Just off the corner of Sixth and Market, there's a little hole-in-the-wall that runs off local music and artwork; cheap, quality drinks; and a neighborhood that’s littered with character.
Showdown is the creation of Johnny Venetti, who's been throwing music events and DJing around the Bay Area since moving to Oakland in 1999, and his business partner, Anita Dah. After a couple of years of looking for a space where local musicians and artists could showcase their talents, they opened Showdown in 2009.
Showdown's building at 10 6th St., previously The Matador, was one of the first built South of Market after the 1906 earthquake and fire, which explains the Prohibition-era air of the place. It's been a saloon of one type or another since 1935, Venetti says. Having been a featured DJ at The Arrow Bar, The Matador’s predecessor, he was not only familiar with the venue, but aware of its potential as well.
On bustling Sixth Street, Showdown is easily identifiable by the large, brightly lit arrow that points down toward its entrance. Through the old Dutch door is a long, thick wooden bar, which runs parallel to a wall covered in local artwork, and stretches back toward a dark open space. 15 old black leather swinging chairs hug the bar, while eight massive amber glass chandeliers float above. Behind the counter are shelves packed with hundreds of bottles and glasses; four giant mirrors along the wall make the already high ceilings seem even more lofty.
The DJ booth, tucked to the right, has been booked every single night since Showdown first opened. “A couple months before we even had keys to the bar, I had every single night booked with artists and DJs from all over the Bay Area. We're fortunate to have a full calendar to this day,” says Venetti.
What brings people back? “The bar is almost completely event-driven, meaning people that go there are mostly going there for what is happening on that given night," says Venetti. "Our events are across the board: all-you-can-eat spaghetti westerns, stand-up comedy on Tuesdays, live hip-hop showcases on Fridays, live rock on Saturdays.”
The bar's Sixth Street environs are seen by many as the city's grittiest, but they're essential to Showdown's culture, says Venetti. “I think the idea of Showdown could work in a different location, but it would not be Showdown. I think being in the heart of real San Francisco is a big part of our character."
The regulars we met say they aren't dissuaded by Showdown's address, especially given the wide array of events on offer. “There’s nothing else like it downtown," one of the bar's regulars told us. "It's easy to go to, they have live music, comedy, and there’s just nothing else like it.”
And Venetti is definitely part of the appeal as well. “I met Johnny about two years ago, from just being a patron," another regular said. "He’s always here—he’s a man who’s all about his business.”
Whether it's the laid-back ambiance, the local artwork and events, or the devoted troupe that keeps this show going, Showdown proves that the dive is alive and well in San Francisco. As Venetti puts it, "We just want the show to go on and on!”
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