Why I Love Living in the Western Addition
By: Chrissy Loader, Photos by Abby Wilcox
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I moved to the Western Addition eight years ago. I’ve seen upscale restaurants move into abandoned buildings, parklets built, and trees planted. I’ve watched arty gift stores and fancy produce shops proliferate. I’ve also seen some gems disappear completely from the neighborhood, and some, like Falletti, reinvent themselves.
But when I think of my ’hood, I don’t only think of the (nearly) $4 toast, skater T-shirts or art walks. I also hear the sound of cars honking, dogs barking, gospel music seeping out of our neighborhood churches, bands doing sound check at the Independent, and maybe the occasional pre-Burning Man house party. I smell the cannabis and the green grass of the Panhandle. I see the fog rolling over Masonic toward Alamo Square, and the views that surround this neighborhood – Sutro Tower to the south, Saint Ignatius to the west, and the Painted Ladies presiding over Alamo Square.
I love my neighborhood – on Baker we’ve got trick-or-treating for kids through the Victorians at Halloween and a weekend in April with an unpretentious block party that includes bands, barbecuing, and a bouncy castle at Lyon and Hayes. On Saturdays, you’ll find the men of Westside Cuts & Style on Divisadero cheering on the Giants, and in May the neighborhood rallies, sometimes reluctantly, around Bay to Breakers, serving up beers along the Panhandle (before cleaning up all the vomit).
I’ve seen the Western Addition inspire passionate dialogue – about our parklets, cafés, and even our neighborhood’s name (is it NoPa, WEPO, or HayBro this week?). There are people who are discovering the ’hood for the first time and folks like my elderly next-door neighbor who have never lived anywhere else. It’s a place – like much of San Francisco – that’s full of history, opportunities, and change. Here are a few new and old favorites:
“NoPa” was a term being pushed by realtors when I moved here in 2005 – before NOPA the restaurant’s 2006 opening – so it’s funny how the name’s caught on (at least with the New York Times). NOPA’s co-owner Jeff Hanak went to St. Ignatius High School with Bi-Rite’s Sam Mogannam andthe Independent’s Michael O’Connor; the restaurant is run by a local and it’s at the very epicenter of the Divis gentrification. Located in an old bank, it’s got high ceilings, an open kitchen, and a bar serving pitch-perfect cocktails. It’s also the best place in the city for a late night burger or a Sunday Bloody Mary.
A southern diner owned and operated by a gracious Korean family, the Hwangs, who took it over in the late ’80s, Eddie’s delivers flakey biscuits, combo breakfasts, and old-school favorites, like Salisbury steak and the “Divisadero Burger.” It’s open from early morning until late afternoon, and it’s a great neighborhood spot to grab a stool and find a quick greasy cure to a weekend’s hangover.
First opened by Trevor Logan in 2006 at the corner of Fulton and Baker, Green Chile Kitchen later moved up one block to the former Café Neon location at McAllister. This spot is typically bustling with neighborhood families – actually, it could be called a clusterfuck around 6 p.m. There’s a reason, though. Green Chile Kitchen serves fresh, healthy food, including salads, roasted chicken, and stews, as well as sangria, wine, agua frescas, and beer on tap. And neighborhood families live off the restaurant’s chicken dinner.
Part of the trifecta at Baker and McAllister, owners Lauren Alameda-Reddell and Jason Wahlberg’s intimate café serves Sightglass coffee, beer and wine, and delicious bites – in particular, its Nutella Pop Tarts. On the rare warm day in SF, Matching Half’s outside seating provides a delicious spot to enjoy a pint of beer. It also offers the occasional night of live music and recently started hosting a trivia night. My only complaint? I wish this spot was open later (most nights, Matching Half closes at 7 p.m.) because I’d probably move in.
Home of the city’s first parklet, Remy Nelson’s Mojo knows how to take a small space and make it work on multiple levels. It’s a bike shop, café, beer and wine bar, music venue, pop-up diner, and a place where the entire neighborhood converges.
An Ethiopian restaurant and bar with Victorian wallpaper, a lava rock entrance, and a booming encyclopedic jukebox, the Waz has been around in its current incarnation since 1999 and is notorious for its neighborhood characters. Actually, I can still remember the time my downstairs neighbor decided to invite the entire bar home after closing. Truth: If you want to get to know the ’hood, you need to meet Club Waziema.
Kelly Malone’s Workshop offers classes on how to make beer, build a terrarium, or sew that Evel Knievel costume you always wanted. Actually, it’s more than just a place to get your DIY on. It’s also the neighborhood mecca where Kelly – with help from business partner David “DK” Knight – throws fundraisers, promotes local designers, and puts the finishing touches on her latest Indie Mart fair.
The first time I saw a show at this venue was in 1992 when Pavement played their first West Coast show. It was called the Kennel Club at the time and the American Music Club opened. Since then, the club briefly became the Justice League before it morphed into the Independent. The booking continues to shine and I’ve seen the Indy host some of SF’s best shows – TV on the Radio, Thee Oh Sees, Sonic Youth, and that Hot Chip show in 2006 where the walls were sweating. The Indy is a lovely neighbor, generous with its good times – particularly its free Monday night Cinema Drafthouse screenings.
I know – another café! I’ve heard the rumblings that this place – brought to you from the team at Four Barrel – and Bi-Rite are the downfall of the neighborhood. But, hell, I’m not complaining, and I hardly even drink coffee. Why? Because I like the atmosphere – and the scrumptious bread. You see, I’m one of those people who thought a bakery would make a great addition to Divisadero and, so far, Josey Baker delivers. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the people watching is divine.
Open since 2008 by Rod Hipskind and Kelly Ishikawa, the Perish Trust feels like an attic full of hidden treasure. So much so, I sometimes wonder if things are actually for sale, and I usually find myself fondling all of the lovely vintage goodies, while waiting for someone to kick me out. Nevertheless, it’s my go-to spot to try on Warby Parker glasses, discover a one-of-a-kind necklace, get lost in a collection of vintage books and maps, or pick up the latest edition of Lucky Peach or Kinfolk. Precious? Why, yes – I am! But don’t scoff; we all need some pretty in our lives.
More recently, Wine Kitchen, with its generic airport lounge ambiance, and Bi-Rite, where I accidentally purchased a $2 nectarine, have opened. But other spots not to miss in the mad rush for curated produce include our neighborhood old-faithfuls, like Bean Bag Café’s cheap beer and grub, Mini Bar’s cocktails, Corkage’s sake, Little Star’s pie, the salad bar at Green Earth Natural Foods, and the treasure troves to be had at The Other Shop,Cookin’, and Helen’s Wigs.
And I hear there’s still more to come to the ’hood: a mescal bar called La Urbana, Barrel Head Brewhouse, and at least two more cafés. I’m mostly excited for the change – and only a little bit nervous. Though I’d prefer to see empty storefronts filled, and people frequenting neighborhood businesses, I don’t want Divisadero to turn into Valencia 2.0. We need to hold onto the necessities – SF Hardware, for one – and see a few more affordable food options. I’d also like to see a kitchen face-lift at ever-declining Blue Jay Cafe, a positive resolution over the Harding Theater, and a decent BBQ joint for a change. In the meantime, I hope my neighborhood continues to thrive, flourish, and evolve, while still retaining those things that make it unique.
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