelman. "And now there's a path forward for people like her who want to open those spaces."

The supervisor says the hope is to allow new businesses to flourish, bringing in tax revenue, employing people in the neighborhood and creating a nightlife destination.

"Tourism is critically important to us, entertainment and nightlife are critically important to our future, and I think this helps position, a little bit, the Castro for a renaissance," said Supervisor Mandelman.

Ben Bleiman from the city's Bar Owner Alliance says over the last decade, there's been a growing realization of the importance of the city's nightlife scene. He says it draws billions of dollars, and opening new bars in the Castro could be part of the key of getting the city's economy roaring again. 

"It's another thriving business that people go to and they feel a sense of community in their neighborhood and it provides a ton of jobs, and so, right now in the Castro, absolutely it needs more bars,' said Bleiman.

In the Castro, residents and visitors alike say they'd like to see more bars as a way to reawaken the city's nightlife. "Yeah, I think it's great. A lot of places have closed during COVID," said Andrew Hunt. "So it'd be nice to see the neighborhood become more lively like it was before COVID."

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"I really wish that by the summer time they'd reopen, so I could go back to dancing," said Frances Cataño.

The idea isn't to open wall-to-wall bars in the Castro. There are still rules in place. Any new bar would have a conditional use permit, meaning they'd be subject to review and neighborhood input.