Lifestyle

Welcome to San Francisco's Secret Alley

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If you've lived in San Francisco for any stretch of time (or haven't, but are SUPER into Berlin-style Ping-Pong), there's a small chance you've heard about The Secret Alley, which 1) isn't an alley, and 2) isn't exactly secret (the thing has its own Wiki).

So what is it exactly, then?

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"It's magical."

That's Amanda Guest, who runs online radio station BFF.fm from within the bowels of The Secret Alley. She's been part of the Alley for two years now (it turns 10 years old this year), and during that time she's had the privilege of seeing hundreds of San Franciscans walk through its nondescript door for the first time.

"We just had a guy apply to be a DJ who came by -- most people know a little bit about what The Secret Alley is before they come, but this guy just moved to San Francisco -- I brought him in, he goes through the door, stops dead in his tracks, and goes 'What... the... fuck?'"

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The Secret Alley is a private artist workshop-cum-performance space-cum-office park-cum-clubhouse o' fun built inside of a second-floor walk-up in the Mission.

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Inside there's a series of what sorta look like partial movie sets...

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... there's a diner...

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... and a skatepark.

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There's a detective agency...

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... and a porch that looks like it was stripped straight from some Southern grandma's front lawn.

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Oh and an actual stage they use for actual bands. Sometimes.

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All of them live side by side in the space, alongside egresses to five different offices -- two are rented by BFF.fm, two by filmmakers, and the fifth co-rented by Doctor Popular and a guy who does drone photography (he shot these).

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The offices themselves are living artist spaces, too -- BFF's original office looks like the inside of a submarine ("think Jules Verne-esque library," Amanda says). 

And their second, which is still under construction, will resemble a sort of film noir detective agency where the production studio controls will be hidden in a wall safe behind a thrift store painting.

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So outside of the radio station -- which broadcasts from 8am to midnight, and currently has 68 on-air programs -- what the hell goes on in this miniature neverland?

Anything and everything.

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They've hosted wedding showers and dance troops; they've used the space to shoot TV pilots and low-budget commercials; they've done Berlin-style Ping-Pong and had bands come through to play private shows for BFF.fm and sometimes a few friends of the Alley.

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And while it's a private space and very much NOT open to the public ("the status of The Secret Alley is pretty secret; we're not as out there publicly as we once were," Amanda says), there's a small chance if you're really nice and ask politely she'll give you a short tour (you can reach her here), and if you want to do something awesomely arts related, you might be able to rent a spot in the corner to do it.

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Grant Marek is Thrillist's Senior Cities Director and thinks more things should be hidden in safes stashed behind thrift store paintings. Hit him up with more secret stuff @grant_marek.

Evan Thompson is a photographer and freelance drinker with a proclivity for risk-taking. Find him in the tunnels on Instagram @evanthompsonphoto.