Photo by Anthony Thornton

Celebrating The Interval’s Decennial

Long Now’s bar, cafe, and event space in San Francisco turns ten — and it’s getting even better with age.

There’s no place like The Interval.

There are plenty of cafés where you can work and socialize all over the city — but only one where you can do so among a world-class collection of the books most essential to sustain or rebuild civilization, an eight foot tall Orrery to orient you in real time to your place in our solar system, and an infinitely-shifting piece of generative art by Brian Eno. Likewise, there are plenty of spots where you can get a good drink with an old or new friend, but fewer where you can also attend talks, readings, and even performances from scientists, writers, and artists at the forefront of long-term thinking.

Now, in celebration of the decennial anniversary of The Interval’s 02014 opening, we’re excited to share that we’re reimagining The Interval as not just an award-winning cocktail bar and gathering place, but as a powerful exhibition of Long Now’s mission and work. We want to inspire the 30,000 people who visit each year to make long-term thinking and responsibility a deeper part of their daily lives.

Andrew Warner and James Home present a sneak preview of the forthcoming new exhibition at The Interval. Photo by Anthony Thornton

The Interval Decennial reopening will feature new exhibits and designs that showcase the past quarter century of Long Now’s work, along with our vision for the quarter century to come. We’re using the past ten years of running The Interval as a blueprint for the future — keeping what makes the bar so special while deepening its connection to Long Now. Whether you’re a regular at The Interval or still looking forward to your first visit, we’re excited to welcome you to our reimagined home for long-term thinking.

A Short History of The Interval

The Interval’s location at the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture is a special one — at once deeply a part of the city of San Francisco and a little removed from it. Long Now has called Fort Mason Center home for decades, but our presence there didn’t always involve cocktails and talks. 

Instead, when the organization set up shop in a former U.S. Army forge and machine shop in June 02006, it was in the form of the Long Now Museum & Store. It featured prototypes and artifacts from The Clock of The Long Now and the Rosetta & Panlex language archive projects — many of which are still on display at The Interval today. This more solemn incarnation was otherwise quite different from the warm, convivial atmosphere of The Interval today.

That space would come alive during the receptions after Long Now Talks. Those receptions brought members together to drink wine and discuss the long-term perspectives emerging from the Talks. Long Now’s staff realized the opportunity for the space to become something altogether different — a place not just to observe the physical artifacts of long-term thinking but to participate in long-term thinking as an active process.

Around this time, Alexander Rose, Long Now’s founding executive director, was beginning his study of the world’s longest-lived institutions. He discovered that many of the organizations that had stood the test of time for centuries were somehow involved in the production and serving of alcohol — taverns, breweries, sake houses, and beyond. He started to connect the dots. 

These institutions — places to gather and drink socially — have long been a part of human society. As Philosopher Edward Slingerland argues in his 02021 book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, drinking in group settings like dinner parties, festivals, and bars has been a dominant force in cultures around the globe for millennia. When people drink moderately and in community, they can become closer, more trusting, and more creative. 

Rose saw the opportunity to turn those occasional post-talk receptions into something that could happen “every night”. He reimagined the space as a “social hub that fosters long-term thinking as instinctive and common, rather than difficult and rare,” as the earliest version of The Interval’s website read. At first, some within the organization were skeptical — a bar, no matter high concept, seemed like a departure for Long Now — but with time, Rose’s vision and passion for the project convinced Long Now’s board that The Interval was the right move for Long Now as it grew.

A “brickstarter” fundraising campaign raised almost one million dollars to fund the initial construction, and made it clear the Long Now’s community thought it was the right move too. Long Now worked with Bay Area architects Jillian Northrup and Jeffrey McGrew of BWC Architects to strike the right balance between bar, cafe, exhibition space, and event venue. Together they created a space where, in Rose’s words, “every surface, every object is a story that you can tell.”

Also key to The Interval’s success? The drinks themselves. Jennifer Colliau, The Interval’s founding beverage director, approached menu design with a long-term thinking perspective, invoking historical cocktail lineages from around the world. Under the successive tenures of Colliau, Todd Carnam, and current beverage director Ty Caudle, The Interval has continued to provide world-class cocktails, receiving kudos as “one of the 21 best cocktail bars in America” and home to the Navy Gimlet, one of the “most iconic” cocktails in San Francisco. 

Ty Caudle started as a bartender in 02016. Now, he’s The Interval’s Beverage Director. Photo by Megan Bayley.

Each beverage director has left a significant impact. Caudle described Colliau’s early drinks as carrying both a “historical perspective” and an inclination towards the “futuristic,” taking recipes with long historical lineages and streamlining them into deceptively simple formulations. Carnam brought a “creative perspective” that added a literary flair to the cocktail menu. In his words, Caudle has tried to “democratize that a bit, just to give the staff some more creative opportunity.” For example, the rotating monthly “Short Here” cocktail features an original recipe from one of The Interval’s bartenders.

Over the past ten years, The Interval has become exactly what Long Now hoped for: a hub for long-term thinking, a home for Long Now Talks, and a gathering place for great conversation and connection. 

