Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

826 Valencia’s Pirate Supply Store

August 16th, 2021
Pirate Supply Store

 

The other day I was walking down the 800 block of Valencia Street and something clicked — while on vacation I’d written on this very blog about the Time Travel Mart in Los Angeles and the Secret Agent Supply Co. in Chicago, but I’d never written anything about this nonprofit group’s original location: 826 Valencia here in San Francisco.

The quick version of the story behind why there’s a store for pirates at 826 Valencia Street is this: author Dave Eggers opened a youth writing workshop in the space, but to comply with zoning regulations they were required to have a retail storefront. So a very small part of the footprint of the building is dedicated to a whimsical gift shop.

While all of 826’s other writing workshops follow this same model, they all have different themes for the storefronts. But I think it’s safe to say the original has the most work put into the theme.

The Pirate Supply store sells everything a pirate could need: wooden legs, eye patches, even treasure! And something called “Unicorn Horn Polish.” Of course you’ll also find books, this is a writing workshop after all.

There’s no sales pressure whatsoever and I doubt they make many sales. But then again they’re very open about the fact that this store is a front for something else.

 

Pirate Supply Store Pirate Supply Store

 

The store’s theme doesn’t end with the merchandise. One example is a wall with cabinets and drawers you can open up. Many of them have cryptic labels like “repairs” on them, and inside you’ll find it’s items to repair clothing like buttons and buckles.

Unfortunately some of the drawers are stuck. Pirates have better things to do than repairing furniture.

 

Pirate Supply Store

 

Various information is framed on the walls, including the above and one labeled “USES FOR LARD (partial list).” My only question here is what kind of pirate has access to a printing press?

The dry sense of humor on display both here and in some of the mini-books sold in the store should seem familiar to readers of McSweeney’s, which is edited by Eggers.

 

Pirate Supply Store

 

In one corner of the store there’s a periscope, which is strange because I don’t recall going below deck…

The Pirate Supply Store at 826 Valencia is only open on weekends. If you’re interested in visiting, here are some questions I’ll leave you with:

  • What do you see when you look into that periscope?
  • There’s a place in the store where you can dig for treasure. What can you find?
  • Next to the cash register there’s a curtain with some theater seats behind it. What’s playing on the screen?

If you do visit the Pirate Supply Store I’d also recommend checking out their next door neighbor, upscale curiosity shop Paxton Gate for all your crystal, succulent, and taxidermy needs.

The many resurrections of Valencia Street’s restaurants

June 21st, 2021
Freekeh (Pork Store Cafe) on 16th Street

 

As documented on this very blog many businesses in San Francisco were boarded up during the beginning of the pandemic, with many if not most gradually returning. But what’s more surprising are the places that officially went out of business only to reopen — some of which closed long before the pandemic. Here are the restaurants along the Valencia Street corridor that went through this unlikely chain of events.

 

Pica Pica

The original and last location of the Pica Pica chain known for its Venezuelan food closed its doors for good in August 2020, only to quietly return in March with new investors.

The closure of Pica Pica felt like a blow simply because Venezuelan restaurants are hard to come by in the Bay Area. However it turned out to be a sign of things to come when they reopened their doors.

 

Valencia Pizza & Pasta

Despite closing forever at the start of 2020, Valencia Pizza & Pasta returned with a fresh coat of paint and a renovated interior.

Of all the restaurants on this small list, this one has to be the most surprising as it was a fairly unassuming restaurant that certainly never made anyone’s top ten lists. Though there is something to be said for reasonably priced wine and carbs.

 

Pork Store Cafe’s Mediterranean offshoot

Those with longer memories might remember the 2009-era “Morak Lounge,” the hookah bar on 16th Street just off Valencia which was the nighttime moniker of Pork Store Cafe. To sell the vibe customers would enter Pork Store through a Moroccan-themed side entrance, which later became Stanza Coffee.

Despite being an American style diner, Pork Store never completely abandoned Mediterranean cuisine (though they did drop the hookahs.) However as seen in the image at the top of the post, Pork Store’s side hustle as a full on Mediterranean restaurant is back, now under the name “Freekeh.” It remains to be seen if Stanza Coffee fully reopens.

 

Luna (Park)

The team behind Wayfare Tavern have been quietly working to reboot Luna Park as just “Luna,” and while it’s not open just yet they’ve renovated the interior of the place and put “now hiring” signs in the window.

