Illustration by Jenna Paul-Schultz

As Valencia continues its restaurant renaissance, the neighborhood is also seeing an explosion of eateries seeking permits for a full bar.

Demand is coming from both incoming and established restaurants. No matter the layers of scrutiny and the cost to buy an existing license — there is a moratorium on new licenses — restaurant owners say diners are demanding their cocktails.

“San Francisco is becoming more and more a cocktail capital and a broader culinary capital,” said Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “A high-end cocktail is becoming something that customers are expecting as part of their diner experience.”

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Since November, the Planning Commission has approved three full-service restaurants with full bars and will consider a conditional-use permit today for the proposed Mohave restaurant at 550 Valencia. Meanwhile, older establishments like Dosa and Limón have already received the commission’s approval for liquor licenses that permit a full bar.

If the commission approves Mohave’s permit today, Valencia between 13th and 26th could have 16 bars or restaurants able to whip up a cocktail.

“Could” is the operative word, however. Once through the Planning Commission, the owner must buy an existing license for on-site beer, wine and spirits, then get final approval from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) for the so-called Type 47 license. These licenses allow a full bar at a “bona fide public eating place.” Other city codes prohibit new bars or liquor stores in the Mission District.

A Type 47 license would cost $12,000 if there was no moratorium, said ABC spokesman John Carr. With the moratorium, it’s a sellers’ market. The club Bissap Baobab on Mission Street recently sold its license for about $250,000, according to a source close to the former restaurant.

The proposed 3,910-square-foot Mohave restaurant will have fireplaces, a full bar and about 30 employees. The space was formerly home to the Bombay Bazar and Bombay Ice Creamery.

Mohave owner Dylan MacNiven, also proprietor of the Woodhouse Fish Company with locations in the Castro and Pacific Heights, declined to comment on the project until after the Planning Commission meeting. In a recent letter, he told the commission that the restaurant would be “primarily Southwestern inspired, focusing more on the Native American styles and ingredients, but using the sensibilities and resources inherent to California.”

The Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association, a nonprofit organization involved in a historic survey of the neighborhood, voted unanimously to support the project after two presentations by MacNiven, said association co-president Peter Lewis. Lewis said that MacNiven, who lives near the proposed restaurant, has been quite successful with his other restaurants.

“We were impressed with the plans,” Lewis said. “We thought it would be a wonderful asset for the neighborhood.”

Mohave’s permit is on the commission’s consent calendar, meaning it will likely be approved.

Three other incoming restaurants — The Chapel, Tacolicious and Amber Dara — also plan to obtain liquor licenses.

Mohave, a Southwestern restaurant with a full liquor license, is planned for the former Bombay Bazar space on Valencia.

Limón’s owners decided to try to obtain a full liquor license after the restaurant opened because they didn’t want delays and the process can take months, said Tony Kim, a consultant who is helping Limón gain approval for its license.

Limón currently serves soju cocktails, beer and wine.

The owners of Dosa, which opened in 2005, got their full liquor license permit in May. In their application they wrote that they needed the license to stay competitive on Valencia Street. Previously, Dosa served only beer and wine.

“Without this important consistency in our product offering,” wrote Emily Mitra, Dosa’s co-owner, “we feel our original location, the one before you today at 995 Valencia Street, will not remain financially successful over the long run.”

Anjan Mitra, co-owner of Dosa, downplayed the idea that the slew of incoming restaurants armed with full liquor licenses was the motivation for going after a full liquor license for their Valencia location. Cocktails are served at their newer Fillmore restaurant, and customers have asked them to serve cocktails at the Valencia location as well.

To obtain a full liquor license, a business must first receive a conditional-use permit from the Planning Commission, a process that triggers a public hearing.

The commission’s biggest concern in considering new restaurants is over-saturation, said city planner Corey Teague. Once 20 percent of the storefronts on Valencia become restaurants, the scrutiny becomes greater, and when it reaches 25 percent there is serious evaluation of a new restaurant’s effects on the neighborhood.

Valencia has yet to reach the 20 percent point.

Nevertheless, there has been some resistance to the commission’s approvals once the restaurants go to the ABC, the state agency that oversees liquor licenses and which also requires an extensive approval process.

The pending permits for Dosa and Limón are currently being protested.

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Rigoberto Hernandez

Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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  1. Interesting, it appears that it’s easier to open up a Pot club than it is to get a liqor license. Maybe that’s a good thing.

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