Remembering Bahia Cabana - 1600 Market Street, San Francisco

Remembering Bahia Cabana – 1600 Market Street, San Francisco

In 1992 I played in a band lead by Marcus Lopez called Cubanacan. In this band, on this night,  I was taping the band so as to learn the tunes. The tune is Richard Kermode’s Catalina. and you can hear the solos of Peter Cornell,  Paul Lyons and the late great Richard Kermode –  a great musician with a huge spirit who earlier had worked and recorded with Santana and Janis Joplin. Richard could play a wicked montuno.

Fito Reinoso – Voice
Marcus Lopez – Bass
Louis Romero – Timbales
Geraldo from Cuba – Congas
Richard Kermode – Piano
Peter Cornell – Sax
Paul Lyons – Trombone

Besides unemployment, anxiety and pondering your mortality, the Covid-19 pandemic is a time for cleaning out closets. Going through some old stuff I ran into a postcard from a bygone era. In the 1980’s and 90’s Bahia Cabana in San Francisco was a hopping club on Market Street in San Francisco with a tropical vibe and live music many nights of the week.  The bands were mostly Latin bands playing samba or salsa and it catered to a dance crowd.  The place must have been crazy during San Francisco’s Carnaval.

Remembering Bahia Cabana - 1600 Market Street, San Francisco
Postcard from Bahia Cabana – 1992

Long before the pandemic and before the rise of the internet, there were many clubs and bars like Bahia Cabana employing musicians. It is hard to imagine but in the late 1990’s, five nights a week there were at least five clubs up and down Mission Street that had bands with full horn sections and multiple singers.  Most of these bands were cover bands that played the hits of the day and also the many regional Latin tunes – merengue, rancheras and cumbias. San Francisco is home to a lot of people from Central America where cumbias seem to always be popular.

But that is a bygone era.  For years, live music in clubs has been in decline and Latin clubs are few. When you do hear a live salsa band it was often just a quartet with various people sitting in and the entire band playing for a tip jar.

But back to Bahia Cabana – a place were I could have been electrocuted to death.  Bahia Cabana had this third world vibe down to the electrical system.  I remember playing there in the 1990’s with Julio Bravo and looking at the wiring backstage for the sound system and wondering if everything was legal – wires going every which way like spaghetti. Next thing I know after attempting to plug in an amp, I got an electrical shock unlike anything I have ever received. I stepped back and wondered for a second if I should go to the emergency room only to be reassured by the trumpet player that if may hair was not on fire and there were no visible burns that everything was fine.  It was a strange feeling.

Bahia Cabana –  an electrifying and shockingly happening hot spot long gone.

A few years later Bahia Cabana opened another club in the basement – music by a DJ, lots of flashing lights, drum and bass, loud pounding sounds and surely a smoke machine. I wondered how they got that by the San Francisco fire department and being in the basement was a bit concerned for safety reasons. Sure enough, sometime around 2000 the entire building caught fire and Bahia Cabana closed down for good.  Another victim of using unlicensed, non-union electrical  contractors who do not ground service panels. But Bahia Cabana would have closed soon after with the invasion of the tech industry, increased rents and the changing economics of the San Francisco.

I think I will keep the postcard as a keepsake.