This effort is seemingly unrelated to several previous efforts to reopen Luna Park, including one from the owner of Mission Beach Cafe which crashed and burned long before Mission Beach itself went under, and by governor Gavin Newsom’s Plumpjack Group. Indeed, the efforts to bring back Luna Park are more storied at this point than the original restaurant. Fingers crossed, this time is the charm.

 

Update: Luna has now opened.

What is SYGNYL?

February 3rd, 2021

 

Today is Groundhog’s Day, and aside from using a groundhog-based weather prediction to determine if we’ll get more winter or spring (spoiler: it’s more winter) we also have our first taste of SYGNYL, a new project from Nonchalance.

Taking a step back, Nonchalance is an ongoing immersive art project from Jeff Hull (also known as Bobby Peru) that was previously responsible for The Jejune Institute, The Latitude, as well as their associated semi-documentary films The Institute and In Bright Axiom, respectively.  Recently a fictional television series loosely based on The Jejune Institute called Dispatches from Elsewhere was released on AMC.

Back to the subject at hand SYGNYL is a podcast which you can find on nearly any podcast platform. Though the trailer (see the video above) and prologue were already available, the first episode was released today.

Of course it’s also more than a podcast, and without giving too much away there’s also a puzzle of sorts for you to solve to compliment the first episode.

Is it some sort of sequel to The Latitude? Some signs point to this including the vocabulary (Signal, Kith, Mantis, etc.) and the website has a similarly all-gray color palette. Oh and if you poke around enough you’ll find that a certain “villain” of the Latitude has also returned.

The relationship to The Latitude raises some questions, but after seeing In Bright Axiom, the aforementioned documentary about The Latitude, I think it’s safe to say there won’t be any secret society elements. As to whether any real life adventures are in store we’ll just have to wait and see. But obviously with the pandemic it would be a poor time to send people down slides and crawling through tiny rooms. It’s also unclear if this will be limited to the Bay Area.

This season of the podcast is named “A General Mystification Vol. 1” so they clearly intend to make more than one season of SYGNYL. Not that we even know how many episodes are in a season just yet.

To check out SYGNYL for yourself you can find links to the podcast here and the official website here.

Signs of the COVID-19 times part 5

January 1st, 2021

The summer is long over since my last post in this series, and tomorrow marks a whole new year.

A lot changed since that last post we’ve had a presidential election and the first vaccines are (slowly) rolling out to hopefully put an end to this pandemic before next summer.

Though in the more immediate term, things seemed to get better before getting worse.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

The first big changes is just how fancy the outdoor dining parklets became. And yes, I know they’re not the same thing as parklets legally but the difference is negligible for most practical perspectives.

Many of the newer ones took on a more patio-like appearance with patio umbrellas, flooring level with the sidewalk, and even plants and grass.

If nothing else this at least gave people with design and light construction skills some work during the pandemic.

 

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Another big change to outdoor dining was trying to bring the outside in. Above we see whiskey-focused bar Elixir trying to entice patrons with an outdoor TV showing a football game, despite not having a reputation as a sports bar.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

One of the more alarming changes were the outdoor dining spaces that seemed to all but forget what “outdoor” means, complete with roofs. When the whole point is to maximize airflow to reduce the rate of transmission these types of parklets seem ill-advised.

Then again, this whole program was put together with unclear guidelines and it’s not reasonable to expect restaurant owners to be infections disease experts.

 

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Eventually other businesses clamored to restart operations outdoors, sometimes to unusual looking results like the gym in the photos above that was able to move some of their equipment out to the sidewalk.

Some of these seemed a little questionable from a legal perspective. For example at a gym if I’m just walking by and someone drops a dumbbell on my toes, is that their fault or the gym’s fault?

 

The answer to that question and many others would never be put to the test though as far as I know, as with all this new outdoor activity — as well as a very short-lived experiment in “limited capacity” indoor dining — infection rates went up again, hospitals were running out of capacity, and it was time to go back into lockdown mode.

 

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In early December the state began rolling out stay at home orders again, just like at the beginning of the pandemic. A whole bunch of new signs appeared out on the streets telling us to stay home and warning of airborne transmission. This is an about-face from the focus on washing your hands that public health officials first suggested about nine months ago.

