Jazz Fest Alcohol Sales OK’d

San Francisco city officials and North Beach Jazz Festival organizers worked out a compromise that will allow beer and wine sales during the July 26-30 all-ages event in Washington Square Park following a grassroots campaign to appeal a ban on alcohol at the site.

Festival director John Miles of Sunset Promotions said the late-May permit denial by the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Commission – reportedly based on security concerns and some neighbors’ complaints – came out of the blue. The city gave the jazz fest permission to sell alcohol for the last 11 years and there had been no problems related to it.

“There is a law for that particular park, and a couple of parks in San Francisco, that it’s not legal to have alcohol. But every year, the general manager of the Recreation & Parks Commission overruled that decision,” Miles told Pollstar. “The law was initially put forth to create a buffer for the homeless situation and if there is a problem with people abusing alcohol, it gives the police an out to take care of those problems. So every year we get that overturned and we have our festival.”

The ban on alcohol in the park would have cost the festival about $60,000 in revenue, Miles said, which would have forced him to cancel the mostly free event. Instead, organizers rallied North Beach jazz fans to launch a letter-writing campaign.

“At the time, we weren’t getting any cooperation from Parks & Rec, which in our eyes was unreasonable. The letters started pouring in to the Commission, to the Board of Supervisors, to mayor Gavin Newsom, and that started turning some heads. In seven days, we produced over 300 letters,” he explained. “The Mayor stepped in, and we all met at City Hall and hammered out an agreement.”

The compromise allows people attending the festival to purchase spirits from a beer garden outside the park and carry the drinks in to an area set aside during the weekend concerts.

— Tina Amendola