A Decennial Celebration

After ten successful years of operation, it’d be easy for The Interval to rest on its laurels, and enjoy that the space has become a thriving part of San Francisco’s cultural tapestry. Instead, the first decade of The Interval’s operation has provided Long Now room for reflection in addition to cause for celebration. In the words of Andrew Warner, Long Now’s Senior Project Manager, The Interval could be so much more. 

In the tradition of long-term thinking, the bar’s past has provided a road map for its future. The last decade has given Long Now a great deal of insight on how people interact with The Interval — which exhibits resonate with patrons and which could stand to be improved. The Interval Decennial team also conducted research interviews on the space.“We asked people a bunch of questions about what they wanted to see in the space and if they had ideas for displays and then narrowing down from there,” said Warner. The goal is to tell the story of long-term thinking in a way that connects deeply with both long-time Long Now members and with first-time visitors to The Interval for whom these concepts might be entirely new.

This new exhibition will feature an expanded set of Long Now artifacts, including not just the Orrery that stands at the entrance of The Interval today, but a full-sized face from the 10,000 year clock being built in Texas, made from spare parts. A full size replica of one of the 8-foot-diameter Geneva wheels will hang overhead, and a scale model of the clock’s chime generator will help visitors understand the massive scale of the monument. A full size Equation of Time Cam, the sculpturally curved cam that adjusts the clock to accommodate peculiarities in the Earth’s orbital physics, rounds out the clock exhibit. Other exhibits include a cross-section of a Bristlecone pine illustrating Long Now’s Nevada Bristlecone Preserve, a diorama of The Interval featuring miniatures of Long Now Members attending a talk, and a model of Comet 67p, the site of one of the Rosetta off-world language archives. 

To assemble these models and replicas, Long Now staff worked with Chris Rand of Rand Machine Works. Rand, who has worked with Long Now since 01997 to help with the mechanical construction of The Clock of the Long Now, found constructing the displays to present an interesting set of challenges — for machines, the environment of The Interval is a “hostile” one, with its propensity for spills and broken glassware, heavy foot traffic, and exposure to the salty air of the San Francisco Bay.

Tying all of this together will be an audio-visual tour of the space, featuring interviews with key figures in Long Now’s history including co-founders Stewart Brand and Danny Hillis, former Long Now Executive Director Alexander Rose, Long Now Director of Programs Danielle Engelman, clock engineer Zoe Stephenson, and more. The interviews will guide The Interval’s 30,000 annual visitors through the exhibits, providing a history of Long Now’s work and a deep introduction to long-term thinking and responsibility.

An early sketch of Casey Cripe’s The Long Now.

Welcoming visitors to the new exhibition is a new painting by Long Now editor and illustrator Casey Cripe. This four-by-twelve foot work depicts a timeline of the long now itself — the next and last ten thousand years, stretching from the dawn of human agricultural civilization into the far future. Cripe, a long-time member of Long Now’s community, “leapt” at the opportunity to channel decades of archival research into human history into a singular work of art, and answer his own twist on one of Stewart Brand’s most famous questions: “Why haven't we seen an image of the long now yet?”

Cripe shows an early preview of his painting to Stewart Brand. Photo by Anthony Thornton

Cripe decided against a logarithmic timeline — he wanted to “make sure that each millennium was treated equally” rather than privileging the near-term present. The timeline’s past is studded with specific moments in history, but its window into the future is necessarily more open. Cripe uses the metaphor of an archer drawing a bow to describe this transition from the long ago past through this present moment and into the unimaginable future. “It’s a buildup of tension that then releases into a second half.” That second half helps the viewer to imagine possible futures through the inclusion of tools like Hancock and Bezold’s Futures Cone and Stewart Brand’s Pace Layers. Cripe’s process, which collages individual hand drawn fragments over a custom-made 12x4 foot newsprint paper canvas, is a painstaking one, taking shape over the past 8 months in his workshop in San Francisco.

Beyond the exhibits, Long Now is also refreshing furniture, lighting, and wall treatments, making The Interval cozier and more welcoming for the wide variety of social gatherings it hosts. The Interval has become a well loved “third space” — a place that is neither the home nor the workplace where people gather and make community. By making the space more cozy, Long Now hopes to support an even wider range of activities at the venue, from community happy hours, co-working, and private events, to book clubs, writers groups, and other public convenings.

Ultimately, Long Now sees The Interval Decennial as an occasion to reflect upon not just the last 10 years of The Interval, but on the last 25 years of Long Now. “Tens of thousands of people visit The Interval every year. Many hadn't heard of Long Now or long-term thinking before they walked through those doors”, said James Home, Long Now’s Director of Communication and Design. “These new exhibits are a massive opportunity to make long-term thinking and responsibility irresistible to an entirely new audience.”

In this video, Andrew Warner describes The Interval Decennial exhibition launching later this year.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

More from The Interval

What is the long now?

The Long Now Foundation is a nonprofit established in 01996 to foster long-term thinking. Our work encourages imagination at the timescale of civilization — the next and last 10,000 years — a timespan we call the long now.

Learn more

Join our newsletter for the latest in long-term thinking

Long Now's website is changing...