Pandemic year two is as good a time as any to take stock of where we’re at as a city — mourning the beloved businesses that we’ve lost, celebrating the old-timers that have stuck around, and getting to know the exciting upstarts that have managed to open during this difficult time.
800 Taraval St.
Since 1969, Gold Mirror Italian Restaurant has brought old-school glamour and intrigue to the sleepy Sunset District, saving generations of West Siders the trek to North Beach. So named for its eponymous bar mirrors which were moved from its original Fillmore Street location, the Gold Mirror is something of a time capsule. Patrons would be forgiven for forgetting San Francisco’s indoor smoking ban, which has been in place since the late 1990s. The original mirrors have since been replaced, but the restaurant’s vintage neon sign is still visible, cutting through the marine layer of a San Francisco night. The food is the real deal, too. About a decade ago, Sicilian-born founder Giuseppe di Grande passed the restaurant on to his sons Dom and Roberto, who are still cooking up classics like meatballs over polenta and house-made veal cannelloni. If they and their staff are more attentive to their regulars than to you, newcomer, well, that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Green Apple Books
506 Clement St.
Green Apple lost its Clement Street annex during the pandemic, but its original store just down the block remains as it ever was. Since 1967, Green Apple Books has been giving City Lights some pretty serious competition when it comes to heady collections, progressive politics, and creaky floors. Despite so much disruption in the book-selling business, Green Apple continued to expand over the years, adding its annex in 1996, and then merging with the Inner Sunset’s beloved, struggling Le Video in 2014. Le Video is no more, and so is the Clement Street annex, which largely housed records and DVDs — but that means Green Apple will continue to focus on what it does best. The store announced its shrinkage thusly: “Shrinking Green Apple is not a defeat; it’s just another step in the continuing evolution of Green Apple to the ever-changing bookselling landscape. We think the right-sized Green Apple Books will continue to be a destination-worthy bookstore, and we look forward to our 100th Anniversary party on Saturday, Oct 1, 2067. Save the date.”
620 Jones St.
Sipping a Street Heat — a potent combination of tequila and jalepeño — at 620 Jones, it’s easy to forget where you are. The tall buildings all around would suggest New York City; the generous outdoor patio feels very L.A. Yet here you are in the Tendernob, enjoying a precious spot of fresh air and open space in one of the nation’s most densely populated neighborhoods. If there’s one thing the last year and half has taught us, it’s not to take these outdoor spaces for granted. Since Valentine’s Day 2011, 620 has been making the most of its unique set up. These days, special events include Drag Brunch every Sunday with Princess Poppy, and Burlesque Thirsty Thursday every third Thursday (say it with me 10 times fast) featuring Sgt. Die Wies. Of course, pups are always welcome.
Grooves Inspiralled Vinyl
1797 Market St.
Even before setting foot inside Grooves, you know you’re in for a trip. The Upper Market record store hypnotizes passersby with its giant spiraling sign, artistically representing the grooves in a record. That figures: Husband-and-wife founders Ray and Joan Anderson used to design psychedelic light shows at the Fillmore for artists like Jimi Hendrix and Santana. By the early ’90s, Ray’s record collection had simply gotten too big to handle, so he decided to open this store. After Ray’s passing in 2017, his daughter Sunny Andersen Chanel took over, stewarding the eclectic collection well into its second decade. In a 2018 interview, Anderson Chanel told Donuts Magazine there are many more surprises in store for customers. “There are hundreds and hundreds of boxes of records that we still haven’t gone through! Once we do, our customers will be very happy! There’s some amazing stuff that hasn’t hit the shop yet.”
