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ABC Using Unicorn Rules to Threaten Local Venues

California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), who make the rules when it comes venues and alcohol in the city, are now targeting the city's all-ages clubs and threatening to shut them down. Bottom of the Hill, Slim's, Cafe Du Nord, Great American Music Hall and even the Fillmore are under fire from ABC for non-compliance with rules that club lawyers say are outside of the scope of written law, what club licenses say, and have nothing to do with safety or alcohol. For example, ABC recently declared that all-ages clubs must sell as much food as they do alcohol. Right, because we've been going to Great American for the food all these years.

ABC says it's acting in the public interest, as do all bureaucratic agencies when they decide to go on an unwarranted rampage. If booze is really the issue, if protecting the public interest means preventing kids from getting drunk at shows, the truth is that these venues are hardly lax when it comes to enforcing booze rules. The Fillmore won't even let you buy a second drink unless your of-age friend is standing right next to you. All of these venues are strict about serving at all-ages shows, to the point where it becomes annoying. But it's not even clear that underage drinking is the issue. I'm struggling to figure out what food sales and changing hours have to do with underage drinking.

While we've all had our share of shows with the annoying pack of too-earnest teenagers, we surely all also remember the thrill of going to shows as bright-eyed teens with curfews. It's often refreshing to walk into a show full of people that make me feel really old because they bring to the show a kind of unrestrained joy that many of us have lost over years of shows. But it's not even just about banning those under 21. It's about boarding up the doors and shutting our precious venues down for good. Losing these valuable mid-sized, intimate venues could mean that San Francisco no longer ranks as an important stop on a tour, marginalizing the city's prominent position on the national music map. If ABC succeeds in shutting these venues down—with reasoning that's about as sound as a case for the existence of unicorns—San Francisco's music scene will not just suffer. It will be decimated.

In the end, ABC's likelihood of succeeding in court doesn't seem to be good, but while they wage their pointless war, they drain the financial resources of the targeted venues. It's like the ABC's version of slash-and-burn. Concerned citizens who really care about the public interest can show support for the venues by donating to their legal funds or dropping $20 on a great "Rock and Roll is Not A Crime" t-shirt from Slim's and GAMH at the box office or by email, leah@gamh.com.