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October 14, 2016

SOMA Spotlight: The Bottom of the Hill

san francisco music venue

From indie rock to hip-hop, this popular club offers a range of live music, plus outdoor seating. The Bottom of the Hill is a small, intimate space, but you can catch some good acts that pass through here.  With affordable food options served alongside tasty drinks, this venue is the perfect place to let loose after a long day.

We interviewed our news friends at The Bottom of the Hill about the venue’s story and their experiences at SOMA. Here’s what they had to say:

When was Bottom of the Hill founded? Any sweet historical anecdotes about the venue you’d like to share?

We are celebrating our 25th anniversary right now (2 month celebration with shows featuring some of the bands who have been instrumental in our success over the years.) We had our first live show on Sept. 6, 1991.

Since I’m listening to an interview with Green Day on the radio right now, I guess I’ll tell you about when that band played back in the ‘90s for MTV’s “Live from the Ten Spot,” which featured ten minutes of live music from various venues from around the country. MTV took over the whole building for 3 days in advance of the event, and turned our club into a little broadcast studio, took over our offices to turn it into their offices. The whole club was filled with equipment, so we really couldn’t fit in many fans. But we were all super excited.

It was the most intense 10 minutes of music since i’ve been there. Someone in the band totally cut himself on his own instrument and was bleeding all over the place, one of our staff (sadly) tried to bum rush the stage naked and got hog tied and brought out to some spooky van, and Tre Cool, the drummer for Green Day, ran outside during the intensely hot show and grabbed an empty keg and hurled it at the window behind the stage that is right behind his kit. Of course, it was extremely thick glass, so it just shattered in a really dramatic way. That show was super nutty. We were all on this high together that only live TV crews mixed with really insane music can bring!

Best thing to come out of it was that a local artist who worked for a glassblower had a vision for our broken window. He worked for 3 months of getting paid just in Budweisers, back when we still were open as a bar during the day and had $1 Buds at happy hour. He created a work of art that became part of our look and our legend using pieces of unused pieces of glass from his employer. It was very unique,  and it was in countless show photos for many years.

Unfortunately, the singer from the band Dillinger Escape Plan, a name I can scarcely write without getting pissed off all over again, smashed the artwork at the end of their last (ever) set on our stage with his mic stand. They were so pleased with themselves, and said we were lucky that they didn’t burn our place down because that’s the kind of band they are. I can’t stand that kind of faux punk rock/anti-art attitude. The only two things that really were totally unique to us and that meaningful are that window and our existing front sign, that was designed by one of the founders of Burning Man, and who still fixes it for us when we need him. It was a real shame, and we still miss it whenever we look at that blank window.

Who has been your favorite act/band to come through Bottom of the Hill? Why?

You have no idea how hard that is to answer. Yikes. I’d even have a hard time coming up with my top ten. I’ve seen thousands of shows, tens of thousands of bands over the years. I’ll give you some that come to mind, but it’s insane how much great music I’ve seen: Jesus Lizard, Modest Mouse, La Plebe, Polkacide, The Dwarves, Elliott Smith, Bob Log III, White Stripes, Pavement, Daniel Johnston, Chris Knox, The Makers, Zen Guerrilla, and I hate to say these bands because there’s so many legendary bands who I’m leaving out who put on amazing shows at our venue.

What have you noticed about the ever-evolving SOMA neighborhood?

What can you say about our neighborhood besides so long, it was good to know ya! You used to be able to cross the street without looking. It was a ghost town, lots of blue collar industry, warehouses, we’ve got Potrero Hill residences up the rear. We served lunch to regular Joes during the day and hosted happy hours weekdays. Those were basically the only guys in our neck of the woods. Then the first dot com boom gave rise to the “artist live work loft,” and with it, the romanticizing of the warehouse culture that has persisted and gotten worse.

At this point, we know our own block is about to become a bunch of big gross developments, and we will be like the little house in the middle of all these modern condos, protected by a new SF law that says they are not allowed to complain when they move in. (Let’s hope that works and doesn’t get decimated with the first person with a really expensive lawyer—you can tell I’m jaded after years of struggle!)

What are your favorite new developments in the SOMA neighborhood?

Hmmm…if I’m allowed to include AT&T park in the neighborhood, I’d say that. The new MOMA perhaps?

How do you think music resonates in the SOMA area, do you think the neighborhood has its own sound?

SOMA to me has always been about Slims, Paradise Lounge, DNA, End-up, Hotel Utah, Covered Wagon. I realize I’m dating myself with this list, as some of these venues have sadly gone away, but their spirit lives on, and to me SOMA is about that slightly grungy, slightly dangerous night out on the town, with lots of people wearing black and a place for our young people and less affluent residents to cut loose. I know that’s all in flux, but it’s one of the last neighborhoods to hang on to its gritty past. Cutting edge music in very intimate venues.

What do you think SOMA’s sound is?

Alternative rock and related genres. With a smattering of dance vibe.

How has Bottom of the Hill grown as a venue since its inception?

We have gotten better at what we do. Most of our staff has been the same the whole time, and there’s very little change around here, but we have just ironed out the wrinkles and have this thing down pat. We know how we want to be recognized and we get that recognition year after year, both in accolades from our customers and our peers and the bands who play our stage.

What musical acts are you looking forward to the most in the next coming months?

White Fang (tomorrow), mr. Gnome next week, upcoming shows Fred & Toody (previously Dead Moon), Supersuckers, The Dwarves/La Plebe, and Jacuzzi Boys.

How do you think the music scene in the SOMA neighborhood specifically  has evolved?

We have seen a lot of battles and those of us who persevered through them have come out on the other side battled scarred, but surviving. We got through the “noise wars” (knock on wood–it’s over), we got through the “War on Fun” that was waged years ago by the ABC (got the ABC to back down by banding together), and these and other hardships (rising rents) made us stronger as a scene, gave rise to institutions like CMAC (California Music and Culture.) It’s a lot harder to make money these days in this current climate. So much money in this city, but so little of that is going to anything artistic or underground.

We’ve lost so many of our patrons and bands to rising costs. But those of us who are still around have a chip on our shoulders and want to strengthen the local music scene, so it’s as strong as it ever was. Now, it’s as strong in the East Bay as it is here. Our next war? Getting late night transit to keep up with all the new developments. My million dollar idea is someone should create a shuttle that goes to all the major venues in SOMA and the East Bay, and do a big loop after hours, and charge like $10, stopping at like 6 places. Like those annoying Chariot vans, but for youngsters and people who want to see live music and drink. Fun Chariots.

Finally, what is your favorite aspect of being in SOMA/SF?

I’d never leave, it’s my favorite city. Through so many changes, when you walk down the street in SOMA, the Lower Haight, Potrero Hill, lots of other neighborhoods, you can still feel the same spirit that was always here, even if there are a ton of annoying new developments to our culture. It’s gorgeous, it’s counter culture, and it’s never bad weather!

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