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San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 5

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 27, 2013

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I once asked the late, great Bruce Roehrs why he lived in the Haight.

“All the bars I like are in the Haight,” Bruce said.

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I was never a fan of bars and “bar culture,” even when I was a drinking man. And I’ve never been a fan of the Haight-Ashbury. I arrived too late for the hippies, even to visit during their heyday. Then the Haight careened, crashed, revived, gentrified, and here we are in 2013 with the part circus, part zoo, part snooty neighborhood off-the-main-drag but on all the tour bus routes that is today’s Haight. There are plenty of accounts of the Haight, starting with David Talbot‘s Season of the Witch, which I critiqued on my other blog. For other histories, and some primary sources, consider the Diggers Papers site, including the various links provided there. Since I’m not into pointing out which Haight-Ashbury Victorian was rented by what famous psychedelic band, or where Anton LaVey held his Satanic black masses, or when white power skinheads tried to take over the neighborhood, let’s get on with a few Haight-Ashbury points of interest.

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Goorin Brothers Hat Shop (1446 Haight Street) is a fabulous find and potential haberdashery, now that I’ve taken to wearing styling head gear. If you don’t want to visit the store in person, you can check out their website and shop for hats by shape, by lifestyle, and by what’s new. Goorin’s is not some Parisian boutique. It’s a chain, but it’s service is high quality and it’s inventory is impressive. Cool. The Pork Store Cafe (1451 Haight St) is a wonderful place to get a heavy duty, stick to your ribs breakfast or lunch (or dinner) up to 3:30-4:00 PM. The food here is rich and large-portioned, and the lines are always out the door and down the block. Don’t bother worrying about your diet or your cholesterol levels if you intend to dine here. And don’t look for four star Parisian cuisine. This is comfort food, diner food, piled high food. Heart attacks are extra.

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Cole Street Hardware (956 Cole Street) is in Cole Valley, up from the Haight. And while the whole Cole Hardware chain is great, this particular store goes the extra mile, with inventory, with service, with resources. Cole Street Hardware has a handyman/contractor/etc referral service that links people in surrounding neighborhoods with skilled workers and professionals. Cole Street Hardware is all American do-it-yourself, not available in Paris. A real find. Finally, there’s Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St) at the end of the block. New and used music; vinyl, CDs, DVDs; movies on DVD or blu-ray; posters, books, turntables, etc; there ain’t nothing you can’t find at Amoeba, understand? Nothing like Amoeba can be found in Paris. Nevertheless, Amoeba has to struggle in order to survive, now that music and movies are digital, downloadable and streamable. So patronize them, damnit!

Below are a couple of shots of the Golden Gate Panhandle, to the north of the Haight. Not grungy and encamped with gutter punks like the entrance to Golden Gate Park proper at the end of Haight Street, the Panhandle is a cool, shady, relaxing strip of parkland buffering the Haight from the rest of the City. These photos also buffer the above section of this post from the section below.
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I’m returning to Noe Valley for a few more entries. The Haight is not my favorite neighborhood. I’m much more at home in Noe Valley and the Castro. The Castro got a thorough treatment in part 4, so this should round out Noe Valley, started in part 1.

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I love libraries. I love hanging out in them, reading books and newspapers in them, writing in them (both long hand and on computers), researching in them, etc. I love the smell of books, the tactile feel of printed paper, the sounds of their mandatory silence. I have an SF Public Library card, and I frequent my local libraries often. Noe Valley Public Library (451 Jersey St) is architecturally classic, with renovated interiors that are quite comfortable. I never visited libraries in Paris, but I would say my love for libraries is world-wide. Given right-wing attempts to gut the public sector in the United States in general, and to defund public libraries in particular, your public library needs your support. Just down the block is Video Wave (1431 Castro St), a tiny store stacked from floor-to-ceiling with rentable CD, DVD, and blu-ray movies. They have the entire Criterion collection, and also sell movie related “concessions” such as popcorn, ice cream and candy. Video Wave, as well as a number of other Noe Valley and SF small businesses, have been harassed by an abusive lawyer taking advantage of provisions in the California and Federal ADA laws, hoping to make a quick buck suing mom-and-pop sized stores for lack of compliance for disability access. Never mind that these establishments can’t control such access because they are often owned by absentee landlords who don’t, or won’t comply. Video Wave has spearheaded efforts to amend the ADA laws and to compromise with this rapacious lawyer (and it’s just one). But they’re still under threat of bankruptcy and closure. Patronize them!

