By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
The lower Polk Street neighborhood has long been one of San Francisco's hippest -- and grittiest -- nightlife areas. The array of seedy dive bars tended to attract a colorful clientele -- plenty of artsy locals, queers, and transvestites, along with a steady stream of prostitutes, drug sellers, and pimps -- earning the area the nickname "Polk Gulch." But while imbibing hipsters sang the neighborhood's praises, residents and community groups grew increasingly tired of the blatant crime and filthy streets. In the past year, the neighborhood, one of the densest residential sections of the city, has witnessed a renaissance of sorts, with chic bars and restaurants replacing their hole-in-the-wall predecessors and a demographic that has changed almost overnight. Longtime residents have hailed the transformation, but some advocacy groups and locals are decrying the attempt at "gentrification," saying the city is simply trying to force out an underprivileged segment of society and create another high-priced, trendy shopping district. Are you an apologist for the gentrification of Polk Street? Take our quiz and find out!
1) For years, newcomers to the Polk Street area have been clamoring in neighborhood meetings for a rejuvenation effort, hoping to reduce crime and establish a more resident-friendly environment on the streets. Now that just such a movement appears to be under way, what's your opinion on the changing face of one of San Francisco's coarsest neighborhoods?
A) First they outlaw peeing in the streets, now they're forcing out the Polk Street pimps and pushers ... what is our society coming to?
B) I'll be honest -- I'm gonna miss watching the transvestite hookers interacting with rich, highbrow businessmen. Guess I'll have to hang around during checkout time in the Hilton lobby to see that now.
C) I think it's wonderful. We all want a place where we can take our kids to enjoy a lovely meal and do a little window-shopping without fearing for our wallets. And the Marina has gotten so expensive!
2) Perhaps more than any other single factor, the arrival of the $6.5 million O'Reilly's Holy Grail, an upscale Irish restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Mayes Oyster House on Polk between Bush and Sutter streets, has signaled a transformation of the Gulch. The well-reviewed restaurant boasts stained-glass windows, imported hickory floors, and an impressive collection of fine art, and owner Myles O'Reilly has also turned a run-down residential motel above the Holy Grail into a fancy hotel of suites. What do you make of O'Reilly's impact?
A) Just keep him the hell away from SOMA.
B) Wait a minute. Since when have Irish restaurants been associated with fine dining and gentrification? Did I miss something?
C) Luxury living apartments? In San Francisco?!? Now I've seen everything ....
3) In recent years, Polk Street has garnered a reputation as one of the city's consistently hip nightlife spots. Its distinctive bars -- including Polk Gulch Saloon, Reflections, and the Giraffe -- were known to cater to an adventurous crowd that included drag queens, hustlers, and a large queer population. Now that many of those watering holes have been replaced by more upscale establishments, do you think Polk Street will retain its reputation as an after-hours destination?
A) Hell, no. I hope the Western Addition is bracing itself for the migration.
B) A destination? Perhaps not as much for the paramedics.
C) Of course. Now we'll all be able to enjoy a nice, quiet glass of wine in peace, without some weirdo trying to push speed on us. (Bonus point if you live in Antioch.)
4) The new bars include the Lush Lounge, the Hemlock Tavern, and Vertigo, which serve exotic cocktails and live music to a mostly young, happy-hour crowd. A new wine bar called SNOB has also opened. What do these establishments suggest to you about the kind of San Franciscans the neighborhood is now trying to lure?
A) It's sad, really. Polk Street ain't Polk Street unless you have to tiptoe around human remains.
B) Everyone loves a Mojito.
C) Hey, man, if there's one thing this city needs, it's more hipster bars. Talk about a marginalized element of society ....
5) Carolynn Abst, current co-chair of the Lower Polk Neighbors, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the neighborhood is "not trying to be like Chestnut or Union, though we do want people to come here and feel safe. We are just kind of about cleaning up our act. We want a fruit stand, and we'll take a Starbucks, too." What's your response?
A) But where are the amphetamine addicts supposed to go? And don't say rehab -- we've all heard that one before.
B) A fruit stand? Would she settle for a Jamba Juice?
C) Wonderful! Nothing says "San Francisco" like a brand-new Starbucks.
6) Which neighborhood do you see bypassing Polk Street as a fashionable hangout for San Francisco's down- and-out?
A) You know San Francisco General Hospital? Man, that scene is the bomb on a Saturday night. It's open 24 hours, too!
B) Glen Park. Look, a tranny can dream, can't she?
7) Finally, what do you think the Polk Street neighborhood will look like in five years?