The latest headliner to arrive on the San Francisco music scene is a venue—a much-anticipated venue—that ties together our city's loves of live tunes, good food, and play, all in one place.
August Hall comes fully amped with a restaurant, called Fifth Arrow, an ultra-chic bar, a subterranean bowling alley and game parlor, and a modern stage, in an iconic building with a partying past to boot.
Located at 420 Mason Street in the Tendernob, the landmark has seen countless acts. It was home to the Native Sons of the Golden West, California's largest conservation society, in the late 1800s; illicit speakeasies during Prohibition; a USO club called the Stage Door in the 1940s; and a theater for stage plays from the 1950s through 1989. Of course, most young San Franciscans will know this place as Ruby Skye, the EDM nightclub that's hosted many a party and DJ set by the likes of Afrojack, Kaskade, Paul van Dyk, and Tiësto. But the club spun its last beats in June of 2017 before closing its doors to make way for a massive renovation and its next evolution.
Eleven months later, under the leadership of music industry vet Scott Murphy, restaurateur Nate Valentine (Padrecito, The Typsi Pig), Justin Roja (Redford Bar | Eat, Rambler at Hotel Zeppelin, Barry's Bootcamp SF), and Chad Donnelly (Snowglobe Music Festival) the historic landmark was officially restored; in early May, it reopened as an adult playground worthy of its grand architectural bones.
Named for architect August Headman, who rebuilt a number of the city's edifices, including this one, after the 1989 earthquake, August Hall's 15,000 square feet exude the opulence of old SF but pack all the modern punches necessary for a state-of-the-art performance hall. Gone are the Vegas party vibes of the old Ruby Skye; gone is the gimmicky Slide lounge downstairs. The original Art Nouveau trappings remain, along with the theater-style stage, expansive main floor, open balcony, and wraparound mezzanine, all powered by new technology (a new sound system by D&B Audiotechnik, an interactive LED screen on stage), added bars, and updated decor.
"It was always important to have the total picture in mind when designing each space within the property," says designer Britt Hull of Tide Design Co. (Padrecito, Harper & Rye), who lead the revamp along with Clinton Miller, of Parisa O'Connell Interior Design. "While the venue was the main feature, each of the separate entities are supporting elements and have their own voice: The Green Room is where you can find relief from the glare of the stage; Fifth Arrow is a gaming parlor where you can have fun without taking yourself too seriously. Serving up great food and drink are just the bar for entry in San Francisco...It was always the goal to be able to offer fans options before, during, and after the show without having to leave the building," Hull says.
Every bit of the venue pays homage to the city and to Northern California. A rich gray palette calls to mind San Francisco's thick fog; Monterey pine, sourced just 50 miles away and finished with butterfly joints, tops all three bars; and hallmarks of the Art Deco movement, so prevalent in SF architecture, are peppered throughout—you'll find brass accents and gold detailing in the original crown molding and filigree along the ceiling and stage; cold rolled steel with geometric shapes snaking along the mezzanine level; and dramatic arched mirrors. The old stained glass windows in the 20-foot-tall vaulted walls still depict notable Native Sons, including Jack London, Richard Nixon, and former Governor and Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren.
Typically set aside as an exclusive space for artists, the Green Room here is open to all (well, actually the artists still get their own green room). Tucked on the second floor behind the marquee, the cocktail enclave has that "I'm with the band" feel, swathed in rich aquamarine paint with matching tufted velvet banquettes. "The Green Room was previously a minimally used part of the venue," says partner Chad Donnelly, founder of Tahoe's SnowGlobe Music Festival. "All of the windows had been covered up, and it was a smoking lounge at one point. It was in pretty rough shape when we discovered it." Now the old space has a decided shine, with a brass bar, zigzagging pendant lights, and windows that were uncovered from behind walls. Library shelves teem with vintage novelties to set the mood—radios, instruments, records; there's also a built-in piano left over from the original venue.
"We thought it might be nice to flip the script and give the fans a space in which they can relax when they step away from the performance," says Hull. "Somewhere where they can sit with a craft cocktail and enjoy conversation. So the decor is a collection of artist-inspired paintings, photos, and music ephemera. The furnishings are equal parts lush and cozy. And green was, naturally, the only color we even considered."
Sharing a lobby with the music venue but located one floor down, the restaurant and gaming parlor is aptly named Fifth Arrow—that's a target point for bowling aficionados—for its three bowling lanes, the first and only around Union Square. Once home to a speakeasy in the 1930s, the underground space has an industrial feel, with dark wood, leather, and metal finishes. There are also vintage video games, Skee-Ball, and six flat screen TVs.
But don't let the sportive nature fool you—Fifth Arrow is also a legit Cal-Italian eatery, with chef Joey Booterbaugh, who hails from Los Angeles, serving tasty shareable plates (think arancini with Dungeness crab; fried chicken with Calabrian aioli; and a seasonal pizza of the day). The bar comes together with craft cocktails by Jordan Dunn (Padrecito), Jamal Blake-Williams (Harper & Rye), and David Ruiz (Junior Bar).
In just the past few months, the 1,000-person venue has already hosted its share of hot artists with Live Nation—Courtney Barnett, Jay Som, Shakey Graves, and Bomba Estereo—and has acts ranging from fundraisers to lectures to stand-up comedy scheduled nearly every week. Coming up, look for Hot Chip (July 20), the annual Glide Legacy Gala (Aug. 4), ethereal crooner Sales (Aug. 18), and post-rock duo El Ten Eleven (Sept. 7). Of course, you can also stop by Fifth Arrow any ole day of the week for happy hour (4 to 6pm) before hitting the lanes (reservations recommended).