More Small Plates Thou

Cafe Du Nord Abandons History As Concert Venue

When we learned this past December that Dylan MacNiven of West of Pecos had purchased Cafe Du Nord and the Swedish American Music Hall, and would be closing both for extensive renovations, we were definitely concerned. The potential for not one, but two music venues to be displaced by some reclaimed wood fetishist’s idea of a hip small plates/cocktail bar was just too much to bear. And with one promoter throwing a goodbye party for Cafe Du Nord, it seemed like a real possibility that the deed was as good as done.

But then we got an unexpected bit of good news. SF Weekly followed up with MacNiven:

We are currently soliciting feedback from the community and have noted the overwhelming support for the Cafe Du Nord name and musical program. We also heard the desire for more controls of noise and crowds and can only surmise it will grow with the three adjacent residential developments. I can give you a small hint that I am a huge live music fan and that’s why you see my name on the license.

MacNiven went on to say, “I am intending for live music to stay.”

So when SF Eater reported last Friday that Cafe Du Nord is on track to open in the fall, we were quite excited. I’ve seen a lot of amazing performances in the space, and was genuinely stoked to hear what MacNiven had planned.

Things start out great:

Night owls will be pleased to learn that the new Du Nord plans to serve food and cocktails until 2 am every single night of the week.

Awesome. I’m relatively young and rarely go to bed before midnight, so I guess I’m a night owl (and as such, am pleased). What else?

[The] menu, cocktails, and redesign […] will come from Ne Timeas Restaurant Group (Flour + Water, Central Kitchen, Salumeria) and the Bon Vivants (Trick Dog).

While twee landmark themed menus aren’t my personal jam, many people really love what Ne Timeas and the Bon Vivants do. And they certainly bring a level of seriousness to the game, implying that the new Swedish American and Cafe Du Nord are here to stay.

OK. We’ve got the operating hours, food, and drinks covered. Now, what about the music?

[While] Du Nord will still have live music, it’s really going to be more of a restaurant and bar than a concert venue. […]

But don’t expect to come to Du Nord for rock shows anymore: the new musical focus will be “impromptu intimate entertainment acts” like acoustic sessions from local artists and “unannounced sets by well-known musicians.”

Describing the musical offerings as “impromptu intimate entertainment acts” makes the place sound less like a bar/venue and more like a massage parlor in the Sunset. But hey, maybe that’s just what this city needs: another spot for the well-heeled to sip artisan cocktails while those catering to their every need provide happy endings with a splash of manzanilla sherry and a lemon twist.

After all, it’s a business model that worked for The Battery, right?

[SF Eater | Photo: Emily Hoyer]

Comments (43)

So disappointing. At least I have the image of John Cage walking onstage there playing “Venus In Furs” on violin etched into my brain. 

or John Cale.

It was actually JJ Cale’s John Cage-themed John Cale tribute

yup. *John Cale* Probably wouldn’t have heard anything if it was John Cage

with 73 years in night clubs , yes in so.Dakota we could start at 14 years old„,of course drinking age for beer & wine was  18 & at the clubs no one broke the rules or they were out for ever…ok lets get to the main item„, good swing music with enough room on a good floor for at least 20 couples..& play to at least 1;30 … & a dress code, ( I would eliminate levi.s , sloppy tee shirts, tennis shoes, no shorts or flip flop sandles,) then you will have class & they will get the message & come dressed right, & you will have a place that people like to see & will not come back to people that dress like they just got done feeding the pigs„(i know this was differant times but even in alte sixty’s & into 7o’s „in Mpls,Mn you had to have a jacket on, & women dresses) i have approximate been in night clubs 12,000 times or more. of course I am a swing dancer.

whoa, I totally guessed the UA demographic wrong. props to you grampa. I’ll swing with you and not wear sloppy  tees anytime.

& P.S. they will go home & wear a shirt & slacks both men & women „ just start it right away „ & you do not need the sloppy dresser„ that is just plain i do not care about myself or any one else…

This is complete bullshit, fuck this asshole. I bet the new condo dwellers will love taking uber there.

This is the best comment. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

I knew it.  As soon as they announced who was taking it over, I knew I was never going to see another show at Du Nord.  

That’s fine; I’m all done bitching about change.  It’s over and we lost and it’s time to move on.  Things don’t stay the same forever, nor should they.  Still, it hurts when you see a place that held so many good memories turn into another Bar-of-the-Month club.

So yeah, have fun at the New Du Nord. What the fuck does “impromptu” music mean, anyway? People are jsut going to show up and play, unplanned?  Wait, that actually might be great.  I know a speedcore band that would love to do an impromptu set there.

