The New Hip Street in the City

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Monday, Jul 19, 2010  |  Updated 12:44 PM PDT
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Must See in the City

Josh Keppel

826 Valencia is a pirate supply store and children writing workshop that is owned by local literary hero David Eggers, screenwriter for Where the Wild Things Are. The window display is the work of artist Lauren Hartman.

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 With apologies to Brooklyn, San Francisco’s Valencia corridor now reigns as the hippest place in the universe.

More skinny jeans per capita. Check.

80’s sunglasses galore. Check.

A former Kentucky Fried Chicken turned swanky restaurant called Spork -- Check.

Plus, vintage dresses and tree tattoos. Check - check.

What really pushed this former Latino neighborhood into the upper registers of the hipster stratosphere are the physical changes to Valencia. They include a new $6.1 million dollar street construction project that resulted in wider sidewalks with bigger bike lanes. There are wooden poles topped with tiny Victorian houses where flannel-draped community members can post band fliers, community notices and poetry.

The changes are to the liking of the Fixie riding community. 

"If you come down here on a Friday night you’ll see you can’t find a place to park your bike," said San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Director Renee Rivera.

At Luna Park restaurant, manager Josh Valrosi was setting tables and chairs on the front sidewalk – something unheard of just weeks ago before the project was done.

"We’re really happy with it, I mean four tables are four tables," said Valrosi. "That’s huge in a restaurant our size."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said the changes, paid mostly with federal funds, are part of the city’s new Better Streets Plan.

"It’s not about cars versus bicycles or bicycles versus pedestrians," Newsom said. "It’s about looking comprehensively at livability, quality of life."

Newsom and city leaders gathered on Valencia near 16th to celebrate the completion of the project by cutting a big purple ribbon stretched between a couple of bicycles. The unveiled a thick new book that contains new guidelines for designing streets with pedestrian and public transit in mind.

Steps away, diners filed into Puerto Alegre Mexican restaurant, one of the original stalwarts of this transitioning neighborhood.  When the restaurant opened 40 years ago, Valencia was lined with car repair shops and small family businesses. Today the street is a Mecca for high end restaurants like Spork, Dosa, and cafés like Ritual Coffee Roasters who’s fussily crafted brews are as potent as delicious.

"Forty years ago, my dad decided to come over here," said Puerto Allegre co-owner Amparo Vigil. "I think this is what he anticipated."

As a throng of city officials gathered for the ribbon cutting, Vigil thought back on the four decades of changes she’s witnessed. She said the latest changes on Valencia were to her liking – believing it will lure more community to the sidewalks.  When asked about the gentrification of the neighborhood she paused for a second.

"There’s still a lot of Latinos here, though they might not be as present as they had been in the past," Vigil said. "But we’re still here. We’re still here."

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