THIS ARTICLE IS BIASED. Waziema is my favorite place on Divisadero. It’s family run and devoid of pretentiousness. The food is good, the drinks are cheap and the wallpaper inside has been there for over half a century. I’ve had like six birthdays here and Nebiat, the queen bee of it all (pictured below), has met my mother. The place rules.
Last Saturday I popped in to speak with Giday, owner and husband to Nebiat, about the history of the joint and gathered some grade-A information about the establishment. I’d like to share some highlights.
1. Waziema was once called CLUB MOROCCO. It was initially opened in the 1950’s by Mr. and Mrs. Robinson (pictured above). Mr. Robinson had been stationed in Tunisia during World War II and, upon his return, decided to open a night club on Divisadero Street. Justin Hermann hadn’t yet destroyed the Fillmore area with his devilish Urban Renewal Plan and Divis was a thriving, predominantly African American, cultural hub. The theme of Club Morocco was clearly the result of Mr. Robinson’s time spent over in Northern Africa. Back then, the club was accessible from the current entrance as well as a second entrance, located where the Popeye’s is now. This placed the stage (which is now the raised area in the back) in the center of the club, earning it the nickname “the horseshoe”.
I find the fact that this establishment has always had African motifs pretty cool. The club laid fallow from 1979 untill 1999 when Giday talked the Robinsons into letting him reopen it as Club Waziema, this time as an Ethiopian Bar and Restaurant. However, the craziest part about its former tenure as Club Morocco is the fact that they used to have live cobra shows on stage. That’s right, the same exact spot where you now suck at pool on Friday nights used to be home to three live cobras dancing out of woven baskets. According to Giday, a snake went missing one night during a show and some bar back had to climb under the stage with a flashlight to retrieve it. I bet that made cleaning out the tap lines the next day not seem so bad.
2. THE HISTORY OF PERFORMERS IN THE BACK ROOM IS MIND-BLOWING. Yeah, that’s Billie Holiday pictured above. Other Club Morocco alumni include B.B. King, Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown—to name a few. This place has a remarkable history of hosting a party, so next time you decide to thrown on that bitchin’ Don’t Stop Believin’—>Come on Eileen jukebox combo, take a second to think about the musical greats you’re sharing the room with.
3. BOTH NEBIAT AND GIDAY ARE REGISTERED NURSES. This makes sense because they are two of the kindest and happiest people I’ve ever had serve me a drink (and many people have). Before taking over the bar, Nebiat was an RN at the VA Hospital, and Giday is still employed by the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Clearly, their bedside manner as health care professionals has carried over to their sense of hospitality as barkeeps. It also feels good to know there is a bit of a watchful eye present because I have personally gotten pretty loose in there. What’s next, a bar run by therapists?
GO TO WAZIEMA, SOON. The place is great. In fact, the two black and white photos above are hanging on the wall, so you can even bask in some of its history for yourself. And while you’re there, take a second to think about cobras, Billie Holiday and of course, Northern Africa in World War II.
543 Divisadero Street
Monday thru Saturday 6:00pm - 2:00am
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