(Seriously, what are people in 20 years going to think about all this?  ”Why did EVERY bar have to be the same? Did they have no imagination?  Why did there only have to be ONE type of bar?”)

The city is going through almost unheard of gentrification, literally 100% of the people able to move here now are rich, unquestionably rich.  However, as much as it bugs me, and I’m probably going to leave the city in a few years and buy a house in a different region, I’m skeptical this is going to last forever. 

Manhattan, that will likely last a large amount of time, I can’t imagine a return to the late 70’s downtown art scene anytime soon.  But here, our money comes from a single industry, if that industry for some reason goes downhill then the economy will also.  And all of these absurdly expensive condos and rentals will be lived in by the average Joe.  All these fancy bars will become less fancy. 

Just look at the 60’s.  Hipsters of that era moved into Haight-Ashbury, it was cheap housing for them.  They moved into literal mansions, which 50 years earlier were likely inhabited by stuffy rich people.  Throwing wild parties with new and exciting bands in luxurious Victorian mansions.  Probably a fun time, and I have the hope that in the future hipsters will still make their way to SF and can live in the fancy housing of today and do interesting things.

Broaden your view. The Tenderloin and Chinatown still get a large number of immigrants moving here who are literally 100% unquestionably not rich.

There is not just one industry. There are many, many, many and it’s very diverse. One dominates, but it’s not a stand alone. Finance, health care, retail, tourism and transport are major major industries in the immediate Bay Area that are quite stable.

None of those provide the same salary benefits to a freshly out of college kid.  It’s silly to think anyone can compete on housing with a kid making 120k a year.  At 21-25, he’s willing to spend 3k on housing, hell not even for a place of his own.  Don’t beleive me?  Search craigslist for the 5-6k two bedrooms in Potrero Hill, Soma, and the literally median 3k rent we have (120k / 40).

In 20 years they’re going to be closing the Chapel and wondering why people didn’t just project the holo-show on their exposed brick walls. 

I really hope The Chapel isn’t your idea of one of the laststanding “hip” venues in this city. 

In 20 years it might be. 

Whoever thought those people would continue doing shows like DuNord always did was being overly optomistic and got downright foooled.  All you had to do was some research on the new owners to figure out that it would not be the same at all.  DuNordSwedish Music Hall were SF institutions and usually once the new owners get their hands on a classic venur like this it gets all screwed up, rarely does it remian the same unless the new owner was part of the venue/club and has an emotional investment (rather than a financial one).  This new place (I hesitate to call it DuNord) will be filled with duchey tech assholes….that is the truth

“imprompru musical acts” = unpaid talent. Let’s be honest folks, this guy doesn’t want to pay his musicians, he wants to make money off of them in exchange for the “honor” to play Du Nord. No thanks scumbag, a lot of us musicians played the Nord when it was a live music benchmark in this community. Then, it was something to a achieve, being asked to play there. Now, it’s just another high-falutin over-priced cock-tail joint full of hipster wanna-be’s. 

“Impromptu” is French for “unpaid”.

Can be reached for comment. Wasn’t reached for comment. 

Dylan! Say it isn’t so? Please please keep DuNord as a place for real shows. Is there a chance you would?

So you took to the contents section to make a non-comment? Go ahead. We’re waiting.

My comment was that the author did not reach out to clarify his guesses about the future of cdn. There are a lot of partners involved in this project, no one was contacted by this blog. If they had gone by the building they may have noticed the entertainment permit posting in the window or maybe I could have sent a picture of the new stage. I suppose that wouldn’t generate as many clidks though.

Thanks for responding. The post makes it clear that the stage is staying, albeit the floor is turning into a table service restaurant area and the music programming is changing. However, we’re quoting Eater’s reportage of the changes, which quotes someone involved with the space. Are you disputing their article?

So are you going to pay the performers decently or what?

Okay, Dylan. Now that “cdu” has re-opened and you’ve been exposed as disingenuous at best, what say you and your partners? 

There are more new music venues popping up all the time–The Chapel, Rickshaw. But when you take a place with history out of the equation it’s easier and easier for these places to simply sizzle and fade.

So many good shows here: Pernice Brothers, Clientele, Sebadoh, Juliana Hatfield, Loquat, Marc Olsen. Americana and indie rock, folk and local bands. It’s a shame all of that history will be wiped out.

I won’t begrudge another bar, but aren’t there like three other great places to eat and drink on Market within two blocks of the DuNord? It’s not like this place is starving for another food/drink place.