Toy Boat by Jane
401 Clement St.
Toy Boat Dessert Cafe in the Inner Richmond was at high risk of being a pandemic casualty. At the beginning of lockdown, owner Jesse Fink decided to sell the business after 38 years in operation, striking fear in the hearts of longtime customers who enjoyed eating ice cream and sandwiches among vintage toys. Fortunately, a new owner, Amanda Michael, quickly stepped in and reopened the storied establishment as Toy Boat by Jane, taking the same moniker as Michael’s three other “bakeries by Jane” scattered throughout the city. The new iteration of Toy Boat is similar to the old. It’s still serving Mitchell’s Ice Cream and offering 50 cent rides on a mechanical toy horse. In addition to those old standards, Toy Boat now offers Jane’s innovative cookies, including “Salted White Chocolate Oatmeal,” and “A Cookie for Breakfast??” Alas, Toy Boat recently was in the news for the wrong reasons: In July, the Chronicle reported the bakery experienced its second toy burglary in less than a year.
The Balboa Cafe
3199 Fillmore St.
The Balboa Cafe has seated generations of San Francisco. This saloon-turned-illustrious-city establishment first opened its doors in 1913 and has since survived Prohibition, the Great Depression, 1989’s catastrophic Loma Prieta earthquake and many other challenging times. Now it’s outlived the city’s most recent defining era, and it’s emerged more popular than ever. Balboa quickly adapted over the pandemic, becoming one of the first restaurants to offer to-go cocktails and building a parklet outfront. Longtime patrons were delighted to return for a classic burger and fries, which have historically claimed top spots on SF Weekly’s Best of San Francisco lists. And restless younger crowds soon found a safe gathering spot to mingle and sip espresso martinis. Balboa’s ownership throughout the decades falls under a kaleidoscope of characters — from the infamous Jack Slick in the 1970’s Bermuda Triangle days to celebrity chef Jeremiah Tower in the 80s and it’s current ownership, the PlumpJack Group, founded by Gov. Gavin Newsom and family friend Gordon Getty. But despite its ownership changes, an abundance of younger customers and the new parklets, many of the cafe’s oldest patrons will tell you the cafe has hardly changed throughout the decades. “It’s like going home,” says patron Terry Whitney, who’s been sitting at Balboa’s oak paneled bar since 1954. “No matter what, no matter where I am, I’ll always go back.”
460 Larkin St.
This longtime Tenderloin watering hole was everything a true dive should be. Both venerable and disreputable, we have it on good authority that the barkeeps here used to allow their plowed patrons to take whiskey naps in the basement. Though the bar changed hands several times since it first began serving drinks around 100 years ago, it held onto the Harry Harrington’s moniker for the better part of a century — from the 1940s until the fall of 2020. There’s a new pub operating out of the space now: Shovels Cocktail and Whiskey Bar. It’s not that we mean to throw shade at the new proprietor; the menu looks delicious. It’s billed on Google as a “stylish, comfortable cocktail and whiskey bar also offering craft beer, burgers, and sandwiches.” It’s just that noshing on high-end New American fare and fancy IPAs just feels a bit incongruous in a space that catered to the hard-boiled liquid lunch crowd for so long.
Coin-Op Game Room
508 4th St.
Part of a small California chain of video game pubs, the San Francisco location of Coin-Op Game Room ran out of lives in November. We covered the struggling niche industry in a December cover story, which noted that proprietors of arcades for grown-ups face plenty of challenges even when they aren’t contending with a global pandemic. Keeping up vintage machines is costly and labor-intensive, as many replacement parts are not easy to source. There are other factors in play as well, including San Francisco’s pricey rent and the fact that Millennials remember paying 25 cents — rather than a $1 or more — for each batch of credits.
2140 Market St.
Lucky 13, a bar that couldn’t be missed from the street, will be sorely missed by the people. The distinctive bright red building, with its demonic cat iconography, was an Upper Market staple for 26 years until its permanent closure in December. The interior of the punk dive bar was unmistakable, too, with eerie red lights and halloween-inspired decor covering the walls. For many years, a skeleton sporting a Dodgers hat hung from a skylight. All of this deathly imagery was fitting, in a way, as Lucky 13 was living on borrowed time for years. As early as 2002, the landlords considered developing the bar — home to various gay dance clubs through the ‘70s — and the adjacent parking lot. For just as long, Lucky 13 was on a month-to-month lease, waiting to see if the landlords would follow through on their threats. They never did, until recently. The site now is slated to become a 70-unit apartment building, including 10 affordable units. Here’s hoping there will be room for a bar at the bottom.
