So Long, Wet Wednesday
For the last three years, if you were to walk into the Riptide on Taraval St on a Wednesday night, you’d be greeted at the bar by a genuine smile from bartender Jeff Grubler. Wednesdays are typically a pretty low-key night in the bar scene, but over the years, Jeff has collaborated with friends throughout the neighborhood to create what has become one of the keystone parties of the Outer Sunset: Wet Wednesday.
Whether you’ve lived here for a week or for a decade, you’ve probably heard of Wet Wednesday. About a dozen local businesses regularly help promote the bar night by posting the goofy photoshopped posters of surfing Godzilla, or Wonder Woman in a wetsuit. The Wet Wednesday routine is simple and perfect: surf flicks projected on a huge screen on the wall, drink specials, and free food. No wonder the concept has worked.
And while Wet Wednesday has been a keystone of the Outer Sunset social scene for a few years, they are on the brink of becoming a memory, a thing of the past. Jeff, who is in his second year of a Masters Degree in Social Work, is too busy to keep up with all the work involved in hosting the parties. He has recently moved the events to Joxer Dalys in West Portal for Sunday nights (Soggy Sundays, maybe?) and is just around the corner from hosting his last surf-themed party on September 26. It’s a sad thing to see such a wonderful community event come to a close.
From the start, Jeff loved the regulars who became a part of Wet Wednesday. “People in the Sunset know each other. Compare it to the Mission, where there are hundreds of cool restaurants, or 50 cool coffee shops. There’s like, maybe, three spots in the Outer Sunset? So when you get to one of them, everyone knows each other. It creates a great community feeling.”
Almost as soon as the Wet Wednesday concept was conceived, Jeff sought out to put the growing crowds to a good purpose. He is a deeply committed humanitarian who believes in the power of helping people. He rallied a team of allies and turned one of the regular Wednesday nights into a benefit party to raise money for the San Francisco chapter of the Surfrider Foundatin. John Schultz of the former SF Shop shaped and donated a surfboard to be raffled off, Eddie Clark from Wise made the flyer, and Pam Morse helped with the promoting and worked as the first raffle girl, responsible for trolling the crowd and encouraging patrons to buy a $5 ticket to try and win a board and donate to a good cause. Jeff, who calls the raffle girls “raffle angels,” wryly claims they are the “secret weapon to getting donations. Beautiful women are key.”
Pam recounts that the first benefit was a huge success. The crowd was about 200+ and out-the-door, huge for a bar the size of the Riptide. In addition to the money from the $5 raffle tickets, Jeff donated all of his tips for the night to Surfrider, and the net tally was around $1400. Not bad for a bar in the Outer Sunset that proudly calls itself a “little honky-tonk.” The benefits were never huge income generators, “the bar’s size and neighbors’ tolerance for noise” limited that, but as Pam points out, “they were more about goodwill, exposure, and community.”
Jeff was hooked on the idea of using the growing popularity of Wet Wednesday, which occurs every Wednesday, to institutionalize a benefit event every last Wednesday of the month. He started with surf-based environmental organizations, since they fit in with the vibe of the party, and helped fundraise for Save The Waves, SurfAid, and Kill The Spill. By the summer of 2009, two years after hosting successful benefits for organizations and averaging $2000 per event, other local organizations beyond surf interests were thrust into the spotlight. Jeff has fundraised for the Edgewood Center for Children, the Raphael House Shelter, and ArtSeed. Jeff proudly told me that the benefit for ArtSeed raised enough funds to send 8 kids from Bayview/Hunters Point to attend a summer art program that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend.
Wet Wednesday, especially the heavily promoted benefits, was now very much on the map. People would come from throughout the city to these events, curious about the San Francisco surf scene and, as Pam put it, eager to “rub shoulders with a Mavericks contest competitor.”
Local businesses were also quick to get involved, especially since employees and owners typically attended Wet Wednesday themselves. Jeff said that often times after an event he’d end up chatting with a local business owner who was interested in adding their wares to the raffle. The list of companies that have donated items to the Wet Wednesday raffles is expansive: Aqua Surf Shop, the Pizza Place on Noriega, Noriega Produce, Sunset Pet Supply, Timbuk2, Red Vic Movie House, Java Beach, and most notably, Las Olas Surfboads. James Mitchell, the man behind Las Olas, has donated upwards of 15 surfboards to Wet Wednesday, by Jeff’s estimation. (For the non-surfer to consider, a surfboard costs roughly $450 dollars.) And the Riptide itself was integral, covering the cost of the donated food and often times giving 10% of the total bar tab for the night to the charity of choice.
Writing a story about Wet Wednesday is a bit intimidating because there are so many people critically involved in the success of the events, that forgetting to mention someone is a very real possibility. Beyond that, once I contacted a few Wet Wednesday enthusiasts about a story, I found unsolicited emails in my Inbox from people eager to chip in their good word about Jeff. Thomas Cannon, a regular attendee and major evangelist of the events, put it this way when asked about Jeff:
Jeff has no problem remembering that others have it worse than many, and he trips all over himself trying to make the world a better place. All this while working, dealing with school, and fighting his own battles with life. At the benefits he gives his tips away after working his ass off all night, and you have to stop and ask yourself, ‘Is this guy for real?’ Then he does it all over again. Simply amazing.
While Jeff is clearly at the helm, he immediately acknowledges that without countless volunteers and supporters, these events wouldn’t be possible. Surfpulse.com has been an active promoter to channel interest to the surf community, local filmmakers like Doug Schultz and Powerline Productions have showcased unreleased local surf videos, Thomas Cannon and Pete Reich evangelize, DJ Paul (who really is an amazing DJ) lends his talents, the list goes on and on and on. It’s incredible. Jeff has taken the best talent of the Outer Sunset, bundled it up, and packaged it into a fun surf party that raises money for local organizations.
If you haven’t been to a Wet Wednesday, September 26 at Joxer Daly in West Portal is your last chance. It would be a shame to have only heard about these parties, and to not actually attend one. The last benefit will be to Save the Red Vic, an artsy movie house in the Haight that has supported Wet Wednesday throughout the years and has come across its own tough times.
I had a few solid talks with Jeff in researching this story. A few hours after one extensive interview, he sent me a text message that I think sums up the man and the WetWednesday benefits pretty damn well.
Hey Mark, one last thing I’d like to mention, I really love the folks that attend the benefits. They are a mix of surfers, supporters and employees from the non-profits, artists, teachers, councilors and so on…and neighborhood folks who can appreciate a good party for a good cause. Thanks again. Jeff.
Actually Jeff, thanks to you. Wet Wednesday will be missed.
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