Restaurants come and go. A casual ask of those around me in San Francisco there is a feeling that restaurant’s cease operation too early.
I had no idea I was going to write this; until I was on 24th Street and Alabama and I didn’t expect to see La Victoria Bakery closed. I saw the sign stating “Rest in Peace La Victoria You Will be Missed.” When I saw that sign I was certainly surprised. This bakery while not a restaurant served Mexican pastries and had done so since 1951. Upon seeing the sign my only and immediate thought it was San Francisco superbly high rents or other real estate drivers. And in an only San Francisco way–it turns out that the owner of the building put it up for sale is the son of the original owner of the bakery. The day-to-day operation was a monthly lease by several small businesses. The building was put for sale for $3.5 mm.
I have not lived in San Francisco all my life but have for quite a long period. I have found it a dizzying proposition to think about the short life of restaurants. I walk into a restaurant in San Francisco and often think: how long will this restaurant be here?
I am also doing the math of how much the space is on a monthly operating basis. The rent takes a significant share of the monthly budget. How many lattes or glasses of wine to not just cover what is being poured but to keep the lease going.
I also wonder if there is there a sense of appreciation of longevity of a restaurants in San Francisco A comparison might be New York in that longevity seems to be longer and a greater awareness or even a sadness when a long time restaurant closes. When the legendary Four Seasons closed there was a sense of sadness as this was a long time and quite legendary restaurant. There are so many restaurants in Manhattan that have closed and are still remembered – The Quilted Giraffe, Lutèce, Le Cirque and Café des Artistes to name a few. And yet there are some very celebrated restaurants that are still going and continue their long lineage like 21 Club, La Grenouille, Katz, One If By Land, Two If By Sea, Russian Tea Room to name a few. San Francisco does have long lineage restaurants too such a Tadich Grill, Clam House, Clift House, Sam Grills, and Fior d’Italia. These San Francisco restaurants are not top of mind for me as I think of them often for the tourist and convention set. Tadich is a good meal–albeit uncomfortable and always a line and no reservations.
2017 had more closures than openings. So if you thought it was just you–it wasn’t. Italian and French had net losses of significant large number of closures than openings. I don’t have any statistics yet for this year–perhaps a leveling off in 2018? But even if there is a leveling off of closures there seems to be a loss in restaurants.
San Francisco is not a lunch town–if you want a lunch Monday through Friday west of Van Ness good luck – there are a small handful – Zuni, Chez Maman and Starbelly to name a very rarefied few. Valencia Street’s loss of Range, Abbot’s Cellar and Bar Tartine helped a street to further change this street to more casual and more chains to enter like Mixt Greens and Souvla.
Here is a list of closed restaurants in about 20-30 years in San Francisco–these are all of the one’s I can recall (almost 100–here are 90). I’ll make a comment on some but not all entries.
- 42 Degrees
- 5th Floor
- Abbot’s Cellar – a great restaurant vision with pairing California cuisine and beer; ahead of it’s time and unfortunately that space has cycled two businesses already. I love sitting at the chef’s table and the wonderful books for diners to peruse. I picked up a wonderful book called ‘Chat’s About Wine’ by C.E. Hawker
- Alain Rondelli
- Alta CA – a mid-market restaurant which I thought would usher in a new era for this very depressed area with nearby headquarters like Twitter and Uber might create a demand of dinners. But that was not to be.
- Amber Dhara – Once San Francisco’s most spacious restaurant–I liked the food and a very nice and inexpensive happy hour.
- Asian de Cuba
- Bacar – I loved the extensive wines by the glass and wine flights
- Bar Bambino
- Bar Tartine – while the spectacularly successful bakery still operates the restaurant does not. There was two tries with two different culinary visions didn’t keep this place operating.
- Brasserie St. James
- Canteen – Chef Dennis Leary’s only full service restaurant; tiny restaurant even by San Francisco standards–I think it had three possibly four booths and bar seats. And possibly only 16 people at a time. I loved this place on so many levels: felt private, comfortable, a great place for a conversation, and of course Chef Leary’s food.
- Carnelian Room
- Charles Nob Hill
- Chaya Brasserie
- Chenery Park
- Chez Spencer
- Cypress Club
- Crystal Jade
- Fleur de Lys – Huber t Keller 40 year old restaurant which in my opinion slipped away way too easily. I was indeed sadden by this French classic.
- Flying Saucer
- Grand Cafe
- Hawthorne Lane – once a restaurant now a street level office; was such a nice restaurant space– I would love to see this as a restaurant.
- Hoffmann’s Grill & Rotisserie
- Hog and Rocks – a great concept of oysters and lovely hams of Prosciutto, Jamon Serrano and domestic ones.
- Jack Falstaff
- Jeanty at Jacks
- Julius’ Castle – a landmark space that has been in limbo since closure and a current lawsuit keeps it from opening. The bay view on Telegraph Hill would be such a nice space if it can ever reopen. I miss it and yet I think so few people remember it. I remember this being a Gourmet Magazine’s top SF Restaurant.
- L’osteria Del Forno
- La Nebbia
- La Rondalla
- La Victoria Mexican Bakery
- Lark Creek Steak
- Last Supper Club
- Le Zinc
- Luncheotte City Counter
- Masa – a classic, sophisticated restaurant that I miss very much; and of course gorgeous food.
- Mason Pacific
- Matterhorn – the only Swiss restaurant
- Moishe’s Pippic
- Old Bus Stop Tavern – the best and most beautiful Spätzle I had ever tasted.
- Park Chow
- Paul K
- Primo Patio
- Range – a favourite restaurant and my chef friends favourite as well–so saddened to lose this place.
- Rosalie’s Redux
- Rose Pistola
- Show Dogs – a mid-market restaurant which had the best fried chicken sandwich in the 7×7. A proof of concept in that restaurants just can’t survive in this part of Market Street.
- Slow Club
- South Food & Wine BarS
- South Park Cafe
- The Liberty Cafe
- The Tradesman
- Tommy Toys Cuisine Chinoise
- Undici – storied restaurant on 11th Street hence the name Undici; I cannot locate any information on this and as I understand in it’s day (in the 80s) it was a place to see and be seen.
- Vertigo – At the base of the Transamerica Pyramid; the restaurant shell exists as an office space in what still looks like a restaurant.
- Weird Fish
- Wo Hing General Store
- Woodward’s Garden
I wonder if San Francisco will capture a love for restaurants that it once had. Unlike New York where dining is a way of life San Francisco is a fussy town. I remember a managing director friend of mine once said to me that “San Francisco has better restaurants than New York.” Even back that I said no–some very nice one’s but not and possibly never on par with New York. San Francisco is an early eating town. I like to eat late but no one else does hence there is a small window to eat. I have been to many a restaurant which slow down at 9:00 pm. Recently I went to a restaurant with a friend and he was visiting from Texas and I said look — this place is nearly empty and by world city standards it is not that late (in some cities it is terribly early). I think San Francisco has become increasingly more transient. More people come and as of last year a net loss of population. Also I think many San Franciscan’s like the industries they work in prefer to be at home: shopping, grocery and meals services being delivered to the home.
I am not sure San Francisco will change all that much unless there is a way for rent stabilization for commercial restaurant space. As real estate is a pastime sport I am not sure there is any love to keep a vibrant restaurant scene.
Until then I don’t fall in love with a San Francisco restaurant because I do expect a very short duration it may have.
James the Wine Guy
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
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