Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on November 22, 2016
Remembering The Lower Haight's Trendy, '80s-Era Water BarPhoto: Flickr / Jenny Downing

We're revisiting some of our favorite local history stories to give new readers a look back. This story, originally published in June of 2014, recounts a trendy Lower Haight business of the not-so-distant past.

It sounds like an SNL sketch from the '90s, but not that long ago the Lower Haight boasted a bar that only served water.

We discovered this amazing factoid via the comments on our story delving into the history of the building housing Squat & Gobble (Ed. note: that's the current Iza Ramen spot).  A couple of readers recollected a "water bar" on Haight Street in the late '80s, which unfortunately pre-dates our arrival to the neighborhood.

So, we did some research.

It turns out that yes, there was a water-themed bar in the neighborhood.  It was called "The White Room With the Blue Glow," and it opened at 559 Haight St. in June of 1987—a year after Noc Noc, with which it split the space. The White Room was open Thursday through Saturday, from 9pm to 2am.

From a St. Patrick's Day article in something called "San Francisco The Magazine" in 1988:

"If pub crawling and shades of green are not your cup of Irish Coffee, then move on down to The White Room With the Blue Glow... Here is the ultimate alternative—a water bar! They advertise "Just Water." Over forty to fifty varieties from around the world to choose, from Canadian glacial water to Icelandic spring water. This is Luther Blue's experiment—a 'total reprieve from the bar scene.' It's an ethereal experience with the serene music, lava lamps, air purifier, and clouds on the video screen, but it's a wonderful escape for those who prefer to celebrate St. Paddy's Day in a quieter setting."

Apparently water bars were h-o-t in the late '80s, as even the New York Times caught onto the trend.  From an article in the Times dated April 13, 1988:

The White Room is at 559 Haight Street in a district populated at night by young people in their early 20s who favor black clothing, sunglasses (indoors and out) and post-punk hairdos (cropped short, dyed black and razor-cut into terraces around the ears). The bar "is a subversive room for its time," said its owner, Luther Blue, who added that it "doesn't offer any of the intensity of the '80s."

"It's civilized here, as opposed to the typical weekend animalism," he said.

Blue, who said he adopted his surname because of his preference for the color, designed the space. A blue fluorescent light under one table bathes the narrow, white-walled room in the cool glow that gives it its name. Kaleidoscopic colors undulate on one wall. Clear plastic cubes stacked into a corner form the bar, which showcases the 15 to 20 varieties of water.

Strains of soft New Age music, mixed with the taped sound of crickets, wafted through the room on a recent Friday night. On a television monitor in another corner, several people watched a video of colorized cloud formations.

"The key is not just the water," Blue said. "The key is to combine all the ingredients—the sound, the visuals, and the water—so that it hits people's state of mind in a certain way, to subtly affect their synapses."

There were at least five water bars in California at the time of the 1988 article, but unsurprisingly, the trend didn't last long.  As it turns out, a bar that slings only water isn't a great moneymaker.  

"Customers are not six deep at the bars, and the profit margins are uncertain," the Times noted.

It appears that the the White Room's narrow space was merged into Noc Noc in 1990, bringing the brief and ridiculous aquatic experiment to an end. Just another strange chapter in not-so-distant Lower Haight history.