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Arts & Entertainment

North Beach jazz club opens after pandemic disruption leads to opportunity

Keys Jazz Bistro Co-owner Dr. Simon Rowe stands outside the club at 498 Broadway in San Francisco. | Courtesy Keys Jazz Bistro/Dennis Hearne

San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood has long taken pride in its bohemian bona fides. Home to a pandemonium of parrots and a “wedding cake” church, this is where Allen Ginsberg published Howl and Francis Ford Coppola wrote The Godfather—where cinephiles gather at Tosca Cafe and music lovers marvel at Bill Weber’s famed jazz mural

The Keys Jazz Bistro, which is set to open Thursday, Nov. 10, at 498 Broadway adds to the enclave’s laundry list of hip destinations.

The club is the brainchild of Simon Rowe and Matt Mullenweg, who joined forces after being introduced to one another by Robert Morgan, the retired director of jazz studies at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. 

Rowe comes to the venture as impresario after leadership stints at the Brubeck Institute and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Mullenweg, a jazz lover who cofounded WordPress, serves as the financial backer.   

“The pandemic gave us disruption on a grand scale,” Rowe said. “And with disruption comes opportunity.” 

Keys, a 4,000-square-foot club with a 125-seat capacity that will offer drinks and small plates, is opening what was once the famed El Matador jazz club. Shows are scheduled four nights a week Wednesday to Saturday at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., with additional 11 p.m. concerts on Fridays and Saturdays. 

“I walked into that space and immediately felt it would work,” Rowe said, noting that finding such a venue at a reasonable rent pre-pandemic would have been "outrageous.” 

Keys Jazz Bistro is just one of several recent additions to the neighborhood’s cultural landscape. Beloved local artist Jeremy Fish opened The Fish Tank Gallery in April—the same month that Professor Seagull’s Smartshop celebrated its debut with a psychedelic art show. Soon, a bar and restaurant named Lillie Coit’s will breathe new life into the former location of the Washington Square Bar & Grill, a famed literary watering hole known colloquially as “the Washbag.” 

“North Beach really found its rhythm during the pandemic with all the parklets opening up,” Rowe said. “It was the only part of the city that found a way to celebrate, despite all the odds.” 

Rowe, himself a musician, began hosting informal outdoor jazz concerts as a way to bring music to the general public. After the isolation brought on by Covid, “people are yearning for connection,” Rowe said.

Keys Jazz Club

North Beach
498 Broadway, San Francisco
Opening Gala: Nov. 10, 7 p.m. | $25

Julie Zigoris can be reached at