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Contigo (1320 Castro St) is a Spanish Basque restaurant offering small plates (tapas), Spanish wines, excellent service, and a congenial atmosphere. Their Spanish hams are imported directly from the Iberian peninsula, and the churros and hot chocolate for dessert is a marvel. I’m sure similar cuisine is available in Paris, though we never found anything comparable. In Paris, whenever I noticed the bright red and yellow Presse sign above a shop or kiosk, I knew I could look for my favorite newspapers. Those Presse signs were everywhere. Not so in the United States, where I guess most people don’t read. In Noe Valley, Good News newsstand (3920 24th St) has the most comprehensive selection of newspapers and magazines around. Its owner, Sam, a Palestinian originally, is a cheery, friendly, helpful man always willing to aid the customer in finding what they’re looking for, and if necessary to special order what they can’t find. This store is a neighborhood staple. Standing around and browsing the shelves, you can watch all the locals come in for their favorite publications, and their cigarettes as well. A really fine store.

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I’ve mentioned the French interest in tea, and the tea shops of Paris, which really can’t hold a candle to a good American tea shop. David’s Teas (3870 24th Street) is just such a place, where there are umpteen metal canisters lining the long back wall filled with white, green, oolong, black, pu-ehr, mate, rooibos and herbal selections, and most of these further differentiated into straight tea vs flavored tea. Further divisions into organic, chia, etc. can be had, depending on the type of tea. You buy in bulk or by the cup, sample ahead of time, and sit around drinking your purchase. They have a quarterly catalog and also sell tea-related accoutrements. Wonderful. Speaking of tea, Lovejoy’s Tea Room (1351 Church St) attempts to replicate the experience of an authentic British tea room, complete with scones and crumpets, finger sandwiches (without the crusts), jam and marmalade, Devon cream, and the like. There’s more, much more, including pub food, and many more types of tea than would normally be found in your average British establishment. You can decide on a particular service (sandwiches, salad, tea, pastry) or order a la carte. I say!

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Chloe’s Cafe (1399 Church St) is a favorite of ours for breakfast, albeit with a somewhat limited menu. You can get eggs, but only scrambled. The rest of the menu is pretty standard, homemade potatoes, and fabulous buckwheat pancakes. My wife and I would each order a different, separate dish and share them. It’s small indoors, but offers sidewalk seating in good weather (much like a neighborhood Parisian cafe), and there’s always a 15 to 30 minute waiting list. The last stop on this Noe Valley tour is Omnivore Books (3885 Cesar Chavez St). I can’t say enough about this place. Floor-to-ceiling books devoted entirely to cooking. You heard me, cookbooks! Cookbooks by cuisine, cookbooks by ingredients, cookbooks by chef, cookbooks by preparation, antiquarian cookbooks, cooking monographs, the science of cooking, damn, this place have everything. And if it isn’t here, they will order it for you. Oh yes, there’s also select cooking magazines. There are special events (author presentations, book signings, food tastings). They even sell fresh eggs from free range chickens! There is no place like this on the planet, let alone someplace like Paris, where food and cooking are a religion.

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Finally, this is not a place, but an institution, the Noe Valley Voice (P.O. Box 460249, San Francisco, CA 94146). This is a neighborhood newspaper that, yes, is heavy on the advertising, but also local news of note. If something happens in Noe Valley, you can frequently find it covered in the Voice. Plus, there are police blotters, rumors, classifieds, all you need to keep up with what’s happening in the neighborhood.

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