Valencia Continues to Tumble, Hayes Valley Picks up Steam

Two more high-profile closures reflect the food scene’s shifting center of gravity.

Brasserie St. James calls it quits after two years in business on Valencia. (SF Weekly)

Five years ago, the conversation around Valencia Street centered on just how many restaurants could be crammed into the neighborhood. In the fall of 2013, Mission Local noted that some 38 restaurants had opened on a nine-block stretch of Valencia since 2008.

Today, the real powerhouse of the food scene in San Francisco has shifted one neighborhood to the north, Hayes Valley. Stepping back a bit, the rough quadrilateral bounded by Haight, Divisadero, Geary, and Franklin streets has seen a huge number of openings over the past couple years, from fast-casual (RT Rotisserie, Namu Stonepot) to fancy ice cream (Salt & Straw) to mid-tier (Barvale, Barcino) to the upper echelon (Robin, Nightbird).

Undoubtedly, the Greater Western Addition restaurant explosion will exceed the saturation point, and there will be a market correction of sorts. But for now, the winnowing on Valencia went from punishing to merciless this past week, as Brasserie St. James and The Vestry called it quits. They’re only the latest in a long line that includes the recently disappeared Farina and Farina Pizza, Babu Ji, Range, and other high-profile spots that folded, including Grub, St. Vincent, Lot 7, Amber Dhara, and both Plin and its follow-up, Nostra Spaghetteria.

That’s a high rate of turnover, and the pace feels like it’s accelerating. You can’t chalk it up to location, either. Brasserie St. James was the second location of a Reno microbrewery that started out strong in early 2016 — just as Valencia’s star was beginning to dim — only to become wildly erratic after the initial buzz died down. And the Vestry happens to be directly across the street, adjacent to The Chapel.

Now most people would have predicted that of the two, the venue would have predeceased the restaurant — rich people steam up the windows of their condos because nightlife makes them so mad — but nope. The 85-seat Vestry, a brunch-y spot next to the former mortuary, never formed an identity of its own, and arguably, the separation from the sidewalk made the outdoor seating area feel too secluded. Don’t fret; a replacement restaurant is promised, and The Chapel — bar included — remains open. (A beautiful space with good acoustics and better programming, it seems to be thriving.) Maybe now’s the time to open another place on Valencia for live entertainment. Or just scour any of the dozens of commercial vacancies in the Castro.

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