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The latest hot spot for art and dancing in downtown SF: A 132-year-old bank

A DJ, seen from behind, performs on stage with large speakers in an opulent hall filled with a vibrant crowd, under colorful lighting, inside a grand, ornate building.
In the past year, the Hibernia has hosted two events with big-name electronic music artists: Honey Dijon and Bonobo. An EDM-specific residency is forthcoming. | Source: John Slack / Courtesy of DJ Dials and 15Utah

During last year’s Pride week festivities downtown, San Francisco hosted an elaborate party complete with champagne toasts, a dance club featuring dueling DJs, a rope-wielding dominatrix, performers swinging around a stripper pole in a VIP lounge and actors gallivanting around attendees dressed up in black-tie attire. 

This spectacle of delightful debauchery transpired in an unusual space: a 132-year-old bank near some of the city’s most troubled areas. 

A performer in provocative attire is pole dancing under green lights, while a group of women in themed costumes eagerly watch from a lush, decorated background.
Last year, Pop Culture Immersives hosted a whimsical Gotham City-themed party during Pride at the Hibernia. | Source: Nicole Fraser-Herron / Courtesy of Pop Culture Immersives

The Hibernia, a Beaux-Arts landmark at 1 Jones St. in SF’s Mid-Market neighborhood, has spent the last few years experimenting with new categories of bookings, including 2023’s over-the-top Gotham City-themed party. While it still hosts a more traditional slate of events—including weddings, charity galas and corporate take-overs—it’s increasingly embracing immersive art, live performances, and electronic dance music. 

For Daniel Sherman, who threw the aforementioned bash, the space’s versatility—from the “grandiosity” of its main floor to the “dark vault systems” downstairs—makes it a perfect canvas for the city’s art scene. 

“From the moment that we walked in we were teeming with ideas,” he said. 

A lively crowd at a party with people in colorful outfits and face paint, seated and standing in a dimly lit room with ornate decor and an atmosphere of excitement.
The Hibernia has been embracing immersive art, live performances, and electronic dance music in the wake of the pandemic. | Source: Nicole Fraser-Herron / Courtesy of Pop Culture Immersives

The Hibernia, which completed a multi-million-dollar renovation in the mid-2010s, had just pivoted away from renting out space to tenants and had started shopping itself around for events when Covid hit. 

Now, as San Francisco struggles to pull itself out of its post-pandemic malaise, the Hibernia is mirroring downtown’s change of identity, wanting to be known not just for tech events, but as a venue for art and music. 

In the past two years, it has hosted scores of local DJs and performers in its lower level, as well as two major shows from electronic musicians Honey Dijon and Bonobo, who performed their sets on the main floor under the Hibernia’s Tiffany stained-glass ceilings. Later this year, the venue will launch an EDM residency that includes 14 performances over six weeks. 

A worker in a hard hat and reflective vest is adjusting a window in an ornate room with detailed paneling and a large chandelier above.The image depicts an opulent room with ornate, red and gold ceiling details, elaborate chandeliers, gold-framed double doors, and dark gray seating areas on a red carpet.
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A construction worker opens the window in one of the rooms on the main floor of the Hibernia bank building during major renovations in 2015, left, and the same room after renovations in 2024. | Liz Hafalia/SF Chronicle/Getty Images; Tâm Vũ/The Standard
The room has deep blue walls, a red tufted sofa, two beige armchairs, and a window with blue curtains. A potted plant and a framed picture are on the wall.
A seating area is decorated with elaborate couches in the Hibernia Bank. Part of the pitch to entertainers is the wide variety of space available at the venue. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

As opposed to the underground dingy warehouses (or caves) that stereotypically play host to hip DJ sets, the Hibernia offers a luxe taste of old-school San Francisco and plenty of restroom facilities.

“We never thought that we’d be on this path, but the excitement is pretty crazy,” said Terry Lim, chief revenue officer at the Hibernia. “Coming off the back of Covid, you have to think outside the box. And now we feel like we’re in the middle of it.” 

But in a city better known for boxing itself in, the intractable question remains: Can San Francisco and venues like Hibernia overcome the substantial barriers keeping them from actually being cool?

