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Friday, November 11, 2011

The Days of Live Rock 'n' Roll at Kimo's on Polk Street Are Numbered

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 at 9:58 AM

Kimo's, at 1351 Polk St.
  • Kimo's, at 1351 Polk St.

Rock 'n' roll types who like their dives better get in their time at Kimo's now -- after this year, the longtime Polk Street bar and rock venue probably won't be a rock venue anymore.

The 34-year-old club, which has hosted shows by the likes of Metallica, as well as countless local bands, is in the process of being sold. And the current owners of Kimo's expect that it won't remain a home for live local music in the hands of its new owners, who will likely take possession in January.

Current co-owner Tony Malson says he's not totally sure of the purchasers' plans, but "my gut feeling is that they're going to make it into a cocktail lounge." (The purchasers declined through a representative to speak to All Shook Down for this story.)

The upstairs venue at Kimo's
  • The upstairs venue at Kimo's

Scott Rootenberg, who books the compact upstairs stage at Kimo's, says he thinks the new owners will "try their hand at other types of entertainment, such as DJs."

That likely means one less place for local bands to play in this city. And while musicians are often known to complain about a lack of live venues, Kimo's plays a useful role in the constellation of San Francisco rock clubs. With a comfortable but cozy main room and an open-minded booking policy, it's the kind of place where new bands can get their first show, and continue to play to smaller audiences while they build a fan base. The club is also known to host drag shows.

"Our motivation was to cater to the true San Francisco independent musician, who doesn't have a following, doesn't have a big name, doesn't have a lot of fucking money," co-owner Malson says. "[San Francisco] is a tough place to get a gig if you're just trying to start up a band."

Kimo's opened in 1978 as a gay bar owned by Kimo Cochran, and the establishment first catered to the men who frequented the Polk Gulch area. As AIDS and high rents squeezed the old Polk Gulch out of existence, Cochran began to book rock bands in the upstairs venue, drawing a younger, straighter crowd. In 2008, Cochran retired to Guerneville and sold the bar to current owners Malson and Lynn Star, who renovated the place and renewed its focus on hosting live music.

Under Malson and Star's ownership, Kimo's has been booked by Scott Alcoholocaust -- who, according to Malson, used to require that bands performed in drag -- Matt Shapiro (a musician and booker at the Elbo Room), Boom King (who books now at Thee Parkside), Chad Stab, and, since late 2010, Rootenberg.

In 2002, Metallica played a secret show at Kimo's under the name Spun.

But Malson's favorite times at Kimo's have been the regular gigs by local bands, including his own. He says he and his partner had no plans to sell Kimo's -- they just got an offer.

"We never even attempted to sell the place. But since there was a moratorium on liquor licenses on Polk Street ... we began to get approached by so many people," he says.

The bar will be hosting shows up to the end of the year, with its final concert on New Year's Eve. Even though it's time to move on, Malson says he'll miss running Kimo's, a bar he says has a "cool, underground vibe" unlike any other club in the city.

"From the tranny sitting at the end of the bar, to a hustler on the corner, to rock 'n' roll playing upstairs, for me that was a big definition of San Francisco," Malson says.

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