2405 Ocean Ave.
For more than four decades, patients on Ocean Avenue’s “dentist row” could step out of their appointments and pick up a tasty treat at Zanze’s, or vice versa. The dental offices and cheesecake shop may have created a mini business ecosystem on the otherwise dreary retail corridor, attracting haggard patients in need of a pick-me-up and sweet tooths in need of oral care. But Zanze’s was more than a cheesecake shop; it was a local institution. Founded by Sam Zanze in 1979, the shop offered a tiny selection of unique, crustless cheesecakes for its 42 years of existence, punctuating and flavoring the special events of countless San Franciscans. The cheesecakes garnered national recognition, too, earning the No. 4 spot in Food & Wine Magazine’s 2019 list of the best cheesecakes in America. While Zanze’s Ocean Avenue storefront is closed for good, the master baker has vowed to continue selling his cakes one way or another, perhaps at Mollie Stone’s Markets.
399 9th St.
The past year-plus has has been a wild ride for the oldest queer bar on the West Coast. The Stud closed its SoMa location for good at the beginning of the pandemic, which was only an acceleration of its already-planned closure by the end of 2021. Then, last June — in the middle of Pride Month — the building’s landlords abruptly whitewashed The Stud’s murals. The six artists behind the mural, painted for Pride 2017, sued the landlords in November. Through it all, The Stud’s 17-member ownership collective has vowed that the legendary bar and venue will someday reopen in another location. In the meantime, they’ve been hosting events in cyberspace, releasing podcasts and video performances on their Patreon. As former SF Weekly editor Peter-Astrid Kane wrote in May 2020, the news of The Stud’s closures “is technically bittersweet. But for anyone who has sat in the booths, sung karaoke on the stage, posed for a selfie beside the pandrogynous murals out front, or bumped into a drag performer in that strange men’s room that problematized the concept of a ‘men’s’ room like no other bar in the world, this is devastating news. Fragile and beautiful and precious, The Stud is San Francisco.”
Hayes Valley Boutiques
Amidst such a plethora of high-profile restaurant and bar closings, and much hand wringing about Walgreens shuttering multiple outlets, countless local retail stores and other small businesses called it quits with much less fanfare. Each of these establishments had a loyal, local customer base that will be sad to see them go. Retail closures have been seen across the city — last August the SF Chamber of Commerce estimated that nearly half of the city’s storefronts remained shuttered — but few neighborhoods have been as hard-hit as uber-trendy Hayes Valley. By the end of last summer, 21 Hayes Valley businesses already had closed for good, SF Weekly reported. That number has only grown over the past year. According to Hoodline, which meticulously catalogues business openings and closures, here are some Hayes Valley businesses that closed for good during the pandemic: Gimme Shoes, a neighborhood staple for 36 years; several Hayes Valley boutiques, including Gazette, Welcome Stranger, Ver Unica, Aiken, and Sean; beauty salon Ritual Skincare; the bar Riddler, and the restaurant Stacks.
333 11th St.
Losing Slim’s was a real bummer. This venerable institution has hosted some of the best live bands ever to pass through the city. The closure of the club can’t be blamed on COVID-19, as longtime owner Boz Scaggs already had plans to walk away from the venue before the pandemic swept in. Nevertheless, the timing came as something of a double whammy. It also paved the way for a bit of controversy, as it was later announced that a new DJs-and-bottle service ultra lounge — Yolo — would take its place.
CinéArts at the Empire
85 W. West Portal Ave.
A piece of San Francisco history was lost when CinéArts at the Empire announced it would remain shuttered after a 95-year run. The beloved neighborhood theater has been a West Portal staple and community gathering spot since opening its doors in 1925 during the silent-movie era. Back then, it only had one screen and was known as the Portal Theater. Over the decades, the movie house has undergone several name changes. It became the Empire in 1936 and then CinéArts at the Empire after it’s parent company, Cinemark, took over operations in 2003. The theater had been closed since March lockdowns when Cinemark announced the closure was “normal course of business and the result of the careful and ongoing review of our theatre fleet, particularly in light of the impact of COVID-19.”