A smiling man in a blue blazer and glasses stands in an ornate room with arched windows and gold detailing, holding a chair in front of a row of empty chairs.
Terry C. Lim, one of the Hibernia's property managers, says hosting nightlife events at the venue "makes perfect sense.” | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

The cost conundrum  

The Hibernia has four floors, each with its own distinct vibe, from its brick-and-metal basement to a penthouse roofdeck strung with fairy lights. Clients can rent out one section or the entire building, with capacities ranging from as few as about 100 people, to 800 throughout the downstairs dance floor, to 2,000 for the entire building. 

“Every floor has a totally different feel,” said Lim. “Once you come in here you fall in love.” 

The Hibernia’s immersion into the EDM space started in earnest when it began renting out its basement to a local group of promoters called Rinsed SF, which lured crowds with the promise of eclectic DJs and the irresistible pitch to “party in a 100-year-old underground bank vault.” 

The success of those events led to connections with other promoters and bigger acts. DJ Dials and 15Utah, promoters that run a wide range of events throughout the Bay, worked with Hibernia to bring in Honey Dijon last winter and Bonobo last month, with both shows selling out. Part of the appeal for artists, they said, is getting to perform in a unique, non-traditional space. 

The image shows an ornate hall with a domed skylight, detailed golden moldings, rows of gold chairs, and a raised stage area. The walls are richly decorated with intricate designs.
The Hibernia, which completed a multi-million-dollar renovation in the mid-2010s, has started shopping itself around for novel events when the pandemic hit. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard
The image shows a vintage bank vault door with brass detailing, a large central lock wheel, and decorative yellow and red lines on a black background.
The door of an old vault has been repurposed as one of the event rooms at the Hibernia. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

“This is a storied artist that has been playing sold-out rooms in San Francisco for 15, 20 years, and he wanted to come and play open-to-close in a fucking bank in the middle of the Tenderloin,” DJ Dials aka Noah Bennett said of Bonobo.  

Admittedly, some of the Hibernia’s charms also make it difficult to throw raves there. Its marble walls and high ceilings present acoustic challenges and, frankly, the space is expensive, said 15Utah’s Carey Kopp. 

“If we could do something every week, we would be,” he said. “But it’s not financially sustainable.”

The duo said that they plan to host more events at the Hibernia in the future but have struggled with ticket pricing and trying to make shows inclusive, given the costs. 

As of now, they see the space as mainly catering to corporate entities, who can afford the sky-high fees and don’t have to worry about ticket sales.   

Sherman, too, said that he dreams of throwing future Hibernia events, but that it’s difficult to make his ideas viable, given the costs and people’s sluggishness to get back into nightlife. The show promoters agreed that running events has been more of a struggle post-pandemic, and urged people to support the grassroots arts that everyone says the city so desperately needs. 

“Unless we can retrain San Francisco audiences to buy tickets ahead of time and show up for these events, or unless we can get the city to help out more with the arts, there are just so many barriers to entry,” Sherman said. 

A well-lit, historic bank building at night with columns is adorned with purple and green lights. People are gathered at the entrance near a "McAllister" street sign.The image depicts a grand neoclassical building with a large dome, columns, and steps, alongside a street with a horse-drawn streetcar and people nearby.
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The Hibernia Bank in June 2024, left, and an archival photo of Hibernia Bank in 1896. | Courtesy Pop Culture Immersives; Courtesy OpenSFHistory
The image shows a rooftop patio with string lights, high tables, and barstools, surrounded by planters with greenery. In the background, there are urban buildings and a green domed structure.
The penthouse leads to an outdoor patio at the Hibernia offering views of downtown. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

The Hibernia’s owners, meanwhile, argue that it tries to offer artists and creatives a good price as it works to diversify its offerings—and ultimately tries to book more events to keep the building from sitting dark. For example, it’s hosting a symphony pianist later this month and is in talks to bring a Cirque du Soliel show to the venue in 2025.

“While our bread and butter is weddings and corporates, EDM and live music operate on a different schedule,” said Lim. Companies host their events during the week and San Francisco weddings typically take place in the fall, leaving the weekends open for this kind of nightlife: “In terms of other revenue streams, it makes perfect sense.” 

Ultimately, the Hibernia sees itself as a case study in how the city needs to think creatively and focus on adaptability as a key to long-term survival. 

“We’re in the neighborhood that gets bashed every day of the week and we’re still here and standing,” Lim said. “We’re bringing 2,000 people to an event in Mid-Market. This place is like an argument against the doom loop.”