The last of the three posters above initially looks like it’s from the Health Department, but if you look closely it’s not: it’s an anti-racism poster from the Human Rights Commission telling people to stop attacking Asians. Perhaps even sadder than the pandemic is that something like this even needs to be said at all.

New fnnch mural at The Valencia Room

November 24th, 2020
Fnnch mural at the Valencia Room

 

While heading to pick up lunch the other day I happened to notice a new mural from fnnch on the side of The Valencia Room.

I should take a step back here and point out a couple of things. If you haven’t been to the Mission recently, The Valencia Room is the bar and entertainment venue that took over the Elbo Room after they were somehow forced out in a confusing series of events where the former owners and current (?) landlords planned to replace the building with condos, then somehow never got around to it. (A second and newer location of the Elbo Room lives on in Oakland near Jack London Square.)

I’ll admit I still haven’t had a chance to check out The Valencia Room before the pandemic kicked in, though their live shows hadn’t really appealed to me to be honest.

Getting back to the above photo, it’s clear that the martini glass is the work of fnnch. Even if it wasn’t signed the toothpick featuring an (almost) discrete honey bear makes the authorship perfectly clear.

This new mural puts the building in line with the rest of Sycamore Street, an alley lined with a number of large and interesting murals. It’s often overshadowed by Clarion Alley, which is a stone’s throw away on the same block. I think that’s a shame as the murals on Sycamore tend to be larger and less same-y than the ones on Clarion, yet it gets fewer visitors. Definitely give the murals on Sycamore a look if and when you can.

Why I have reservations about the Measure RR Caltrain tax (but I’m voting for it anyway)

October 14th, 2020

Recently the three main counties that serve CalTrain were asked to add an additional sales tax to fund CalTrain service. This was initially rejected by San Francisco leading to some finger wagging, before ultimately landing on the ballot.

Many transit advocates decried San Francisco’s decision, but let me point something out: of all the counties asked to add an additional tax for CalTrain, San Francisco is the only one within an existing transit tax district — the BART sales tax district. In other words San Francisco is being asked to join a second public transit tax district.

Meanwhile, while BART does go into San Mateo County and recently into Santa Clara County as well, both of those counties opted to pay for BART service separately instead of joining the BART tax district.

To put it simply, CalTrain should be part of BART. If the two entities were folded into one and were part of the same tax district, what’s to lose? Think about it: CalTrain serves San Mateo and Santa Clara counties much the same way BART does, and with the upcoming electrification project should have a BART-like more frequent schedule in the future.

Let’s call this BART/CalTrain merger “BARTrain” for the purpose of this conjecture.

Before anyone complains with “hey I don’t like the way BART is governed” well BART is a democracy. You can get involved with the BART board if you live in the district, from emailing them with your dissatisfaction all the way up to running for a board seat.

There’s many more obvious gains here as well. The worst part of public transit is transferring between lines with unpredictable schedules. BART does timed transfers within its own system, which is convenient when transferring between lines in the East Bay. Imagine if BARTrain had timed transfers at the existing Millbrae station and the upcoming San Jose Diridon BART extension?

On a longer timeline the planned BART extension into San Jose could simply terminate at the new BARTrain Diridon Station as it would make the plans to extend BART to Santa Clara redundant. That money could be used for other projects like the long-planned CalTrain Dumbarton project which would provide a second bay crossing for BARTrain, or even something else entirely — BARTrain to Half Moon Bay? — just spitballing here.

For now anyway the existing San Jose/Gilroy CalTrain corridor could be operated as a special commuter extension, very similar to the recent Antioch BART extension which uses diesel trains and extends into less populated counties outside the core operating area.

Should you vote yes on the 2020 Measure RR? Yes, it will help upgrade CalTrain and get cars off the road in the post-pandemic era. But it’s not ideal at all — let’s have one transit tax district that covers the entire Bay Area to provide simple, equitable, convenient transit for everyone.

The forgotten monument that was once on top of San Francisco’s Mount Olympus

September 4th, 2020
San Francisco's Mount Olympus San Francisco's Mount Olympus San Francisco's Mount Olympus

 

While poking around Atlas Obscura the other day I came across a truly odd monument that I immediately knew I had to check out.

Eccentric businessman and former mayor Adolph Sutro had a statue named “Triumph of Light” built to mark the center of San Francisco. The problem is if you consider the landmass on the peninsula, the true center of San Francisco is a good deal south from this point. Like many of Sutro’s ventures this was likely a gimmick to draw tourists to the area.

