Enter the most decadent pot smoking lounge in the West
With its dark woodwork, plush leather booths and handsome custom bars, the new lounge at the Barbary Coast Dispensary could be a high-end watering hole from any of San Francisco’s golden eras. If it wasn’t for the Michiko Thompson-designed cannabis leaves shining green in the stained glass over the counters and the ultra-modern VapeXhale vaporizers on the tabletops, you might not guess that this lounge is meant for inhaling rather than imbibing.
“We really wanted to commit to the look,” says Barbary Coast Dispensary executive director Jesse Henry. “We wanted it to be classic, like the Barbary Coast era, but to also feel timeless.”
For Barbary Coast general manager Nate Haas, it was important that the space also feel connected to the city and neighborhood around it.
“Being San Francisco natives with generations of family history here, it didn’t seem like it would fit to put an Apple Store on the Barbary Coast,” jokes Haas about bucking the stark, minimalist designs of other dispensaries and lounges. “At some places, you don’t have any sense of San Francisco when you walk in the doors; you could be anywhere. It doesn’t mesh.”
“We wanted this to be a space that brings people back (to) an era when they did go all out” with their design concepts, Henry says.
The space is divided into two rooms connected to the existing dispensary on Mission Street next to the Old Mint. First, you enter a glass-walled “dab bar” area where patients can vape cannabis concentrates (hash) under the care of budtenders. The next space is the larger room where combustibles (smoked cannabis) are allowed, with a full ventilation system to keep fresh air flowing. Both rooms are unified by stained glass chandeliers and distinctive red-flocked velvet wallpaper that brings to mind references as varied as haute Victoriana, 1920s speakeasy chic and Old West saloon kitsch.
“Everyone loves the wallpaper; it’s gotten the most compliments of anything from patients, hands down,” Haas says. “People’s reactions when they come into the room so far have been ‘wow.’”
The feature that gets the second-most comments is one of Haas and Henry’s sentimental favorites: The deep leather maroon booths, re-created to mimic another San Francisco institution.
“They were designed after the booths in Alfred’s Steakhouse,” Haas says. “The original one over the Broadway tunnel way back in the day.”
“It’s like the old Original Joe’s, or the old Bruno’s on Mission,” Henry adds. “We wanted to have something that brought back good San Francisco memories.”
But the Barbary Coast lounge isn’t just about affectionate looks into the past. Both the dab bar and the tabletops feature the latest in cannabis technology.
“Our dab bar is the first-ever full quartz dab bar in San Francisco,” concentrate specialist and lounge manager Kitt Hall says of the bar’s water-filled hash pipes, called “dab rigs.”
“Quartz glass is the industry standard for dabbing,” Hall says. “The old standard was titanium, which takes longer to heat up and it doesn’t have a great taste. Quartz glass is all natural, it takes less time to heat up, and also it preserves those terpenes, those amazing flavors of cannabis concentrate that you can enjoy at a temperature with an e-nail.”
Conveniently, there’s no open flame needed for heating up the dab rig; the rig stays a consistent temperature so patients can use it as they please.
The tables in the combustibles lounge feature the VapeXhale EVO, a unit that can vaporize flowers and concentrates.
“These are amazing units,” Hall says. “You basically rent a box, leave your ID and get a vaporizing flower bucket or an e-nail to vaporize concentrates. They’re very easy to use; on the side it has all the instructions posted right there. We had them on the floor of the dispensary for a month before we opened the lounge so people could get used to them.”
But first-time users, fear not: “We’re always happy to assist people in their dabs. We make frequent rounds in the lounge.” VapeXhale units are also available for purchase in the dispensary.
As much as the design takes center stage in the new lounge, it was important to the Barbary team that they keep to their mission of providing “a safe, comfortable place for patients to medicate.” There’s no entrance fee to the lounge or monthly membership, but you do have to buy $40 of product to gain access.
“It’s a safety issue for patients to have a clean, comfortable space to medicate off the street,” Henry says.
And as Haas points out, “Federal housing doesn’t allow you to imbibe marijuana. A lot of the new housing in San Francisco, you’re also not allowed to smoke cannabis. That certainly is a reason to have a lounge where you can medicate without breaking your lease rules or HUD.”
So far, the staff reports that the lounge clientele has been as diverse as the patients.
“It’s nice to have a place with a tech guy in one of the booths then across the way is an older lady reading a book,” Haas says. “You get the counterculture of the ’60s meeting the hipster culture of today. I could see people taking power dab meetings here. It’s very San Francisco.”