San Francisco Mayor London Breed is taking some heat from both actual health officials and the self-appointed “fun police” of San Francisco, she says. Mayor Breed visited Black Cat in the Tenderloin last week, presumably to catch some live jazz and try the new menu of cocktails and croquettes. But Breed was photographed dancing and singing without wearing a mask, as the SF Chronicle reported first, and is now facing criticism for not following the city’s indoor mask mandate to the tee — although she maintains she did nothing wrong.
Mayor Breed visited Black Cat in the Tenderloin last Wednesday, September 15. A Chronicle reporter happened to also be at the show, and shot cell phone video footage of the mayor dancing and singing without wearing a mask, surrounded by other attendees who were also not wearing masks. Raphael Saadiq and D’Wayne Wiggins from Oakland, two of three members from the R&B group Tony! Toni! Toné!, unexpectedly took the stage to perform their hit single “Let’s Get Down,” the Chron confirmed. After the performance, Breed also posed for photos with the artists and did an interview, all without wearing a mask.
Hundreds of comments and a dozen local news stories later, and of course, the internet is now criticizing, applauding, or otherwise quibbling over the mayor’s actions. The crux of the issue is that per San Francisco’s current indoor mask mandate, masks may only be removed while “actively eating or drinking.” The mayor appears to have a table full of food and drinks in front of her in the video, and maintains that she was drinking, although critics say perhaps not quite “actively.”
In a subsequent interview, the mayor defended her actions. “I had a good time at the Black Cat. And I think it’s sad that this is even a story … I was eating, and I was drinking, and I was sitting with my friends. And everyone who came in there was vaccinated … No, I’m not going to sip, and put my mask on, sip, and put my mask on.” She says she was celebrating the return of live performances and these “monumental” performers for R&B and the Bay Area, and that she plans to continue supporting bars, restaurants, and nightlife. “Like we don’t need the fun police to try to come in and micromanage and tell us what we should or shouldn’t be doing,” she said.
Black Cat had been closed for a year and a half, and only reopened on August 4, with a new chef and menu. Owner Fritz Quattlebaum declined to comment for this story, but a rep put out a statement: “Black Cat takes COVID, and city and state COVID mandates and guidance, very seriously,” citing that the club has required proof of vaccination since reopening, well before the official mandate. The mask mandate for the Bay Area has been in effect since August 3, and the vaccine mandate for San Francisco since August 20. At Black Cat, the rep says that staff wears masks at all times, guests are expected to follow city guidance, and they are seated at tables with food and drink. “We are proud to have a Mayor who so passionately supports the arts and live music!” Quattlebaum said in the statement.
Some have compared this to a French Laundry moment: When Governor Gavin Newsom dined at the French Laundry in November 2020, as we got to reminisce about during the recall election last week. And let’s not forget, Mayor London Breed did exactly the same thing only a day later, right when health officials were advising families to not attend Thanksgiving gatherings. But to put all of the “maskless,” “partying,” and “club” headlines into perspective, Black Cat is an intimate jazz and supper club in the Tenderloin, with a small stage and surrounding tables.
Overblown or not, the incident speaks to the ongoing challenge and complexity of trying to enforce mask mandates in a reopening San Francisco. If city officials have trouble following the protocols they themselves put in place, how can they ask restaurant and bar owners to enforce them, and keep diners and drinkers safe?