The San Francisco-based fetish pornography company Kink.com announced last week that it is opening a new event venue within its offices inside The Armory, the former National Guard facility at Mission and 14th streets.
The venue, which is also known as Drill Court and has a capacity of 4,000 people, has hosted several events over the years, such as Pride parties and books fairs. But its potential as a music venue was put to the test in back in July when the British electronic duo The Chemical Brothers played there as the headliners of the Hard SF Festival. The show went off without a hitch so plans went forward to turn it into a full-time venue.
After the hall undergoes renovations such as soundproofing and having bathrooms installed, the owners hope to turn it into a music venue that rivals Bill Graham Auditorium or the Masonic by this fall. To lead the charge, the building's owners have hired Audrey Joseph, vice chair on the San Francisco Entertainment Commission and a veteran club promoter responsible for running legendary dance clubs such as Club Townsend and the Mezzanine.
I recently spoke with Joseph about her plans for the new venue, her history and the state of San Francisco Night life today, and as you'll see, she had a lot to say on those matters.
How did you get involved with Drill Court?
I saw the place before Kink.com owner Peter Acworth put a nickel into it and I thought it was pretty amazing. As Peter was fixing it up, I kept telling him, "I wanna do a gig here. I wanna do a gig here." And finally he relented and he let me do one during the Pride before last. I did "Pride at the Armory: Prisoner of Love," which was controversial because it had "prisoner" in the name. But it was an amazing event; I did it as a Club Universe reunion and we packed the house -- there were 3,800 people there. Peter was amazed by the event as well and soon afterward I became a consultant for him on developing the space. But around then I got really sick -- I got cancer -- and I just dropped out of everything and went through 18 weeks of chemo. During this, Peter comes to me and says "We really need you to come in and talk to us." I was still on chemo and I went in to talk to them, and they asked me to come work for them. I was going to sell my business anyway and I was in love with the space; it could be my girlfriend. So then I just started spending Peter's money like crazy developing the space, adding a coat check, bathrooms, production office, service kitchen... I just went to town.
What are your plans for this new venue?
It's an event space and it's probably the only event space of its type in the city; the closest to it might be Fort Mason. It's a 40,000-square-foot space with an 80-foot dome, and we expect to do a lot of fabulous events there: concerts, dances, corporate parties, whatever. It's one of those blank palettes that event planners can just get creative with.
What kind of events do you have in the works?
This is off the top of my head, but we have a booked a lot of corporate Christmas parties and a beer festival in November. We are also going to set up a haunted house that will be running for half of October, Oct. 14 through Halloween, and we are going to have two Halloween parties. And we are also in talks with Goldenvoice and Live Nation about doing some gigs.
You're a veteran with decades of experience in promoting clubs. How do you feel about booking a venue this large?
I owned Club Townsend, a 20,000-square-foot venue on Townsend Street, for a decade. It was the Studio 54 of the west coast and we used to bring 3,000 people through the door on any given night. I also produced main stage at San Francisco Pride and the dance stage for Folsom Street Fair for a long time. I helped build the Mezzanine, which is still in existence today. Let's put it this way: cocktail parties for ten people I'm not so good at. Give me 100,000 people and I'm great. I'm a size queen; I can do big much better than I can do little.
You used to work with Sylvester, AKA The Queen of Disco. How did you come into that job?
He's the reason I'm here. I lived in New York and I was in a bad fire; I almost died. So I took a year off work and began traveling all over the country to see all of my friends. When I got here [to San Francisco], Patrick Cowley, Sylvester's songwriter and producer, had passed away three days after I arrived; he was an early AIDS victim. After we buried him, I said, "Okay, I'm leaving!" And Sylvester said, "Where do you think you're going? You're not going anywhere; we have to put out Patrick's music." So I stayed for one song, "Do Ya Wanna Funk," but then we went on to put out records like "Don't Stop" and "All I Need." Two years later I was like, "I guess I should find a place to live and find a bed." It's hard not to fall in love with this city, that's for sure.
Being on the SF Entertainment Commission, how do you see the local club scene?
I think the city has come a long way. A dozen years ago, police and city officials would call entertainment an attractive nuisance and they would blame it for anything that went wrong. Today, we did an economic impact study that showed that $4.2 billion is brought into the city between the hours of 9pm and 5am -- the other 9 to 5. It also showed that there were 48,000 jobs in the entertainment industry and it paid about $55 million in payroll taxes. Also, we recently did a study on daytime events and found they brought $1.5 billion to the city. So, entertainment is an economic driver in a city whose number 1 industry is tourism.
In addition, over the last few years, there's been about 200 and change tech companies that have come into the city whose employees are the millennials. If you want to service your population, then you have to give them what they need, and I'm not necessarily talking about Whole Foods. You've got to give them entertainment because that's what these young people do until they stopped being young.
I think the city recognized that entertainment is a thriving and important aspect of the general economy. Since that time, the city has instituted lots of policies that protect nightlife, such as legacy clubs. Also, Supervisor London Breed's legislation passed that states that encroaching housing developments cannot negatively impact local entertainment. Entertainment in the city is valued and is even doing studies on nighttime public transportation to not only service those going out, but the people who work in these venues. The city is now in real support of entertainment.