Surfacing | Valencia Street, San Francisco
Hipster Hunting Ground
By GREGORY DICUM
SOME 15 years ago, Valencia Street was a forbidding mix of auto body shops, papered-over storefronts and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Despite a smattering of Victorian houses and lesbian bars, few outsiders were drawn to this grungy edge of San Francisco’s Mission District.
Then came the dot-com money. Trendy coffeehouses arrived. Hip boutiques opened next to cool bars. And now the wide, low-slung street has become a gathering spot for the city’s latest breed of cool-hunting hipsters.
During the day, Valencia Street is alive with the kind of fashionable, do-it-yourself types who subscribe to ReadyMade magazine and shop at organic farmers’ markets. You’ll see them foraging for clever, handmade crafts at the Curiosity Shoppe (No. 855; 415-671-5384; www.curiosityshoppeonline.com), which carries items like coffee holders knitted from yarn ($18), deer heads carved out of wood ($450) and skeleton keys fashioned out of porcelain ($40).
Across the street is Paxton Gate (No. 824; 415-824-1872; www.paxtongate.com), a goth wunderkammer that carries an assortment of Japanese garden tools, mounted insects and animal skulls. And at Five and Diamond (No. 510; 415-255-9747; www.fiveanddiamond.com), a new boutique and tattoo parlor with a Gypsy carnival bohemian décor, display cases are filled with so-called “organic jewelry” and rings made from human bones.
A similar, back-to-nature aesthetic informs Valencia Street’s stylish new restaurants. Dosa (No. 995; 415-642-3672; www.dosasf.com), a bright and modern restaurant, marries traditional South Indian cuisine with fresh California ingredients. Named after the crepelike pancake, Dosa draws a lively crowd of Indian software engineers and tattooed musicians and artist types. Favorite dishes include chatni masala dosa (spicy eggplant chutney and creamy spiced potatoes, $10.50) and rava masala dosa (spiced Indian potatoes, onions and cashews, $11).
Down the block is Spork (No. 1058; 415-643-5000; www.sporksf.com), a retro-modern diner housed in a former Kentucky Fried Chicken. Instead of fast-food fried chicken, Spork turns out slow-food favorites like grass-fed beef burger ($14), Kona Kampachi sashimi ($13) and mussels and slow-roasted pork ($18).
The neighborhood cafe is Ritual Coffee Roasters (No. 1026; 415-641-1024; www.ritualcoffeeroasters.com), where the baristas take their beans very seriously. The crowd might include Web techies pecking on their MacBooks (Flickr founders held their early meeting at the long table) to pierced activists who wouldn’t be caught dead at a Starbucks.
At night, everyone seems to head to Amnesia (No. 853; 415-970-0012; www.amnesiathebar.com), an intimate, bordello-red lounge that serves a wide array of microbrews, wines and cocktails made from Korean soju. A small stage features a truly eclectic musical mix, including bluegrass, indie rock, jazz and Persian psychedelic.
Like the street itself, the bar’s lineup is full of surprises.