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Amnesia On Valencia, A Class Act

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“We might be in trouble,” said an enthusiastic Craig Wathen, one of the new owners of Amnesia on Valencia St., “because we’re not planning on changing it.” Wathen and co-owner Lee Topar recently celebrated beloved Amnesia’s one-year anniversary under their ownership, and for the most part it hasn’t changed much since they took over from previous owner Shawn McGee. The stage got new lighting and carpeting, the sound system got a little makeover, and they blew all the cobwebs and dust out. Given the constant push and pull of the Mission District’s demographic these days, it’s refreshing to have a dependable watering hole that has survived the changes in the neighborhood for so long while staying true to its mission.


Craig Wathen on the left and Lee Topar on the right

Its main mission, of course, is showcasing live music, and is still “the little neighborhood music bar that could,” as its website says. Formerly The Chameleon and before that Chatterbox, rumor has it that the present name was borne out of a previous owner’s wife forgetting what the name of the place was. What’s not forgotten, though, is Amnesia’s dedication to a core purpose. “Music is a fundamental human need,” says Topar, originally from New Jersey and a former executive at GoPro. A musician himself, he has gone to great pains to make sure the experience of hearing live music at the relatively diminutive venue, as well as playing there, is an enjoyable one. Likewise, Wathen, originally from Indianapolis with an extensive background in the beer industry, can be seen regularly holding court at the bar, cheering on the bands. Perhaps the most notable new feature of the place is the vastly expanded beer selection, which is fitting considering Topar and Wathen also operate City Beer Store on Folsom and 7th St. The PBRs are no more, which some may see as a sell-out. But the ever-revolving beverage menu offers something for every hop-appreciating palate, as well as those that prefer quality wines and ciders.

As far as plans for the future, Topar and Wathen are comfortable maintaining a casual, lighthearted environment, preserving and contributing to the integrity of the local music scene. They both admitted to a fear or two when they jumped on board over the changing nature of the neighborhood, wondering if they would be welcomed or if places like Amnesia were all going to disappear to make way for piles of condos. But judging from the success of the recent anniversary festivities, they have triumphed heroically in a challenging environment.

Amnesia is located at 853 Valencia St. in San Francisco, and hosts live music every night of the week.


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Eric Friedmann

Eric Friedmann