During the day, it’s easy to miss Trick Dog, a bar known for its high-end cocktails. But by night, the line out the door is a dead giveaway that something’s up — something that’s attracting newcomers from around the peninsula to a neighborhood that has transformed from residential and old industrial to Saturday night hip.
The short block between Alabama to Florida streets holds one attraction after another: Southern Exposure, Sightglass Coffee, Trick Dog, Central Kitchen and Salumeria. The Atlas Café sits on the south east corner of Alabama and The Tradesman just north of 20th Street.
After 10 p.m., it is Trick Dog with help from Central Kitchen and The Tradesman that make the street feel as heavily commercial as 16th Street near Delirium and Monk’s Kettle. Drivers for Uber and Lyft idle nearby and young men with well-coiffed hair and women in heels talk unrestrainedly on the sidewalk as they wait for old friends or try to make new ones.
“Before, everyone was scared to come here, they said bad things about the place,” said one resident of Florida Street, Gabriel Lanzarín, who was born and raised on Bryant Street. “Now, it’s the place to be.”
The scene is a relatively recent phenomenon, perhaps enhanced after the May issue of Esquire named Trick Dog one of the best bars in the country’s best bars.
“We were here six months ago, and it was busy but not as busy,” said Katie Brown, who was waiting for a friend outside the bar on a recent Friday night. It was too crowded inside. “It’s definitely picked up. Before, it was less of a place to be.”
In fact, it’s so popular that Brown and her friends have come up all the way from Sunnyvale. And they’re not the only ones up from the South Bay.
Kyle Mirro, a recent transplant from New Jersey who lives in Palo Alto, also made the trip with his friends. He said that he came to Trick Dog because some of the other employees of the Palo Alto start-up where he works who live in the Mission recommended it.
But popularity among young newcomers also means crowds, noise, and drunk people.
“I had a crowd of people walk down the street yelling. They came out here like it was Bourbon street,” said Davi Ottenheimer, a 43-year-old man stationed outside Trick Dog . When he shushed the loud bar patrons, he said, “they asked what’s wrong with me.”
Ottenheimer, a cybersecurity consultant, owns a home next to Flour + Water, a restaurant a few blocks away and owned by the same company that runs Trick Dog. Ottenheimer arrived from North Beach about a year ago seeking a quieter, more peaceful corner of the city. Instead, he found himself constantly annoyed by loud clusters of bar patrons moving along the street. Restaurant employees take smoking breaks at the foot of his building.
To combat the onslaught, Ottenheimer posts outside Trick Dog several nights a week and asks patrons to respect the neighborhood by keeping their voices down and picking up their cigarette butts.
While the recent scene appears new, it’s not. For those who lived through earlier versions of the neighborhood’s late night entertainment crowd, it is also tamer.
In 2009 Whisper on Florida near 18th Street was closed after shooting broke out several times nearby, and early morning partying also included gunfire shots outside the now-closed Circulo at Florida and Mariposa.
But there have been other changes as well. Lanzarín and Santos noted the decrease in the Latino population and the casualness of the neighborhood.
Alberto Santos, who used to live on Treat Street but is currently couch-surfing in North Beach, remembers skateboarders roaming the neighborhood and going to poetry slams you could only find if you were in the loop. “If you’re not hip, if you’re not down with the revolution, go somewhere else,” he remembers. “Now, it’s all about getting drunk.”
Lanzarín also recalls the havoc that skateboarders could create, but the newcomers offer their own kind of chaos.
“They pee right between the cars. You’d think they’d have a little more class,” he said, especially considering that the newcomers seem like “real sophisticated girls.”
Ottenheimer says he feels the tension between people who grew up in the neighborhood and wealthier newcomers. He says he’s witnessed people drive by and throw eggs at the crowd outside the bar, as well as drive-by paintballing.
Others don’t mind the changes so much.
“There are ups and downs to gentrification,” said William Villa, a college student who grew up in the Mission but moved to South San Francisco to find cheaper rent. “Growing up in the Mission, it wasn’t safe,” he said. Now, he appreciates the added security.
However, that security does not protect everyone equally, says Lanzarín.
“People throw parties and they’re out and people are drinking and peeing and the cops are like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’” he said. Meanwhile, police are suspicious of him and often ask, “Got anything on you?” When he says no, they have a hard time believing him.
Newcomers, he said, can also be leery of him. His family has been in the neighborhood for 65 years, but newcomers don’t know that and if he’s out at night, he feels like sometimes people take photos of him because they think he looks suspicious.
But the newcomers can also tire of one another.
“It’s hella packed and we don’t really want to be here,” said Brown, still waiting for her friend. “We want to hopefully go somewhere else.”