3248 22nd St.
Part cafe, part bar, part music venue, and all je ne sais quoi, Revolution Cafe has seen its final act. The English language doesn’t do justice to this charmant, très civilizé establishment, whose indoor-outdoor, all-ages atmosphere would have been perfectly at home in Paris or Barcelona. The cafe featured a near-nightly rotation of performers, many of them offering various forms of jazz, although classical and Latin music were often part of the rotation. The scene attracted diverse crowds: In a 2008 New York Times write-up, one patron described the cafe as a “bohemian, transglobal hole-in-the wall.” Chatty, intergenerational groups were interspersed with pensive artists and journalists, all finding their own place in the milieu. However, the closure of this particular location may not be the end. The website notes, “We’ll try to see if we can recreate the beauty of Revolution Cafe in another location and will keep you posted.”
Ocean Beach Cafe
734 La Playa St.
The buzz on this new ocean beach hotspot is that there isn’t one. Former bartender and owner Joshua James specializes in boozeless beverages of the highest quality. With the self-proclaimed largest collection of non-alcoholic drinks in the United States, James can craft any cocktail imaginable, without the alcohol. Inspired by his own recent sobriety, James opened the Ocean Beach Cafe in January— it’s since gained popularity for all of its simple pleasures. Coffee, a healthy breakfast and lunch menu, and friendly staff draw patrons of all ages, regardless of sobriety. James and his staff recently launched an hour-long tasting experience for those looking to try some of his vast collection of non-alcoholic IPAs, wines, seltzers and spirits. Located on La Playa street just a block away from the ocean, the cafe offers an atmosphere informed by James’ Hawaiian roots. Succulents and radiant art cling to the cafe’s seafoam green walls, and customers can enjoy their beverages at the parklet out front.
Kona’s Street Market
32 3rd St.
Since 2019, Kevin Diedrich and Andrew Chun have had plans to open up a cocktail bar and restaurant focused on Filipino food and drink at the corner of Market and 3rd downtown. Then the pandemic hit, compounding the usual challenges of opening up a restaurant in the city. It wasn’t until February that Kona’s Street Market finally opened its doors, with food from the pop-up Pinoy Heritage by chef Francis Ang. The cocktail menu draws inspiration from around the world, including “Milk Was a Bad Choice,” with gin, kefir, and cold brew, and “Silence is Golden,” with shochu, white bean, and egg white. Following in the footsteps of Mission District stalwart Trick Dog, Kona’s is named after Diedrich’s own hound, whose visage also graces the establishment’s logo. Stop by after a turn at SFMOMA or shopping in Union Square, or, welp, a day at the office.
411 Valencia St. & Yerba Buena Gardens
When it comes to takeout, pizza may represent the Platonic Ideal of food that travels well. As such, it makes sense that Jesse and Joshua Jacobs — the brotherly team behind Samovar Tea — have picked this moment to launch Joyride Pizza, which will replace the existing Samovar locations at 411 Valencia St. and in Yerba Buena Gardens. The eateries are also on trend when it comes to the types of pies Americans are fiending for. Joyride serves Detroit style ’za, made with locally sourced meats and wheats, which they fashion into airy, squarey deep-dish delights. Fans of Samovar will still be able to place orders online.
Huf has made it back home. The brand, founded in San Francisco by skateboarder and designer Keith Hufnagel in 2002, has since gone global, opening stores in Los Angeles and several cities across Asia. But for the past few years, the city where it all started has lacked an outlet. Changing that wasn’t easy: It took literally years of clearing away red tape and securing community buy-in. Finally, as of this month, Huf SF is open for business on Valencia. For the brand, the homecoming was bittersweet. After personally working to bring this new store to fruition, Hufnagel passed away of brain cancer last September. With this store, supporting the city’s still-vibrant skateboarding community, Hufnagel’s legacy will live on. “There’s still that history here, and there’s many skateboarders, men and women, that choose to move here from around the world because of skateboarding,” Huf Vice President Keith Murray told SF Weekly. “It will always be the Mecca.”