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The Chapel 

Wednesday, Aug 12 2015
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If you're a kid who's just moved to San Francisco, excited for your new job and eager to make a difference, are you likelier to hang around a classic San Francisco venue whose glory days you can never really be part of? Or might you gravitate toward a place that's just as fresh on the scene as you are?

This question might be moot, considering how hard this city's nightlife struggled lately.

Fred Barnes, manager of The Chapel, is the first to admit that his venue has a lot of things going for it that make long-term survival easier. The primo location off the corner of 19th and Valencia streets helps a lot. So does the fact that The Chapel has a lot of space — very hard to come by these days — which means it can accommodate big crowds. The Chapel's space also means that its venue, bar, and restaurant can operate independently of each other. The bar and restaurant are still foot traffic draws while shows are in progress, which means The Chapel can occupy several niches at once. That kind of flexibility may be critical to running a successful venue in S.F.: You've got to cast a wide net and always have something going on.

It seems to be working. Thee Oh Sees have now done two three-night residencies at The Chapel, and even recorded one of their shows direct to tape for a potential live record. It was three crazy, sweaty nights of pure madness.The venue has also brought in artists like James Blake, Future Islands, Hozier, Allen Stone, Elvis Costello, Lightning Bolt, and more — a great record for a club with just over two years under its belt.

But even with these advantages, what Barnes wants to talk about is the way in which The Chapel is trying to embrace the spirit of the moment, not fight it.

"It's hard not to be excited as well as terrified," Barnes said. "There's so much good stuff happening. Even as musicians can't afford rent, there's so much good music. A lot of friends in bands playing different kinds of good music — what do you think a scene is? That is a scene."

And if we talk about it dying, we also have to talk about it growing. "When I came to the Mission from London five or six years ago, what shocked me was how people went to bars but there was so little energy on the streets," Barnes said."Now, trying to get out of the building on a Saturday night, you have to wait for traffic space on the sidewalk.It's insane. That's got to be a good thing at some level."

Saying yes to that newbie who moved to the neighborhood, doesn't know anything about its history, and just wants to be part of something special — don't we all? — is the secret to tapping into that energy and thriving.

The fact that The Chapel isn't clinging to a storied history may be why it's part of the future. "A lot of people who are younger have come here and feel like this is their place. These other places belong to an older San Francisco; it's not theirs. This place is theirs. They come to us because they feel that," Barnes said. "It feels redundant to try to hold on to anything in San Francisco. That's the beauty and the detriment. If you live here long enough, you will feel displaced."


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Benjamin Wachs

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