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Coronavirus Update: San Francisco Bars Struggle In COVID-19 Limbo With No End In Sight

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The extensive list of modifications and changes to service that will be required to reopen San Francisco's restaurants has gotten a lot of discussion, but the question of how and when the city's bars might be back in business has been largely on the periphery.

Without food service, most drinking establishments are still another phase away from reopening under unknown safety guidelines. It is an existential crisis for some of the most unique and beloved places in San Francisco.


The old mural on the interior wall at Zam Zam in the Haight-Ashbury has seen it all. Owner Bob Clarke has never seen a challenge like this.

"This little bar has been here for close to 80 years. It survived World War II. It survived the advent of the hippies," said Clarke. "Bar owners, I think, are less sure of what the future holds."

Still a full phase away from reopening, with the prospect of slashing the bar's already low maximum capacity of 40, Clarke and his staff are in a survival fight.

"We're holding on as best we can," Clarke said. "We have a GoFundMe page which has done pretty well."

"I've been here eight years." explained Zam Zam bartender Kundan Baidwan. "Joe has been here 12 and Tei longer than that."

For every shuttered bar in the city, there is a staff in the same situation.

"There's only so long we can all keep holding on and getting by and making the most of it," Baidwan said.

"This establishment has been a bar for the better half a century," said Dan Serot, co-owner of Cole Valley watering hole Finnegans Wake. "I consider it the heart of the neighborhood. Without these institutions, if you will, in our city, what do we have?"

At Finnegans Wake, the first priority has been the staff, with another GoFundMe drive. Serot is considering a restaurant partnership to get the doors open in Phase 2.

"Even though it's exciting for us to reopen, we want to open safely and thoughtfully," Serot said. "And not just open because we can, and we can start serving some kind of food that people don't really want?"

That, he says, is another source of discouragement: what might be lost, even if he can reopen.

"We just want to make sure that not only do we follow the guidelines, but do it in the most thoughtful way," Serot said of the reopening goals. "So that the experience is actually rewarding to people in here, versus a disappointment of what they once had, and not what we have today."

So for countless bars in San Francisco and across the Bay Area -- and the people behind them -- the uncertainty continues, with no answers yet on the horizon.

"It's very unique little place," Clarke said of Zam Zam. "And we very much want to keep it bobbing down the stream of history."

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