The aroma of barbecue, the sound of 1970s funk music and the laughter of children filled the air Sunday afternoon in the Bayview District as Ruth and Allen Jordan, the former owners of Sam Jordan's Bar & Grill, came together to throw a block party in honor of their late father, Sam Jordan, who would have turned 97 on July 5.
Just like its namesake—a former boxing champion known as “Singing Sam”—Sam Jordan’s Bar & Grill didn’t go down without a fight. Unfortunately, even after being featured on an episode of Spike TV’s Bar Rescue, receiving financial help from the city and benefitting from plenty of moral support from the Bayview community it served, the Jordan family finally decided to close up shop in 2019.
Now, more than two years since it shut its doors, Sam Jordan’s is poised to make a triumphant comeback. While the unwavering community support for the bar—which was the oldest Black-owned bar in the city at the time of its closure—couldn’t keep the Jordans from letting go of the place, the enthusiasm certainly played a role in attracting Binta Ayofemi, a Black artist and landscaper from Oakland, who bought the building in 2021 and is currently working on a plan to bring it back to life.
A boxer, a singer and World War II Navy veteran, Jordan opened the bar in 1959. He was highly in active in the community, often using his bar as a place for the Black community to convene to talk about neighborhood issues. He was also a strong advocate for anti-violence and drug initiatives and also had ambitions to start a neighborhood co-op.
At 38 years old, Jordan was the first Black candidate to run for mayor of San Francisco in 1963. The iconic watering hole was a place for the Bayview community to drink and listen to music. Jordan passed away in 2003, leaving the business to Ruth and her twin brother, Allen.
Sam Jordan's Bar was granted landmark status in 2013, which should prevent the historic structure from being demolished or renamed. But as a business, Sam Jordan’s Bar & Grill fell on hard times. The Jordan siblings had financial difficulties—in no small part due to a predatory lending scheme that left them over $500,000 in debt.
Ayofemi’s ambitious plans for revamping Sam Jordan’s include restoring the building, opening it back up for business and turning part of it into a craft distillery. “It’s going to take some time,” Ayofemi said. “But I’ve done a lot of research on what it takes to bring this place back, and what we plan to do is activate this corner to honor the rich history of this community.”
She also has plans to reactivate Crown Burger, a popular greasy spoon next door to Sam Jordan’s, which closed about six years ago.
While Ayofemi doesn’t own the large open space behind Sam Jordan's Bar, she is working with the owner to landscape the area into what she is calling the “Black Beer Garden,” which is slated to open sometime in August.
The Black Beer Garden, which served as the event's centerpiece and featured local food vendors, including Big H Barbeque, Cajun O' Cajun, Fry Daddy, Gumbo Social and Omegalicious, gave yesterday's block party attendees a sneak peek of what to expect.
Artisanal vendors and family-friendly activities crowded the event. The Seastrunk Brothers, Talk of Da Town, Will Rock Band and Sheronda Gray—among other local R&B groups—performed. Hip-hop artists Footz the Beast, So Vicious, Jai-Go, and Lady Red also performed.
“It’s good to see everyone,” Allen Jordan, said. “There are people here that were our customers 20 years ago. It feels like old times.”
Ayofemi plans to host the block party annually on Sam Jordan’s Way. While the business is under new ownership and the concept differs from the original Sam Jordan’s, Ayofemi said she plans to do everything she can to not only preserve the legacy of the neighborhood bar, but also to create an environment that honors the Bayview’s Black community.
Meaghan Mitchell can be reached at [email protected]