Although the statue mysteriously disappeared decades ago and the plaque has faded away, today the statue’s pedestal and what remains of the plaque is still visible in a San Francisco park called Mount Olympus. 

 

San Francisco's Mount Olympus San Francisco's Mount Olympus

 

Never heard of this Mount Olympus? That’s no surprise; it’s a tiny park on a small hilltop peak. Today the area around it is surrounded by housing and you have to walk up some staircases and through a narrow street to find the park itself. Look for either Monument Way Stairs or Mount Olympus Stairs to find your way up the hillside on your way to the park.

Read more at Atlas Obscura. Do beware that the address listed on Atlas Obscura is currently incorrect; look for Mount Olympus on Google Maps to find correct directions.

Signs of the COVID-19 times part 4

August 20th, 2020

It’s been a couple months since my last entry in how this global pandemic has transformed daily life in San Francisco. There’s still no vaccine on the horizon despite Russia’s premature announcement, and likewise the United States has utterly failed to combat the pandemic under Trump’s leadership.

In other words, the important things haven’t changed since last time.

Fortunately there are many far less important things to focus on here in San Francisco: the many ways we continue adapting to the pandemic.

 

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For work I had to take Muni downtown and walk through SOMA to the office a couple times to help wind down the office operations and clear out my stuff. Much of the area around Market Street downtown felt unusually empty — boarded up storefronts, no cable cars, etc.

Today I heard The Gap’s flagship location will be closing for good. For those who remember that was a Woolworth location back in the day, which used to have an entrance directly from the Powell Street subway station.

Oddly the Westfield SF Centre mall across the street was open at the time, but has since closed again. There was a time when I suppose the grocery store in there could have been considered essential (remember Bristol Farms?) but those days are long gone.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Construction on the new Four Seasons tower is much further along than when the pandemic started. The bottom floors will one day house the Mexican Museum, assuming those plans are still on the table.

Across the street the Yerba Buena Gardens had obviously not been cleaned recently, with the pathways absolutely covered in pigeon droppings.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Entering the office was a little surreal — very few others were there, and the elevator had markings indicating it was now only suited for two people at a time. Normally we’d pack it with eight people easily, but not anymore.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Muni is still operating at a very reduced capacity with surface-level buses only and is enforcing a mandatory mask policy. At some stops attendants remind people to wear masks and try to stop buses from getting even slightly crowded.

As seen above signs on the doors indicate that a mask is required. To protect the operators, passengers are only allowed to board through the back doors unless they require special assistance.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Several streets have been converted to outdoor dining areas, including two blocks of Valencia for four days of the week. The sidewalk, parking, and bike lane areas have been converted to outdoor dining with the middle of the street reserved for walking; technically bikes are supposed to be walked but that isn’t really enforced.

Personally I’d love to see this continue on a regular basis — weather permitting of course — though with hundreds of wildfires burning throughout the state right now and smoke billowing through San Francisco this experiment clearly came at the wrong time.

 

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Street art continues to dominate blank, boarded up walls. In July the theme shifted largely to Pride, since there were obviously no “official” Pride celebrations this year.

That said, there was definitely an LGBTQ+ presence at the Black Lives Matter protests in June, with people holding signs with slogans such as “Black Trans Lives Matter.”

Signs of the COVID-19 times part 3

June 30th, 2020

Since last month’s entry in this ongoing series, a number of local, national, and world events have occurred. It’s been a strange, though hopeful time for the most part. Here’ some more changes I’ve seen around San Francisco.

 

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In the most literal sense of the title of this post, the city’s Department of Public Health has been busy printing and distributing signs with the ever-changing set of rules we’re all supposed to be following.

Many of these signs are related to the reopening plans. As it turns out our entire economy is built on people eating at restaurants and shopping for clothes. It took a pandemic to make anyone realize this was a horrible idea, but here we are.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

The official signs apparently are not enough as some people have been making their own signs. In this case it seems someone was frustrated by people not wearing masks near Valencia and 18th Street.

While it’s true not everyone is wearing masks on the sidewalk, as far as I know nobody around here has thrown a tantrum over mask requirements in stores… yet.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

I’m not entirely certain what the intended message is here, but someone’s been placing stickers of infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci around the neighborhood.

