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A few trendy bars and restaurants were beginning to share space with the extant pawnshops, liquor stores, and check-cashing outlets when Peter Glikshtern opened his first nightclub in the Mission three years ago. But back then, valet parking and fusion eateries were pretty much confined to Valencia Street. In the Mission of 1997, another world lay just three blocks away.
There, an assortment of prostitutes, drug dealers, and gangsters ruled the grimy stretch of 16th Street near Capp where Glikshtern hoped to do business. His new bar, Liquid, had a minimalist, trashed look -- concrete floor, stainless steel bar, and vinyl bench seats ripped from junked vans -- and was modeled after the funky dives in New York's East Village where hip music played by a hip DJ is the draw to an anti-hip space (which then becomes the epitome of hip). The atmosphere came cheap, especially with genuine graffiti already scrawled over Liquid's facade.
But there was a limit to the amount of organic grit Glikshtern was willing to let into his establishment. If his were to become a viable business, the illegal and dangerous activity teeming around his bar had to be curtailed. So the imposing Glikshtern -- a one-time Olympic judo hopeful who stands 6 feet 3 inches -- played an active role at the door, trying to keep the riffraff out. He even took to patrolling the block a little in each direction, blowing the cover of the pimps and traffickers who chose Liquid's sidewalk to ply their trade. Prostitutes would often attempt to work from within the bar, but Glikshtern always had a good idea which ladies he needed to ask to leave. Sometimes it was painfully obvious, as it was just three weeks after he opened, the night Glikshtern's new business ran into the trouble that was eventually to place it at the center of the debate over gentrification in the Mission.
"She was a real home-grown Capp Street girl. I mean, god-awful gnarly, teeth gone, and holes on her arm the size of the Lincoln Tunnel," Glikshtern recalls. "I said, 'Sweetie, you gotta go.'"
The prostitute protested loudly and turned to another patron for support, a Latino man Glikshtern thought he recognized as a drug dealer who sold crack on a nearby street. Glikshtern immediately told him to leave the bar, too. But the man returned, with three Latino friends, to confront and threaten the white bar owner. Though physically bigger than each of the men, Glikshtern says he was scared as the group of four surrounded him, one swinging a large metal belt buckle as the others reached under their clothing as if preparing to retrieve more weapons. "I grabbed a crowbar, and the rest is history. It was a freaky thing," he says. "In retrospect, I should've just taken the ass-kicking and waited for the cops to get there."
Glikshtern hit three of the men multiple times in the face and head with a tire iron until they fell to the ground, bleeding. He was arrested for assault and spent the night in jail. But the District Attorney's Office agreed with his claim of self-defense and dropped the charges. Glikshtern was free to continue promoting Liquid, which went on to become a success: "The best club in the worst neighborhood," one local paper proclaimed.
As everyone knows, wealthier and whiter outsiders flush with dot-com money have been increasingly drawn to the Mission, Liquid's predominantly Latino neighborhood. Bored with the aristocratic nightlife and clean sidewalks of the upscale Marina and clichéd North Beach, they have found a new and more interesting playground in the southeastern heart of the city, where they can be cool and slum for the evening while still enjoying the comforts of martinis and sushi. Today, haute cuisine and Santa Monica appeal have moved confidently east of Valencia Street to envelop the greater Mission, fueled by the new Internet economy.
At Foreign Cinema, a French-speaking chef recently prepared seared chicken breast in wine sauce with a balsamic vinaigrette salad for members of the Mission Merchants Association. They gathered last month in the restaurant's quiet courtyard, tucked away from the busy produce stands and taquerias that line Mission Street out front. Naturally, the business owners want their neighborhood to prosper. But just how it should improve, and by how much, is a bitter arguing point. And ever since the incident at Liquid, Glikshtern has remained in the fray. He is president of the group.
At the June lunch, a shouting match broke out between opposing forces on the gentrification issue. Glikshtern had invited developer Joe O'Donoghue to speak, the man reviled by many in the Mission for his hand in building expensive lofts and his eschewal of publicly funded housing.
"San Francisco is at risk of becoming a city of rich folks," Ron Chavez, an advocate of more affordable housing for the disadvantaged, told the group.
"So what!" attorney and landowner Victor Vitlin shouted back.
O'Donoghue argued about the ideological differences between "affordable" and "low-cost" housing, but gave up in frustration, saying no one would listen to him because he doesn't wear a ponytail: "All you want to hear is the typical progressive crap."