San Francisco is a town that has a gotten it’s food game on more than ever. I worked with someone who always said to me that San Francisco has the country’s best restaurants which I would chime in and say “except New York.” Food has been good but it the scene has been getting better over time.
The exception to this compliment is that San Franciscans are not loyal to restaurants—not the way New Yorkers are ….. New York has 21 and Le Grenouille San Francisco has …. Let me stretch… Tadich and Swan Oyster Depot and they are good restaurant but they are no 21. New York like other cities does cycle out of restaurants like anywhere but I think they give it a longer run. Look at Lutece, Four Seasons (breaks my heart that it is not with us) to name a few.
And I am aware that New Yorkers are surprised and feel there are many more resturant closures than usual. I feel, at least, for San Francisco is that the restaurant lifespan is decreasing and not for organic reason but for purely speculative ones. San Francisco on a per capita basis has one of the largest percentages of millionaires than even New York. Even with great wealth doesn’t mean that restaurants can afford to stick around for things to improve (and absurd thought as things are robust economically now). It is a simple equation of how many plates do you have to serve to pay the rent let alone the food costs and other business supporting costs. San Francisco commercial landlords do not have a skin in the game for the long term and think the highest price per square foot is appealing.
Even with great wealth —not everyone can afford an everyday lunch salad of $20…. And just because there is great wealth doesn’t mean there are great tastes behind it. Also because there is a large of upwardly mobile doesn’t mean they are always here in San Francisco to eat in a restaurant; after all people travel for business often.
A favourite restaurant of mine just ceased operation – Range. Range took the space of a Tapas restaurant called Timo’s and closed after 12 years of operation. It was my neighbourhood restaurant. We both arrived in the neighbourhood around the same time (thought I have been here slightly longer). I was delighted that a sit down restaurant had opened up in such a tiny space. A great place for a romantic dinner and a rare place even by San Francisco standards where you could hear your dinner mate—no yelling was required. The neighbourhood still needs a sit down restaurant. Also the closure of Bar Tartine was another heartbreak. The loss of Bar Tartine is of note. I loved the point of difference was the Eastern European cuisine. San Francisco is a desert for almost any Eastern European cuisine. The closure of Old Krakow in West Portal ended any Polish cuisine in San Francisco.
I was surprised to hear that AQ, even Show Dogs had closed (amazing curry fried chicken sandwich), Volta, Umami, Kuletos, Ame, Bourbon Steak, Bon Marche, and Lulu. When Dennis Leary’s Canteen closed (a few years ago) I was so saddened. So charming and fitting for the neighbourhood. Intimate with just a few tables of chef prepared food. Books on the wall to reflect the personality of Chef Leary. I felt like it certainly San Francisco most under-rated restaurant. I also felt like this is a restaurant Dashiel Hammet would have frequented if he had lived her while Canteen was open. Dennis Leary doesn’t have a sit down restaurant in his mainly lunch and drinks establishments. I think we are missing out on his amazing culinary style.
I look at Valencia Street area it has a rough year. It is a vibrant street with lots of foot traffic. But it showed me renamed speculation alley. Just recently, Fine Arts Optical relocated to Berkeley, Ruby store on 20th near Valencia Street (closing after more than a decade and half) a cute gift store with jewelry and women’s clothing—when I first moved to the area Ruby had been an organizer of helping to bring together 20th Street with a few years of organizing and sponsoring of a block party for the street.
Gingko Furniture on Valencia is closing and the gallery Campfire just recently closed on 24th Street between Valencia and Mission Streets.
This is what one might expect to see during a recession not during a 3.4% employment rate.
Even the luxury retailer have thrown in the towel—Prada, DeBeers and Giorgio Armani which I thought would always be here have given up.
San Francisco aggressive store front real estate needs to come back down to earth and think of the long haul versus the short term circus we are currently in.
San Francisco in general has lost it’s soul during this economic cycle. The only concern of Mayor Lee is for two things only 1) condos 2) office space and has shown little interest in open space, exhibition space (the Exhibition Center on 9th Street could have been rebuilt with exhibition space on the bottom and condominium on top). San Francisco artist community has been decimated and it take leadership of a visionary in City Hall that can advocate for quality of life and a richer offering of venues for activities.
Wine events have decreased in San Francisco over time not because there is a lessened interest but because event space is decreasing rapidly.
I look forward to a new leader in City Hall and I hope the city’s retail space and restaurant real estate can come back to earth to help sustain the reason people want to live and visit here.
James the Wine Guy
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
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