 

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Indoor dining is strictly not allowed (you can’t eat and wear a mask, obviously) but some restaurants are opting for the outdoor and sidewalk seating approach.

To position tables less than six feet apart, some restaurants — like the 16th Street outpost of Pakwan pictured above — are placing barriers between tables. Does this actually work? Should we be dining out at all? I’m guessing probably not on both counts.

I’m not sure people are really interested in sitting outside in 60/65 F weather anyway. Maybe that will change when San Francisco’s summer begins in mid to late August.

 

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Although many stores and restaurants have reopened in some limited capacity, many dragged (or are continuing to drag) their feet on removing the boards on their storefronts. And of course many will not reopen, so there’s plenty of space for street art.

 

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At the beginning of the month there was a large Black Lives Matter protest that began at Mission High School at 18th and Dolores. This led to many store owners running essential businesses to board up their windows. Turns out that was an overreaction as there wasn’t really much in the way of property damage anyway.

But it also sparked a change in the art appearing on boarded up storefronts. Rather than being largely decorative a new theme emerged: Black Lives Matter. Many of these took the “Say Their Names” approach, listing names of Black people who were murdered by police.

And on that note…

 

COVID-19 changes

Thoughts on extending the T line

June 16th, 2020

With all the recent news of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, even avid readers of local news might have missed that two new BART stations opened over the weekend in the South Bay.

Here in San Francisco, Muni Metro’s T line extension is still under construction with the Central Subway from SOMA to Chinatown. That hasn’t stopped people from pondering how the subway could be extended further north — the tunnel already goes well into North Beach, and with further digging could connect Fisherman’s Wharf and perhaps the Marina.

I think it’s also worth considering ways to extend the T line in the south end of the city to connect both neighborhoods without much transit access and to existing Muni Metro rail lines. This also has the advantage of connecting to San Francisco’s BART and CalTrain stations.

To some extent at least one of these routes seems inevitable, if for no other reason the SOMA to Chinatown subway would benefit from more connections to the south half of the city. All of these options could be built partially or entirely at street level to reduce cost.

Credit for the Muni Metro map goes to the German version of Wikipedia. I’ve annotated it in pink with my proposals. You can tell which segments would require new construction as they’re not next to an existing Muni Metro line.

16th Street to West Portal

Although this corridor is already well served by transit, hear me out. This would provide light rail to the new Chase Center, UCSF Mission Bay, 16th and Mission BART, and potentially something far more exciting — access to the Twin Peaks tunnel.

An above ground route on this alignment would already have rails connecting Market Street to the K, L, and M lines via the (unused) above ground rail connection near Castro and Market to the existing subway heading towards Forest Hill and West Portal. This connection to the subway hasn’t been used since the early 1980’s but could be brought back into service.

This route could either overlap or replace Muni’s 22 bus line alignment on the east/west half of the existing 22 line.

Cesar Chavez to Noe Valley

Connecting the T to the J line in an alignment on the south end of the Mission on Cesar Chavez would complement 24th and Mission BART and provide a connection to the Bernal Heights area as well as Noe Valley. 

This could provide a much needed connection to BART while also taking advantage of the little used J line tracks to better serve this section of the city.

Hunter’s Point to the Zoo

While an exact alignment is tricky to pin down, the goal would be to take passengers from Hunter’s Point to the Alemany Farmers’ Market to Glen Park BART, share the M-line tracks to the L-line tracks to Stern Grove and finally to the SF Zoo.

Both this new line and the existing L line would share a terminal stop at the same location.

Although it may not seem like the most interesting route today, with new housing slated for Hunter’s Point it has a lot of promise for the future. And personally I’d love a rail connection to the city’s largest farmer’s market.

Geneva Avenue to Park Merced

This corridor on the southern edge of the city could provide access to the Cow Palace before connecting with the existing M line toward Park Merced and SF State’s main campus.

Park Merced already has a long standing desire to improve transit access for its residents.  This could also connect with BART at Balboa Park depending on the alignment.

Just go to SFO already

There’s probably zero chance of this happening, but it would be great for both locals and tourists alike if the T line somehow went so far south it connected Brisbane, South San Francisco, San Bruno, and connected to SFO (perhaps via the AirTrain?)

Unfortunately all of these new stops would be in San Mateo County, outside of Muni’s operating area of San Francisco. Would San Mateo County be willing to chip in for this? One can dream.