I left SF after thirteen years earlier this year for a number of reasons. I couldn’t wait to be proven wrong about how the city is changing, but that has yet to happen. Everything I’m seeing points to a gentle slide away from SF being SF and into any other place USA. Granted, now you can take the 38 at Midnight without getting punched out, which is nice.

So, is anyone going to remember that there are two venues in question here? A lot of desk chair activists whining about something of which they don’t even have the full picture. The article specifically mentions that the two venues are being worked on simultaneously, and that Du Nord space is almost ready. Doesn’t even mention the Swedish American Music Hall space. CALM DOWN YOU WHINING BABIES.

Endlessly whining babies. What is it about San Francisco that attracts such weak fucks? 

they whine even harder in new york

This is bullshit. The City is turning into some cookie cutter “hip” fantasy. I like the “reclaimed wood fetishists” line. So true. I know danger and crime can be hard to navigate. I know, I grew up in the hood, but San Francisco is losing its edge. It’s becoming bland. Also, I’m sick of people saying “stop whining” about change. We are gonna keep making noise, being annoying, and killing your chill vibe bro! Or rather disrupting your chill vibe!

Face reality: you are being left behind and you aren’t disrupting shit. 

Just disrupting your chill vibe brah! Left behind? You can have all the boring cocktail lounges you want!

I too am wondering about the fate of the Swedish American Hall space.

Though I wouldn’t complain if they sold more than coffee and baked goods.

In all seriousness, this isn’t a big loss.  Talk to local shop owners, event spaces, etc - throw shows in non-traditional venues.  Work a DIY spot.  There are still plenty of places that have shows that are not bars.  The Lab, Thrillhouse, Explorist (on occasion), Honey Hive in the Sunset (which actually just had a hearing with the city and is a great spot next to Tuesday Tattoo, Trouble Coffee, and the ocean), warehouse spaces in SOMA, I’ve started working with Second Act in the haight recently…

You don’t need a traditional music venue to host shows.  Stop complaining and start doing something.  That’s part of the problem. 

I am in no way surprised that this turd would turn Du Nord into a place for guys like this…I mean, it kind of was already…now there will just be less music -

Why didnt Neil Young buy the place? I saw Father John Misty get famous in thst place as J. Tillman, he doesnt care to save a landmark that helped him? Sam Beam? Anyone? Fuck it.

Remember when the only part of the city you had to hate was the Marina. 

Ugh! I do remember those days! Sigh.

Happened in North Beach 30 years ago with the Mabuhay and the Stone happened in the upper haight a 20 years ago, happening to market/soma/mission now.

Nightbreak, Full Moon Saloon, I-Beam, Paradise Lounge, Purple Onion, blah blah blah…..  now it’s the rest of the old guard; Elbow Room, Du Nord, etc etc. So many great shows in the last 30 years from Punk to Tuvan Throat Singers and yeah, you know we’ll just shell out the 15K needed to set up our own show but don’t expect to make any of that back. The new SF elite playground has very little interest in risky live art or music or taking chances that don’t involve big dividends, which is sad because of the legacy here going way back to blue comedy clubs where guys like Lenny Bruce started, the wacked out punk and art scene of the 70 - 80’s, the insane psych revival and hard rock scene of the 80 - 90’s. Things change and I’m all for it but at least NYC has and is proud to defend their legacy.

I miss thee Basque resturant Cafe Du Nord was when I moved here.  Had the rehearsal dinner before my wedding there.  The food was great.  I also miss The Scandi Deli, and lots of dead friends, but life moves on.

I am sure the owners and basque chefs from back in the day are enjoying retierment by now.

If you don’t like what capitalism is doing to your life, and feel bereft of rights as a citizen, then as the fellow who posted above said “do something”. Thats what Guy Carson was doing when he took over Du Nord all those years ago.  Its a hard slough to make a go of any business, much less a music venue. Time and circumstance conspired to  nudge Guy down the road, which opened a space for something else to happen.  Should we have chained Guy to his post at this venue, just to make us happy,  when he was ready to get on with the next phase of his life.

Anyone can complain, but the real trick is getting organized, and actually effecting the world around you.  It doesn’t have to only be the nazies and creeps who make the changes.  You can be a part of positive change, but that means getting up from your swivel chair, and making things happen, often with those you don’t already know, and may not even like that much.  As anyone who ever played in a band might know.

Anyhoo, good luck with all that, a if you should decide to get on up.  I do it all the time, but fail more than I succeed.  Still better to live on your feet than die on your knees.



Well that’s fucking heartbreaking.

Mr McNiven certainly faded from the conversation quickly, not much for clarification.  Sad state about Dunord; many great memories.