Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Not Just for Superman: Rocking Out at the Phone Booth

The Phone Booth
1398 South Van Ness Ave (@ 25th St.) [Map]

Sadie's Flying Elephant
491 Potrero (@ Mariposa) [Map]

Running a good neighborhood bar means more than stocking the Jack Daniels, cleaning the taps, and offering cheap cans of Tecate. It's also about making the bar a place the patrons can call "home." And what better way to create an environment than by filling the jukebox full of stuff that will make even the snootiest music snob smile? Steve S., owner of the Mission's Phone Booth and Sadie's Flying Elephant (a recent acquisition in Potrero Hill), weighs in on what it takes to have a fantastic jukebox.

How much input do you allow your staff to have regarding what goes in the jukebox?
Very little. Our tastes are relatively the same. They moan and groan, but mostly on what we don't take off. Mostly things that they are sick of hearing, like Guns and Roses Appetite For Destruction. The bar staff couldn't wait for that to be taken off.

Do you feel that a bar’s jukebox is important to the bar’s identity?
Absolutely. That's why it's best to have one person in charge of the inventory.

What are some of your favorite things in your jukeboxes?
I don't have any particular favorites. I love turning people onto new stuff. We had Arcade Fire, Ambulance LTD, Peaches, Nine Black Alps, TV On The Radio, etc. way before any of it was hip or mainstream. We've removed CD's because of lack of enthusiasm from our customers only to return it and then remove it again because it ventured into overkill mode.

Do you leave things in there just because people like to hear them even if they make you cringe when they're played?
None of it makes me cringe. We buy every CD that goes into our boxes; you can't leave it up to the jukebox company. We usually leave in the classics much longer than anything new. And we replace classic act albums by Zeppelin, Bowie, Stones, etc. all the time. At The Phone Booth we've had Husker Du, The Cramps, The Runanaways, Sweet, and others on the box from day one, April 1, 1999. We change our selections regularly, much more so than other boxes tended to by our jukebox guys (according to them anyway).

What do you think of MP3 jukeboxes? Have you considered investing in the eCast service?
We've been approached by this and don't feel it fits our demographic or our identity. Those boxes hold everything, so we may be forced to listen to [anything from] Liza Minelli, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand to Britney Spears and N'Sync, which would induce more than cringing. We have many regulars who would welcome a chance to play those things; but, no.

How does the jukebox at Sadie’s compare to the one at the Phone Booth? Do you favor one over the other?
Sadie's is much more rock-oriented. Lots of old-school NY and LA Punk. It's newer and still finding its niche. The biggest difference is that there is no duplication, that I can recollect. Sadie's is more Jayne County and the Electric Chairs/Johnny Cash while the Phone Booth is more Television/Dolly Parton. The Phone Booth has been in our hands a lot longer than Sadie's so the collection is much easier to manipulate.

Do you have a favorite jukebox in the city that is not stocked by you?
Hmm. It's been awhile since I've been out any other place besides the obvious. A few, possibly many, years ago, I was at Lucky 13, and I loved their jukebox. It was
chock full of good ol' punk rock. Lots of local SF bands, which had a relatively ignored scene back in the day, the likes of CRIME and The Avengers and heavy duty Stooges, MC5, Detroit style rock. It was old school and I loved it. Haven't been back and not sure if it's changed or not. It wouldn't need to.