Update 2/11: ReLeaf Herbal’s bare-bones lounge is now serving recreational adult-use customers.
Update 2/8: Green Door’s Lounge847 is now open for recreational consumers.
Update 1/18: Urban Pharm opened for recreational sales and lounge use today, Thursday Jan. 18.

Decadent, safe, comfortable and regulated, Barbary Coast is now serving recreational cannabis consumers.

Barbary Coast

A view of the dab bar at Barbary Coast’s lounge. 

BY ED MURRIETA

America’s first legal cannabis lounge will not open in Denver.

America’s first legal cannabis lounge will not open in Las Vegas.

Forget about Alaska, Maine and Massachusetts, too.

America’s first legal cannabis lounge opened Thursday in San Francisco.

Actually, Barbary Coast Collective opened its luxe lounge next to its South of Market medicinal cannabis dispensary in March. Barbary Coast started serving adult-use recreational customers Thursday, making it the first legal, regulated cannabis lounge in America — the holy grail of the modern cannabis era.

“It’s something we’re proud of and excited about,” Barbary Coast director Jesse Henry told me. “I think we are going to get a lot of people who’ll think it’s like going to Amsterdam, and we’ll provide a safe, clean, comfortable place for folks to smoke.”

You have to be at least 21 years old to purchase cannabis at Barbary Coast and enter the adjacent lounge, which accommodates about 40 people in the smoking room and about a dozen at the dab bar. Customers are asked to stay no longer than 30 minutes. BYO pot, concentrates and edibles are prohibited.

“We want people to smoke what’s been purchased at Barbary Coast,” Henry said. “That way we know it’s tested and is clean and safe for people who are smoking it and who are exposed to secondhand smoke.”

Prior to the start of adult-use retail cannabis sales in San Francisco last week, eight dispensaries were permitted to operate consumption lounges. The city’s cannabis czar said all eight would serve the adult-use customers after receiving retail sales licenses from the state. To date, only two San Francisco dispensary/lounges have received state adult-use permits —  Barbary Coast and ReLeaf Herbal Cooperative, which has not yet opened its smoking room for adult-use customers.

ReLeaf and Barbary Coast are located two blocks away from each other but are worlds apart. ReLeaf’s “lounge” is a throwback to San Francisco’s gritty dispensary past: a spare room in which to smoke a joint or bowl if you have nowhere else to go, like residents of nearby skid row hotels.  

Barbary Coast, meanwhile, is San Francisco’s future, featuring an enclosed smoking room and state-of-the-art ventilation systems that exceed city requirements, high-end VapeXhale vaporizers and quartz-glass dab rigs customers can borrow and trained staff to help customers consume safely and monitor for over-consumption, all amid exposed brick walls, handsome dark-wood bars, stained-glass chandeliers, flocked-velvet wallpaper and leather banquettes evoking classic San Francisco steakhouses and whorehouses.

“I wouldn’t say we went all out, but we wanted to make it as comfortable as possible,” Henry said. “We got the highest-quality HVAC system we could. We modeled the lounge after a cigar bar and pull out the smoke and put it through a scrubbing process as it filters out so our neighbors or anybody walking by is not going to be affected by the smell.”

Permitted for more than a decade and tolerated since the earliest days of the city’s medicinal cannabis community in the 1990s, San Francisco cannabis lounges are models of public use in social settings.

“The lounges are like a civic water cooler where people gather and build relationships and community,” said Lloyd Francis, a San Francisco novelist. “I have met many close friends at San Francisco cannabis lounges.”

Lounge is a broad term for an on-premises consumption space offering either “full-flame” ignition of joints, pipes, bongs and dab rigs or vaporizer-only consumption. Full-flame lounges awaiting state permits include Urban Pharm, an intimate steampunky space; Lounge847, a cavernous but comfortable venue; and The Vapor Room, which is due to re-open in a new location after being shut down by the federal government in 2012. Vape-only lounges include Apple-store-sleek Sparc and colorfully cute Bloom Room, both of which provide Volcano vaporizers for customers’ use. ,

Coincidentally, all of these dispensaries are clustered in the South of Market district, centrally located to the city’s prime downtown tourism and culture attractions — hotels, shopping, museums and entertainment.

“Consumption lounges keep the city’s residents and tourists off the streets,” Henry said. “Neighbors are happy about that. The city’s really excited about it. It’s off the street. It’s regulated.”

With Barbary Coast’s opening, it looks like Denver is now playing for second. A coffee shop named The Coffee Joint recently submitted its application to the city to operate a lounge that charges customers $5 to bring and consume their own pot.

Alaska has pondered lounges three times and punted three times in the past two years. Massachusetts and Maine have broached lounges in drafts of their legalization legislation.

This week, Las Vegas tabled a plan to pursue pot lounges, citing fear of federal interdiction.

Barbary Coast’s Henry addressed the biggest fear politicians and law enforcement have about pot lounges.

“We are completely against someone leaving here under the influence and doing something unsafe,” Henry said. “It’s something that we monitor for. So far it hasn’t been an issue.”

Read about San Francisco’s history of cannabis firsts. 

Read about San Francisco’s other historic pot highlights.