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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Underground No More: Viracocha Gets Its Venue Permit

Posted By on Wed, Sep 10, 2014 at 12:58 PM

Viracocha's performance space - PETE LEE
  • Pete Lee
  • Viracocha's performance space

Viracocha, the San Francisco music scene's semi-secret and beloved underground venue, is finally going legit. Yesterday, owner Jonathan Siegel received a venue permit from the Entertainment Commission that will finally transform the basement performance hall into an official, city-recognized venue.

Siegel applied for the permit in May. The Entertainment Commission unanimously voted to give Siegel a conditional grant, but he still had to complete renovations to the space before Viracocha could receive final approval. 

"It's been a long ride," Siegel says. "This is a major step forward. There's still a long road to go."

Siegel has spent the last several months redoing the building's electrical wiring and installing new plumbing to bring the space up to code. "The health department doesn't like porous materials and all our decor was wood," he recalls.

The plumbing and electrical changes aren't the only differences in the new space. The retail operation on the main level has been scaled back, replaced by a second bar and a piano lounge. A small mercantile area remains at the front of the store, where offerings from local musicians and writers will be sold. "Now that we can share the downstairs, we want to show the different people that are involved artistically with the space," Siegel says. "It's starting to create a clearer picture of what we're about and what we're doing, which is really a cultural advocacy group."  

However, some of that artistic representation may need to be scaled back in order to pay off the renovation costs. Viracocha, which often hosted musicians and other performers in its basement speakeasy, will be rented out more frequently for private events.

Now that the space is fixed up, Viracocha no longer has to be a speakeasy — although it still looks like one. "They are good to go," said Cammy Blackstone, the Commission's deputy director. The permit means that Viracocha can finally operate out in the open, so long as it abides by the Commission's good neighbor policy.

Siegel's next stop? The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. All those folk musicians and their fans are bound to get thirsty. 

The good news has been a long time coming for the small community venue. Siegel had previously stated that, due to "financial and operational challenges," Viracocha needed to "go legit or quit."

"There's a lot of people who believe in this space, call this space their home. I didn't feel comfortable just walking away," Siegel says. 

Viracocha will relaunch this Friday with a laid-back, impromptu poetry reading. 
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Kate Conger

Kate Conger has written for SF Weekly since 2011.


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