San Francisco's Market Street gets a makeover

The lunchtime crowd at the Market.
The lunchtime crowd at the Market. PHOTO: THE NEW YORK TIMES

SAN FRANCISCO • For decades, as this city polished its reputation as an essential food destination, a stretch of Market Street just a short stroll from the ground-breaking Zuni Cafe remained stubbornly unchanged, a wasteland of cheque- cashing stores and weed dealers, punctuated by the whiff of urine.

A city survey last year declared that Market Street between 7th and 11th Streets was San Francisco's dirtiest commercial strip. While nearby Union Square and the South of Market district blossomed, these half-dozen broad blocks remained something people rushed through on their way to more charming neighbourhoods.

But in a city consumed by a tech boom, the neighbourhood now called Mid-Market is undergoing a transformation that would render it nearly unrecognisable to anyone who has not braved its sidewalks for a few years.

A new culinary scene has been born seemingly overnight, the child of a three-way love affair among real estate developers, tech workers and food professionals that many say is unprecedented.

"It's like the Wild West here, and it's bringing these partnerships you would have never seen before," said chef Traci Des Jardins, whose restaurant Jardiniere helped revitalise the adjacent Hayes Valley neighbourhood 18 years ago, when it was recovering from the Loma Prieta earthquake.

"Some developers are starting to see that food creates its own sort of movement in a neighbourhood," she added.

Companies like Square, Uber and Dolby have moved in. At the epicentre is Twitter, which took over a decaying art deco building in 2012. Early in its rehabilitation, developer Shorenstein Properties decided to integrate food.

At the base of the building is the Market, a gleaming 2,044 sq m food emporium that opened last January. A shopper can buy a pound of ground grass-fed beef and some Gravenstein apples, carry out a squash blossom pizza or eat pristine oysters at a marble-topped sushi bar.

Bon Marche, a French brasserie, and Dirty Water, a spot for craft cocktails and dishes like axis deer tartare and grilled quail, recently opened in the lobby, too. Other restaurants and bars continue to sprout close by.

Chef and writer Daniel Patterson, who owns the acclaimed Coi and three other Bay Area restaurants, opened Alta CA across the street from Twitter in late 2013. The restaurant, designed to feel like someone's first grown-up apartment, is a blur of backpacks, Negronis and iPhones. It stays open until 2am, serving California cuisine as viewed through an Eastern European lens.

Four blocks away last year, an old billiard parlour became the Hall. Envisioned as a culinary place- holder to keep the area lively until the buildings nearby can be developed, the Hall has seven street food stalls, with communal tables, murals and music that spills into the street.

Once construction begins, the stands selling samosas, shrimp Louie and Vietnamese beef noodle soup will be replaced by apartments, shops and a more permanent set of restaurants.

"A pop-up food hall as a way to renovate a neighbourhood?" chef Des Jardins said. "It doesn't get any better than that." NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 'San Francisco's Market Street gets a makeover'. Print Edition | Subscribe