Romance from the Other Side: Stories of Love Observed in the Mission

Valentine's Day gifts sold on Mission Street. Photo by Lola M. Chavez.

Old and new school dating meet in the Mission’s various haunts, to varying degrees of success – but when love is in the air, it’s palpable.

Take, for example, the couple that stands out in Mission Beach Cafe server Dylan Gormik’s mind – The pair came into the cafe still riding out the high of their first date the night before. On that morning six or seven years ago, Gormik remembered, they had spent the whole night together wandering around town and stopped in for a cup of coffee.

“They were so into each other, it was clear that these people meant to be together,” Gormik said. “They were talking straight at each other after hours and hours of being up and walking around the city together.”

Happy and eager to chat, the couple easily connected with Gormik and his coworker that day.

Whatever the magic formula for that date was, by the end, Gormik said the staff and the couple were hugging their goodbyes, like old friends. Years later, the couple still comes in – now married and with two children.

Josey White, who runs the Front Porch just outside the Mission in Bernal Heights and has also seen her fair share of first dates turn to marriages, says the really, deeply in-love couples coming in for their many-year anniversaries distinguish themselves with their good manners.

“Usually a when a couple mentions it’s their anniversary, it’s often an older couple…I always bring them a glass of champagne. You can tell that they’re just in love and it’s like their 25th anniversary,” White said. “They’re so easy to deal with. They’re not high maintenance, and they know exactly what they want, they’re really good at communicating and …they’re not like calling you over every five minutes, they’re humble and good people and you’re just like, ‘Ah. Now I see why you’ve been together for 25 years.”

Others, not so much. Brianna Deoitte, who works at the Front Porch as well as at Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack, has seen things go decidedly south.

“I do remember one guy and this lady on a first date, and the dude kept falling asleep at the table,” Beiotte remembers. “I was like, are you guys ready for the check? And he was like, no, bring me another beer.”

Sometimes love isn’t necessarily between the two people going on the date. At St. Francis Fountain on 24th Street, it can be more about nostalgia.

“You’ll have people who come in here, they’ll look around and have a weird smile on their face,” said St. Francis Fountain server Jay Alper, “And they’ll say, ‘my girlfriend worked here in the 60s, I’m so happy to be here.”

Whether it’s the fare or the blast from the past (the restaurant hasn’t changed much in nearly a century of business), something about the place speaks to people.

“A lot of people have first dates here, you can tell,” Alper says. “Some people will come right out and tell you.”

This Valentine’s Day, St. Francis Fountain, true to nostalgic form, will open its doors to anyone who wants to play Scrabble and listen to records – plus, maybe play some Valentine’s day trivia.

Compare that with the most common type of date bartender Bekir Akkus sees at L’Emigrante, a wine bar on Mission Street, and one of two Cha Cha Cha restaurants a few blocks away on Mission Street.

Bekin and Daniel, bartenders at Cha Cha Cha. Photo by Michael Nolan

“Many online dating couples come to L’Emigrante. You can notice them by the physical distance they maintain while talking to one another,” Akkus said. “They try to be charming and impress one another with their job and their social life, and what they do with their free time.”  

While their smiles might be just a touch fake, and they often steer away from conversation about the past or their family backgrounds, Akkus observes, the couples patiently wait as the other speaks, careful not to interrupt one another.

“If I were in such a conversation, I would talk about the future and where I might expect to be in five years,” Akkus noted.

But for Akkus himself, Valentine’s Day is not about polite small-talk. A native of Konya, Turkey, Bekir turns 30 on Feb. 15. His wife’s birthday is Feb. 13. Last year, on Feb. 14, they were getting engaged. This Valentine’s Day, he won’t be pouring wine – he’ll be off in Tahoe celebrating.

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