3350 Sports Arena Boulevard, Midway District
Soma did not serve alcohol when it opened in downtown San Diego in 1986 or when it moved to a Bay Park warehouse in 1994. The all-ages/no-booze policy continued when Soma moved to a remodeled multiplex theater near the Sports Arena in 2002. As headliners came through (blink-182, Rocket From the Crypt, Fall Out Boy, the Ramones, Lamb of God, Pierce the Veil, Stone Temple Pilots, Switchfoot, As I Lay Dying), Soma stayed all-ages and alcohol-free.
Soma’s business model accommodated music fans who had to deal with San Diego’s longtime alcohol policy that prohibited fans under 21 from mixing with imbibers over 21.
According to Soma owner Len Paul, in 2014 the San Diego Police Department instituted a more liberal alcohol policy, and Paul says that is not good for the teens.
“For 30 years, the City of San Diego has not allowed anyone under 21 to be among those drinking over 21...now you can have a 13-year-old girl get right up next to a 21-year-old kid who is drinking a beer.”
The first change in policy started at the House of Blues a few years ago, when the San Diego Police Department allowed the under-21 crowd to come to a concert where alcohol was served but were kept on a separate floor from the alcohol service.
Paul says that “keep-’em-separated” plan was a smart way to keep under-age kids from drinking.
But Paul says last year everything changed when the Observatory/North Park Theatre was given permission to mix drinkers with under-age patrons.
“And then the House of Blues came along and said, ‘If they can do it, why can’t we?’” Paul says he will continue to protest about this new age-integration policy.
Calls to the House of Blues were not returned.
Operations manager at the Observatory North Park, Ryan Blank, says colored wrist bands determine alcohol access at all-age shows. “There is a zero-tolerance policy regarding under-age drinking...if a ticketholder under the age of 21 picks up an over-21 cup, they are immediately escorted out of the building.”
The San Diego Police Department’s media officer, Mark Herring, says the officer in charge of the new licensing was out of town and could respond next week.
“My days with all-age venues are over,” says Brian Witkin, owner of Pacific Records, which has a roster of 30-plus artists and happens to be located behind Soma. Witkin worked for more than five years at the all-ages Epicentre in Mira Mesa. “If the House of Blues breaks even at the door, they can count on the extra revenue from the bar. I would never have a venue that didn’t sell alcohol.”
A different promoter thinks it’s about time venues enjoy the age-integration policy that has long been used in Orange and Los Angeles County music venues. “It’s the same story...an 18-year-old kid can’t get in to see a Belly Up show. It’s never been that way at the Roxy in L.A. or the Observatory in Santa Ana.”