SONIC REDUCER There are eight jillion stories in the naked, nervous-Naughties city, and one of the increasingly common tales is that of the wannabe slicker who lays out that down payment for a little piece of gritty 'n' shitty, gorgeous 'n' porous, wild 'n' wooly San Francisco. And then supposed slick realizes, "Hey, I'm tired of stepping over panhandlers, looking for parking, and listening to car alarms, building fans, BART musicians, construction blare, and city hubbub in general." Translation: "I actually want to live in Concord, San Carlos, or Corte Madera." So the square spoiler in this happily unholy round hole of a town decides to wreck things for everyone.
That sort of inane, fish-outta-water resolve is, unfortunately, threatening Slim's, the linchpin of the 11th StreetSoMa club scene since chart topper Boz Scaggs first opened the respected nightspot two decades ago, the site of many a memorable night of music and a venue that, legend has it, bands like Built to Spill have pledged their loyalty to because of its dedication to stellar sound. One of Slim's neighbors tipped me off last month that the hall which has consistently passed all sound tests conducted by the city's Entertainment Commission was being besieged weekly by a lone complainer living in Juniper Alley. All of this came to a head in December 2007 when the accuser ordered citizen's arrests of two of Slim's night managers on three occasions after, Entertainment Commission industry representative Terrance Alan says, police refused to issue noise-violation citations of their own because they couldn't hear any vioutf8g sound issuing from Slim's. The arrests have led the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control to bring an enforcement action against Slim's liquor license, which may close the club for 15 to 25 days after an April hearing.
"She has been threatening to do this for a while," Slim's co-owner Dawn Holliday told me. The complaining neighbor and her partner have been registering noise complaints for the past two years, Holliday added, though no other neighbors have complained, and in 2000 all of the area's condo and live-work residents signed a deed restriction making it clear that the district is a mixed-use neighborhood subject to noise, odors, and other industrial activities 24-7. Nonetheless, Holliday continued, "she calls the police on average four nights a week. The Entertainment Commission has gone into their house and done readings in the house, done readings out in front of house, and we do readings in front of their house every night with a decibel meter on the most sensitive reading you can get, and we are always compliant. It didn't satisfy them."
One of the charges against a Slim's manager was dismissed, but both staffers are still due to go to court for the two arrests in February and March. "I'm hoping they let these kids off," Holliday said. "I've gone to [San Francisco Police Department's] Southern Station and asked them to wait for me to come over or Boz to come over and arrest us. It's not fair that employees get arrested. We're the two owners that live the closest, and both of us would take tickets before our employees."
Holliday is confident after going into mediation, consulting with sound guru Charles Salter, and taking actions like installing a new insulated roof and a special four-tiered back door that a resolution is possible. Still, the idea that one sour grape can pull down another great venue is troubling. "This is a situation where you can see how the system, which was designed to have respect for all the citizenry, can be used by this vexed complainer," Alan said. "They've created this history of complaints based only on their complaints.