Lisa Marie Delgadillo hasn't owned The Lucky Horseshoe bar in Bernal Heights very long. "April first will be two years," she says. "I opened the doors and started cleaning."
Before that, the place was known as Skip's, and it was controversial, attracting both lovers and haters. Supporters called it a friendly place with live blues and soul music. Detractors didn't like the aroma or the decibel level. Opinions among neighbors seemed polarized at cultural extremes -- it was "yuppie" versus "detritus of the neighborhood."
Fortunately, Delgadillo and her partner Eric Embry appear to be doing the impossible: splitting the difference via hard work, a love of the neighborhood, and an impressive commitment to live music.
"There were people who had negative things to say about Skip's, but we knew there was still so much good here," Delgadillo says, explaining that she herself enjoyed Skip's, but saw the potential for upgrades.
The place today, with its improved stage area, local-centric cocktail menu, and original Ms. Pac-Man machine, seems welcoming to a genuinely wide swath of society -- and that's exactly the way the owner wants it. "I'm a quilter," she says. "And a while back, I had a pair of green velvet pants, and the material was so nice, everywhere but the knees. So I put it together with a bunch of other clothes and made a quilt! And that's what we want to do with this place. Make a new quilt."
Sitting in the refurbished, rewired, but hardly "re-done" bar, Delgadillo spins story after story; about pool player and lottery winner Bill Courtwright, from whom she bought the place; about the enormously prolonged legal and administrative work she did to secure an entertainment license ("We appreciate it even more knowing what we had to go through to get it," she says, without a trace of bitterness); and about what exactly is inside those old wooden pool-cue lockers that line the bar's back wall.
But what she really wants to talk about is music. "I've been a fan of Mark Eitzel's since college. If you had told me he'd play in a bar I owned, I'd have laughed." She is laughing, in fact, reliving the Dec. 13 holiday party thrown by Eitzel and Paula Frazer, both of whom live nearby. The show, which played to a packed and adoring house, has had Bernal music lovers bragging ever since, as have shows by other local lights including saxophone genius Ralph Carney, bass player Stoo Odom, soul singer Edna Love, and popular jazz getup the Cottontails.
Delgadillo lights up about each and every show, though, not just the ones featuring marquee names. "The bluegrass jam -- musicians just walk here with their instruments, and then they walk home; they all live in this little neighborhood," she enthuses, describing the Lucky Horseshoe as "a living room with live music." She's even excited about music that hasn't happened yet. "A lot of the blues music, the soul music, people want to see that come back. We don't have that yet, but when we do, it'll be better. Even though it'll be the same people, they'll be better, because we have a better sound system, better lights."
For the future, the new owners plan more of the same for the Lucky Horseshoe -- they want to make it more comfortable, more welcoming to an insistently wider range of people, "For people of any age," says Delgadillo. "Well, if you're over 21, ha!" She's thought about the dangers of becoming "overrun" with "hipsters," but she's not worried about it. Partly because stylish people are already hanging out there, but partly because "You can't stumble onto the Lucky Horseshoe on your way somewhere else. It's uphill both ways," she jokes. "You have to be looking for something in order to get here."
Overall, to the newish owners of the Lucky Horseshoe on Cortland Avenue, it's about a lot more than selling beer. Lisa Marie Delgadillo points to the mural above the front door -- which she recently made visible again -- notes that the bar has been here for about 100 years, and says "It still has the history and the soul of this spot. For us, we want it to continue to be a place where local musicians can share their art."