Spike Krouse is a busy man. He owns both Madrone Art Bar and revamped Pop's Bar in The Mission, he raises a family right here in the neighborhood, and he lays claim to quite possibly the biggest dog you've ever seen.
Originally from Las Vegas (although he speculates he was conceived in San Francisco), Spike joined the Marine Corps after high school, went to college in Wisconsin, and ended up in San Francisco in 1993. He took over what was formerly called "Madrone Lounge" in 2008 and has been working on it ever since.
A Divisadero Street mainstay, we wanted to catch up with Spike and pick his brain about everything from running a successful nightclub to the current plight of the artist in San Francisco.
What was your motivation behind turning Madrone into what it is today? What's your background in the arts and nightlife culture?
"I just want people to feel good when they come here. Just to feel at ease, let go a bit, have some fun, and talk to strangers. To be honest I never expected it to have the perception that it does these days. I only wanted to create a way to support myself as an artist and a father. I created my own environment as a way to live here. I just wanted to carve out an existence. I was always an artist, and a bartender. “The ART Bar” was a way to combine the two."
You are the owner of one of the most popular businesses on Divisadero. To what do you attribute your success?
"Hard work, surrounding myself with really good and talented people, and lots of luck as well."
How has the neighborhood changed since you took over Madrone?
"Ten years ago when Madrone started, the bar was not allowed to be open past midnight, due to the crime and violence in this neighborhood. You could park anywhere; there was no Falleties, no Bi-Rite. It was not called NOPA. We had no bike lanes, and the street had no landscaping. I started coming here in the mid 90’s for the Church of John Coltrane. They used to have Sunday service as a free jam session, and it was amazing. The Justice League was popping during that time as well. In 1997 I opened the Boom Boom Room with John Lee Hooker and that's when I got to know many of the old Western Addition Cats with names like Chili Joe, Trumpet, Super Fly and Oscar Myers. This neighborhood has so much rich history, especially African American musical history. The Independent was previously the Half Note where Miles Davis played and Kennel Club, where Nirvana played. And Wazemia at one point was Club Morocco where James Brown played. That's what I love about this neighborhood, its unique and it has character. I always hope that whomever comes into the hood brings something with flavor that fits in."
What is it like raising a family in the neighborhood?
"It's a great place to live, and a wonderful place to raise children. There is a real sense of community here that they feel comfortable in."
Tell us some interesting things about your dog, Lenny.
"He's the biggest dog in the neighborhood at 245 pounds, and he wears a dog tag that says, 'I must create my own systems or be enslaved by another.' He was just voted 'Best Bar Dog' by SFWeekly."
You recently took over Pop's in The Mission. From a bar owner's perspective, what are the major similarities and differences between The Mission and Divisadero?
"Just like here, the Mission has a very rich cultural history, especially where Pop's is on 24th street. That area has been home to so many people from German and Irish to Latinos and the cultural diversity is what makes it so special, just like here. I think it’s also another neighborhood with an amazing, community energy, and that's why I chose to go over there and do business."
A lot of people are saying that San Francisco is losing its cultural soul. Do you agree? If not, how has it persisted through the massive socio-economic shift that has occurred over the past few years? Either way, what can be done to support artists and performers that are constantly on the verge of being displaced?
"I do not think that we have lost it, but it has shifted. San Francisco is still very unique and wonderful. There are so many smart and creative people living here, probably more so than any city on earth. I say we move past all the name calling and fighting and start problem solving. The housing affordability crises affects us all, not just artists, but families as well. The city needs to get in the game of developing property, buying infill lots and building homes. With all the brainpower and money in this city there is no reason why we can’t continue to keep San Francisco wonderful for all its citizens. People have been coming to make it in this city since the Gold Rush, and that is not going to stop. I simply hope that people come prepared to contribute and not just take."
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