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Arts & Entertainment

New series to bring free music, two beer gardens and a giant disco ball to downtown 

A man holding sunglasses stands in a city street, with a blurred woman in the foreground.
Manny Yekutiel, who used to work on Second Street, is excited to transform what has become a quiet corridor into a sprawling open-air party for the Downtown First Thursdays series he is putting together with Katy Birnbaum from the organization Into the Streets. | Source: Julie Zigoris/The Standard

Manny Yekutiel has vibrant memories of Second Street in downtown San Francisco. It was 2012, and he was working as an executive assistant for a political advocacy organization that had its office on the street. Each weekday, crowds would stream down the sidewalk to and from the Montgomery Street BART.

On Monday, the street was eerily empty, a scene he called sad and scary.  

“It’s an emergency what’s happening downtown,” he said. “And we need to treat it like it’s an emergency.” 

So Yekutiel has decided to do something about it, and that something begins with a giant 6-foot-diameter disco ball set to dangle from a crane on Minna Street for an open-air dance party. 

A smiling man and woman on a sunny street; colorful mural in the background.
Manny Yekutiel, co-founder of the Civic Joy Fund, and Katy Birnbaum, founder of Into the Streets, stand alongside the Second Street corridor where they will be hosting a free series of monthly street parties, Downtown First Thursdays. | Source: Julie Zigoris/The Standard

But that’s not all. The owner of Manny’s community gathering space in the Mission and co-founder of the Civic Joy Fund also plans to bring food vendors, drag performances and kids’ activities to a desolate part of downtown for a new monthly cultural series called Downtown First Thursdays (DFT).

The 12-month-long, $1 million series kicks off May 2 on Second between Market and Howard streets and will tap into the disco revival that Yekutiel said the city is experiencing. It’s a party he wants to appeal to all kinds of San Franciscans—seniors and kids, those new to the city and old-timers. 

There will be plenty to entertain them: two open-air beer gardens, an outdoor dance hall, drag courtesy of Grace Towers and a performance stage. The English electronic artist Aluna, who has a new album out as well as a new record label, Noir Fever, will be taking to the stage for the street party’s first incarnation. 

A building's facade is adorned with a large, intricate black and white mural with abstract figures and patterns.
The Natoma Cabana at 90 Natoma St. abuts Salesforce Park and will be the site of an open-air dance party as part of Manny Yekutiel's new monthly series, Downtown First Thursdays. | Source: Julie Zigoris/The Standard

The project includes a who’s-who of some of the biggest players in San Francisco’s cultural scene: Noise Pop, Another Planet Entertainment, SF Oasis, the radio station KALW and the Midway. “It’s a grab bag of San Francisco entertainment,” Yekutiel said. 

To mount the series, Yekutiel knew straightaway he wanted to partner with Katy Birnbaum, the brains behind the for-profit cultural production company Into the Streets. 

“She did what no one else has been able to do,” Yekutiel said. “Which is bring 10,000 people downtown,” referring to the wildly successful Bhangra and Beats Night Market that Birnbaum organized last year. The series drew more than 30,000 people over three sessions, Birnbaum said, despite doing very little advertising. 

It didn’t take too much convincing on Yekutiel’s part to bring her on board. 

“It was the dream phone call,” Birnbaum said. “It’s incredible to be part of history in this way,” she continued, noting she believes DFT will become a new mainstay on the San Francisco cultural scene. 

Urban street with parked cars, scooters, pedestrians, flag, and a restaurant sign.
Natoma Street, which will be enlivened during Manny Yekutiel's Downtown First Thursdays series, abuts SFMOMA, and Yekutiel plans to coordinate with the museum in drawing crowds to the open-air street party. | Source: Julie Zigoris/The Standard

The DFT action will be sandwiched between SFMOMA and Salesforce Park. Yekutiel and Birnbaum plan to harness those institutions as well as nearby galleries and museums in a giant collective. 

The main funder of the series is Bob Fisher, the son of Gap founders Don and Doris Fisher, along with his wife Randi Fisher. Levi's is on board as a corporate sponsor. Yekutiel said he's only interested in partnering with companies that are emblematic of the city. 

“It's an iconic San Francisco brand,” he said. “So they’re coming to it with dedication and flair.”

The free-for-all festival will require advance registration for entry, a move that will help with safety and crowd control, Birnbaum said.  

The acronym Yekutiel hopes will catch on for his street parties—DFT—is uncannily, semi-intentionally close to what he hopes will happen at the new free series. 

“The marker of a great party is if you find someone you like,” Yekutiel said. “I want to see some amazing dance floor makeouts.” 

Into the Streets

🗓️ First Thursdays from May 2, 2024, through April 4, 2025
⏰ 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
🔗 Free registration