The Legacy Business Program—the first of its kind in the U.S.—exists to help small businesses survive in big San Francisco.
To qualify for legacy status, a San Francisco business has to be in operation for at least 30 years in the same location and somehow contribute to the history or identity of the city. Businesses must be nominated by the mayor or a city supervisor and complete an extensive application and review process before winning approval.
In all, some 52 businesses were added to the legacy registry in 2022. Here, we highlight five of the most weird and wonderful.
The Upper Haight jazz club has been a neighborhood gathering place for 33 years, with live music seven days a week. With its wood-paneled walls, circular mirrors and New Deal-esque murals, Club Deluxe evokes the atmosphere of a 1930s jazz club. When the venue nearly shut down this spring over a rent disagreement, Supervisor Dean Preston initiated a legacy status application that may very well have contributed to its doors remaining open.
Founded in 1992, the mind-expanding curiosities at Valencia Street wonderland Paxton Gate delight everyone from toddlers to octogenarians. Everyone from Faith No More’s Mike Patton to Martha Stewart has shopped here, looking to score a trick-or-treating taxidermied squirrel or stock up on glass eyeballs. And not to worry—all those stuffed mammals are ethically sourced. While its brick-and-mortar sister outlet Curiosities for Kids closed in 2019, the store has a robust online presence and also a second physical location in Portland.
You may have never heard of the San Francisco Microscopical Society, but it’s been around for over 150 years. Begun by two members of the California Academy of Sciences, the society created a community for people to study up close the natural environment of the Pacific coast. Today, it holds both in-person and online education events, with expert analysis on microscopy topics, and its president is an Antarctic explorer. The society collaborates with institutions like the Randall Museum and the California Academy of Sciences, and provides microscope technology that would otherwise not be accessible to the public.
Go fly a kite, courtesy of the Chinatown Kite Shop, which has been in business on Grant Avenue in Chinatown since 1971. On offer is everything from starting flyers for young children to fanciful handmade dragon kites. With a Zoltar fortune-telling machine standing on the sidewalk out front and heaps of kitschy souvenirs inside, it’s an ideal spot to snag a San Francisco gift. Afterwards, grab a drink just down the street at the dark and divey Buddha Lounge with its icicle lights and red lanterns—it was also named a legacy business in 2022. Try a Buddha beer (in a buddha-shaped bottle) or the inimitable Chinese Mai Tai, made with a splash of Three Penis liquor.
The Condor Club claims to be the world’s first topless bar—whether or not that’s true, it’s been a mainstay of adult-only entertainment in North Beach since 1958, with live music and a full bar. The legendary dancer Carol Doda once descended to the stage on a baby grand piano—and was arrested on indecency charges in 1965. The defense’s victory established that topless didn’t dancing didn’t violate obscenity laws, setting a precedent for San Francisco celebrating freedom of expression.
Julie Zigoris can be reached at email@example.com