This Wednesday, House of Shields manager Schlomo Rabinowitz will hand over the keys of the century-old bar to a new boss. As his seven years of management come to an end, another piece of the bar's legacy will likely end as well: its celebrated place as a venue for local music. The bands Pfiffin, Fleeting Trance, and Everything Gone Green played the last show at the current House of Shields this past Friday night.
For the past several years, Rabinowitz has hosted a slew of local indie newcomers every Friday and Saturday night. Though the space was limited, and not necessarily an ideal venue, it was a welcome place for both "grassroots bands" and "major players," he says. "[We created] an avenue for that small band trying to get a place to play." He says the numbers of places like that in the city "dwindle yearly."
And perhaps the decline will take House of Shields with it. Dennis Leary, the bar's new manager and the current owner of restaurants Canteen and Sentinel, says he has no idea whether he'll book any musicians at the reopened House of Shields. "They used to not have music there," he says.
Bands who have graced its tiny upstairs stage include the Flyover States, Family Arsenal, Dora Flood, The Toques, Tip Top Trio, Blue Bone Express, Sister Grizzly, Nobody Beats, fpod bpod, and Warren Teagarden.
Michael Padilla from the psychedelic indie-rock band Dora Flood -- whose members have parted ways since -- played an acoustic show there. He remembers it as "a great, small pub and a fun place to play."
Justice Israel, from the band Sister Grizzly, told us that the venue was like an "inverted Hotel Utah." "It's a shame that it is being renovated. The place had that great San Francisco feel that makes the city unique. In fairness though, we haven't been back ... but that's not the bar's fault. And from the sound of it, we won't."
Warren Teagarden says he loved the bartenders and staff -- but his favorite part about the bar could be found in its bathroom. "The urinal was huge, a real behemoth. It felt like you were peeing on Half Dome." He says, "I hope the new owner doesn't redecorate, I can't imagine anything modern being better than the classic style House of Shields had."
Sean, from the band fpodbpod (which describes itself as "psychedelic / hyphy / ghettotech" on MySpace) says, "My most memorable experience at House of Shields was when some friends of a friend came to a show on acid. They were being really rambunctious and were apparently hanging around in front of House of Shields, laying on the ground, and pretending they were snipers shooting the tourists going in and out of the hotel across the street." He found the classic wood bar and its intimate environment endearing, and an ideal spot for meeting up with friends. "It's pretty cool to hang out in a place that's got that kind of history surrounding it. I mean, who knows who's set their drink down on that bar throughout the years?"
The bar table he's referring to will likely stay intact when the new manager takes over. Leary says he plans on making structural renovations to the rest of the room, including the floor and the wood-paneled interior. He'll also add a space for preparing food, as he plans to turn the bar into a restaurant.
The new House of Shields will likely open in the fall, Leary says. He hopes that it will maintain an eclectic clientele, but says the bar on New Montgomery between Market and Mission will primarily cater to the Financial District's high-earning professionals.
Some regulars are preparing to take their business elsewhere, saying they doubt that the vibe that kept them coming back will be the same once Leary takes over.
One of them is a guy named Marlon, who fortuitously happened upon the bar about six years ago. He says he instantly loved House of Shields because it didn't have a clock or TV. He has made new friends there -- one of the bartenders will call him up for company when it's empty -- and he even met his girlfriend there. (She's a bartender, too.) "It's been a clubhouse for me," Marlon says. "But the upside [of its closing] is that I'm absolutely positive I will drink considerably less."
Marlon's friend, Stu, who is also a regular, calls House of Shields "more a hub than a bar." He says he has met Leary, and doesn't think he will create a space as friendly as it is now. "I'm never coming back here," he says.
This past weekend, people gathered at the bar to celebrate its final days. One of its regulars will be commemorating the bar for far longer, though. According to Rabinowitz, this particularly loyal customer got a tattoo of a tombstone, engraved with "RIP HoS."
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