This story has been updated and revised to reflect responses from Veritas, the big real estate company that manages the property, and comments from owner Sarah Wilde.
In an email sent this week to the jazz and blues artists who regularly perform at her club, Sarah Wilde, proprietor and talent booker at Club Deluxe in the Haight said that the venerable cocktails-and-jazz nightlife spot would be closing.
“Dear Musicians, It is with sadness, and a hint of disbelief that I must let you know Deluxe will be closing,” the email, which was forwarded to The Standard, began.
In the email, Wilde blamed the move on “the multi-billion-dollar real estate company that owns our building.”
But Veritas Investments, the real estate company that Wilde alluded to but did not name, says it is being unfairly lambasted.
Jeff Jerden, chief operating officer at Veritas, said in an emailed statement that Veritas has attempted to negotiate a new lease with favorable terms for Club Deluxe since March of last year, including a rent reduction of $2,000 and forgiving as much as $200,000 in back rent.
“Despite the owner’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful negotiations, we have not initiated eviction,” Jerden’s statement said. “To the contrary, this new lease would have allowed Club Deluxe to remain in their space through at least 2027.”
Correspondence and documents provided by Veritas show the company offering a new lease and back-rent relief. The Standard was not able to independently determine the fairness of the offer.
Wilde, in an interview Friday, called Veritas’s position “a false representation of the situation on multiple levels.”
In a July 20 letter Wilde wrote to Veritas which was provided to The Standard by the landlord, and in social media posts, Wilde says that the landlord’s proposal would actually increase the venue’s rent. In the same letter, Wilde and her partner Chris Pankow also allege Veritas has harassed them for nearly a year and called the new lease proposal “by no means (and in no one’s opinion other than your own) mutually acceptable or reasonable.”
A letter from the landlord’s attorney dated July 19 demands about $285,000 in back-due rent by July 31, though it does not threaten immediate eviction.
Jerden of Veritas also said via email: “We don’t own the land, we don’t own the building. We manage the property.” Property records show the owner as a limited partnership whose authorized signatory was the CEO of Veritas. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the owner due to an error in the city’s property records.)
In her email to musicians and others earlier this week, Wilde wrote:
Please allow me to say, I have done everything I can.
We do not need a GoFundMe.
We need the multi-billion-dollar real estate company that owns our building, to allow a fraction of their portfolio to remain occupied by small businesses, artists, the unsigned musician, the carpenter, the waitress, and the single parent. Not because any of the above are pitiable, in need of charity or cannot pay fair market rent, but because we simply cannot be held to the same leases as multimillion dollar companies; we do not have real estate assets to put up as collateral or inflated tech salaries piling up in our accounts.
We need the insatiable greed of wealthy investors, to give a flapjack about the cities they are systemically draining the color out of…but they do not.
We need these investors to see us as having value in our community, but they do not, and so we vanish from the cityscapes they come into.
Local musicians lamented the likely closure of the venue.
“It’s a huge loss to the music community,” said Aki Kumar, a local blues musician who has played the club many times in the past 5 years. “It’s a very rare club.”
Kumar said that Club Deluxe’s prime location—located at the corner of the iconic intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets—meant that it constantly drew in foot traffic from tourists and others passing through the neighborhood.
In addition to being a place for patrons to take in some culture, Club Deluxe was also a vital component of the local music ecosystem—as it paid musicians to perform and kept a busy calendar. The club presented live music just about every night of the week, Kumar said, adding that before the pandemic, it often hosted two bands a day.
“I always looked forward to playing that club, it was always fun,” Kumar said. “The payment was also fair. You never felt like you were walking with less than you deserved.”
Peter Bascom borrows a light from women smokers at the Club Deluxe on August 15, 1996 in San Francisco, Calif. | Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Many of the musicians who received the email shared it on social media with accompanying posts imploring local media to cover the news and San Francisco politicians to intervene in the matter.
“This has to do with Big Tech taking over SF and big, greedy landlords not giving a damn about culture in this city,” Cathy Lemons, a blues singer and songwriter, wrote on her Facebook page. “And I for one have had it. London Breed at what point do you stop rolling over?”
The venue’s founder, Jay Johnson, first opened Club Deluxe in 1989 and managed the spot until his death in 2015. The following year, Sarah Wilde and Chris Pankow, a couple with a passion for revitalizing old establishments including Charlie’s Smoke Shop—which they briefly ran as Wilde Brothers Coffee—in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland, began managing Club Deluxe.
Under Wilde and Pankow’s management, the club continued to rank among the top jazz bars in the city (according to sites like Culture Trip and Yelp), alongside storied venues like the Boom Boom Room and Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio.
For now, it seems that the club plans to continue hosting bands until its imminent closure. Wilde concluded her email by encouraging the club’s regular performers to “grab a set” while they can.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the landlord of the building, based on city property records. This person contacted The Standard and denied being the owner. An official with the San Francisco Assessor-Recorder’s office subsequently acknowledged an error in the city’s Property Information Map.
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