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Meet the SF Duo Who Throw Massive Parties in Abandoned Buildings—Legally

From the San Francisco Mint to an old Honda dealership, buildings across San Francisco are empty or underused—until these nightclub veterans give them a (fleeting) new life.

SLIDESHOW

Jordan Langer of Non Plus Ultra.

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Peter Glikshtern of Non Plus Ultra.

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The San Francisco Mint, which Non Plus Ultra took over in 2015.

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Peter Glikshtern and Jordan Langer inside the San Francisco Honda building, their most recent acquisition.

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A Super Bowl event at Pier 70, which will be demolished this year.

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A concert at the Midway, a Dogpatch warehouse that has been transformed into an arts and entertainment venue.

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Dinner for 100 inside the bank vaults at the San Francisco Mint.

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This is one of many stories from San Francisco's February 2018 Bars & Nightlife issue. Check them all out here.

Of all the weird, enormous buildings that Jordan Langer has transformed into weird, enormous party venues, the one he’s standing in has the most appropriate—and loudest—ghosts. This huge room on the top floor of a building on the corner of Market and South Van Ness has all the charm of a Honda service center, which makes sense, because that’s what it was before Honda moved out of all but the showroom in January. But back in the ’60s, it was Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore West, where Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead played. Now Langer is planning to give the space one last crazy incarnation—and bring it full circle—before the building is redeveloped. “We are going to do some really rad stuff in this place. We’ll blow out a bunch of walls,” Langer says, looking around with glee.

Langer and his partner, Peter Glikshtern, are the kings of temporary party spaces—venues they create out of big buildings that are slated to be demolished or remodeled, and which were otherwise going to stand empty for months or years. They strike deals with the city or developers who are looking to score PR points. “The cool thing about private developers is they generally let us do whatever we want with the buildings because they’re going to tear them down anyway,” Langer says. Once they have the keys, they get the necessary permits, make sure the sites are safe, clean them up, and then rent them out for huge bashes, attracting corporate clients—like Uber, Salesforce, and the Super Bowl—that are looking for hipper venues than hotel ballrooms. It’s a winning formula: At last count, the duo’s nearly four-year-old, 30-person company, Non Plus Ultra, presided over almost one million square feet of San Francisco real estate.

The 30-year-old Langer has spent his entire adult life working in bars and nightclubs. At 21, he was the general manager of San Francisco’s massive 1015 Folsom, where he met Glikshtern, a veteran club owner (Liquid, Pink, Mighty) with whom he has invested in a number of new venues, including Jones, Biig, and OddJob. In 2013, Langer stumbled upon the place that would engender his novel business formula. Searching for a new location for his annual Halloween blowout, Ghost Ship (now in its 11th year and unrelated to the Oakland space), Langer found a derelict property on a monster scale: a warehouse at Pier 70.

Occupying 300,000 square feet of steel, glass (much of it broken), and neglected infrastructure on the edge of Dogpatch, the site had been used for shipbuilding since the Spanish-American war. It was owned by the Port of San Francisco and slated for redevelopment in an ambitious project that would start in 2018 and take at least 10 years to come to fruition. In the meantime, the city and the developer, Forest City, let Langer throw his Halloween party there.

“At the party, I was sitting there thinking, This needs to be mine,” Langer recalls. After the party, he basically begged the Port of San Francisco and Forest City to let him take over the building while it sat unoccupied. “We said, ‘We can do really cool stuff here! Please let us do really cool stuff here. It will benefit everyone, it will be good for the community, it will be revenue-generating for the city—please let us do it.’ And thank goodness they did.”

Which is how Langer and Glikshtern came to preside over a drafty warehouse with no running water, no electricity, and a menagerie of animals—raccoons, skunks, cats, rats—both living and dead. They rounded up a team who could help them do everything from parley with inspectors and fire marshals to tend bar for crowds of 10,000. Shortly thereafter, they were throwing massive, high-profile events, among them concerts by the Dave Matthews Band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Run-DMC, and Snoop Dogg. (The latter has “performed here six times,” Langer says proudly.)

The pair’s growing track record of huge, profitable, and cool events caught the attention of other developers and city officials, and soon they were being approached to take over and enliven other structures—some iconic, some not—in limbo. In 2015, Salesforce held the Dreamforce Gala at Pier 70, bringing in 30,000 people and the Foo Fighters; in 2016, the site played host to Super Bowl events. Non Plus Ultra shared a percentage of the revenue with the city and the developers, using its own profits to throw smaller-scale community bashes—free monthly movie nights, public happy hours, even pop-up miniature golf—in between the huge corporate ragers.

Today the roster of venues exclusively overseen by Non Plus Ultra includes the Palace of Fine Arts, the Honda building, the Midway, and the San Francisco Mint, where the company has its offices.

Non Plus Ultra has a full-time compliance officer on staff just to handle all the paperwork and city approvals that every event requires. Langer says dealing with the bureaucracy “was very, very daunting at the beginning.... But now we have streamlined the process.” Once approved, each new venue gets a deep clean, a complete fire and safety upgrade, and round-the-clock security. The appeal to developers is clear, “because what we are doing isn’t cut the lock and do the rave—it is high production value, lots of permits, lots of everything,” Langer says.

The key component has been understanding—and being able to sell to both the city and developers—the implicit community benefi ts of the company’s vision. “A lot of the big developers are incredibly funded—they have already penciled it out [for a building] to be empty for 20 years, and they can sustain it,” Langer says. “They are more concerned about the community goodwill. And that’s the pillar of our company: making these spaces accessible and cool and fun for the community.”

Langer still has a hand in running a bunch of nightlife spots, including Jones, Biig, Odd-Job, the Empire Room, Public Works, and the Midway, but he admits that his passion for the bar-and-nightclub game is fading. He’s much more excited about holding bashes in very big, very cool, and very short-term spaces. “It’s like a treasure hunt,” he says. “When I’m a grandfather, I’ll be able to tell my grandkids: Back in the day…”

In a way, what Non Plus Ultra is doing in San Francisco is exactly what underground groups used to do here: take over some cool abandoned building and throw a wild party. The difference, of course, is that with Non Plus Ultra everything is legal and permitted, you don’t need to sneak in, and the parties are funded by massive corporations. But Langer looks at the upside. Although he admits that “all the cool stuff is leaving” the city for places like the East Bay thanks to sky-high rents, he doesn’t believe that billion-dollar companies and a city rich with diverse offerings for everybody are necessarily at odds. “I truly feel that every business in the city should give back in some way, whether it be the corner doughnut shop or Uber,” Langer says. “Because if we all did, this city would be so much better.”

Langer and Glikshtern have put their money where their mouths are. Non Plus Ultra has redirected some of its profits to Langer’s Project Wreckless, a nonprofit that teaches at-risk kids how to build custom cars—a longtime personal passion of his. (He owns more than 40 cars in various states of completion.) The kids he wants to reach are the ones whom others have deemed lost causes. “They don’t typically fit into other programs,” Langer says, “because they have a record or have already dropped out of school and are ‘too far gone.’” Project Wreckless has been operating as a pop-up out of Pier 70 for the last couple of years, but Langer recently purchased a Bayview building specifically for the program and will launch the pilot for its first official session in June.

Once Langer has made up his mind, it is, by his own admission, pretty impossible to dissuade him. “I don’t believe in the answer ‘No’—it doesn’t really exist for me,” he says. However, he was forced to accept it with one venue he’d set his sights on. “I really wanted to do a big event on the old Bay Bridge, when the new one was done but the old one was still there,” he says. “I pushed a little bit, but this was a really hard no. By the time I got a yes, it would have been gone.”
 

Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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