Northside SF
North Beach Beat
Dirtiest part of North Beach? The streets

Caffe Trieste, by Bonita LeFlore
image: courtesy of Bonita LeFlore
The trail of blood started outside the barricaded Porzi-
uncola chapel, dripped an irregular path past the locked gates of the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi, and stopped near the northwest corner of Grant and Vallejo. For a moment there, I thought the Inquisitors had staged a comeback.

More likely though, some drunken frat boy got popped in the snout by a drinking buddy and bled his way back to his car so he could drive home to Fremont. In any case, an impressive amount of blood was spilled. Equally impressive was how quickly the Department of Public Works dispatched a crew to clean up the mess.

If only DPW was as diligent in staying on top of the increasingly filthy streets of North Beach.

The neighborhood may be enjoying a renaissance (as first reported here in Northside San Francisco in our special North Beach May issue and then later in your S.F. Chronicle on July 3) but that stretch of Grant Avenue between Columbus and Filbert, where much of this revival is occurring, is a pigsty. DPW runs a street sweeper up the thoroughfare now and then, but that doesn’t do much for the sidewalks, where the real gunk is.

And it’s not just along Grant. You don’t want to drop your Hostess Twinkie on Green or Broadway or many of the residential streets, either.

North Beach is among the most congested urban neighborhoods in America, so there’s bound to be an accumulation of filth, whether it’s discarded cigarette butts, gum that’s been ground into the sidewalk, or the odd used condom. Face it: people are slobs.

A while back we had guys who came out here and water-blasted the sidewalks on a regular basis. I don’t know how much that cost DPW but whatever it was, it was worth it. I mean the pavement practically glistened. Bring those guys back.

So about that renaissance: It was nice of the Chronicle to finally notice that something positive is occurring in North Beach. Maybe there’s a quota of some kind down there at Fifth and Mission: “We need to mention North Beach at least four times a month.” With a paucity of shootings on Broadway recently, the editors must have panicked. OK, probably not, but I like the image. 

In any case, things are looking up around here. All those new art galleries that have opened recently reassure us, for those of us who needed reassuring, that plenty of creatives still call North Beach home.

And the restaurant scene is definitely reviving: Washington Square comes back to life as three – including venerable Original Joe’s – open on its perimeter this summer and fall. Then you’ve got the new French steak house, Le Bordeaux, up the street on Union, and the Basque place, Txoko, on Broadway in the old Enrico’s space. And then there’s the new wine store around the corner on Grant near Filbert. You can never have too much wine.

There’s such a profusion of new joints, in fact, that you can feel your cholesterol level surging out of pure joy.

Still, I’d stop short of calling it a renaissance – those of us who have lived here a long time have always found plenty of good food, not to mention vibrancy in the streets and cafes, even if the commercial scene was stumbling around like a fat man in a room full of banana peels.

But as long as we’re applauding the new commercial spirit, let’s remember what made it possible in the first place: thanks to the economic downturn, landlords finally had to cave in and stop demanding ridiculous rents that no sane small businessperson could afford.

Don’t forget that, because vigilance is needed. Yes, these new businesses are terrific, and let’s hope they all thrive. But capitalism is a voracious beast, so voracious in fact that it will even devour itself in its crazy feeding cycle.

As businesses move in and the perception grows that North Beach is fertile ground again, the landlords will start bumping up those rents. Without a commercial rent control law in place, there’s nothing to check their natural greed. 

I just hope all these new places signed long-term leases.

The grass is still green, mostly: Kudos are in order, don’t you agree, to the organizers of June’s North Beach Festival? It’s not thanking them so much for what they did – although moving some of the booths out onto Columbus Avenue was a pretty good idea, I thought – as for what they didn’t do.

They didn’t use Washington Square, so now we can all enjoy summer in the park without feeling like we’re lounging on a lunar landscape, or slogging across no man’s land of a World War I battlefield.  

Previous organizers of this festival looked at Washington Square as an outdoor mosh ’n’ money pit, the perfect place to set up a line of beer stands while packing a few thousand sweaty drunks in front of a rock ’n’ roll stage. As a result, the lawn was trashed for the next six months while the overmatched gardeners struggled to set things right again.

This year the music stages were set up at the end of Grant and in the back of a parking lot off Green. Perfect. The sour smell of burped-up beer and garlic fries was still evident, but at least people weren’t barfing up their good times into the bushes of Washington Square.

It was different this year and I, for one, am grateful. Bet you are, too.

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