August is a month full of tourists, and this year we have plenty. We can identify them instantly as they work their way through the city, maps in hand, eager to embrace each neighborhood. They are the ones who are wearing goose bumps – shivering, dressed in shorts and little sundresses, wondering what happened to the sunny California in all those Beach Boy songs. That’s when I explain the fog. “Unlike the fog that comes in on little cat feet as Carl Sandburg wrote,” I tell them, “ours rolls, cascades and tumbles in, taking no prisoners.” I also explain that as a result of this phenomenon, the potential for good hair days is zero, the key to happiness is layering, and when newscasters refer to a “marine layer,” what they really mean is that it’s going to be cold, damp, and foggy. With the understanding that at this time of year when the rest of the country is sizzling, our natural 100 percent organic air conditioning system is just one of the things that make this city so very cool.
On Union Street, the cool factor continues below the surface too. Once dairy farms, vegetable gardens, and dirt roads, Union was a huge valley irrigated by numerous creeks and a large freshwater pond 150 years ago. Laguna Street was named Laguna because it was indeed a lagoon, and to this day fresh water flows just under street level. Hard to believe that more than 800 cows grazed and roamed our neighborhood while supplying the milk for nearly the entire city. And while not much is reminiscent about the agricultural farms of Cow Hollow, the Victorians, carriage houses, and barn-like structures give us a good idea of what it was like back in the day.
Another characteristic of what makes us cool is all of the trees and plantings on Union. They add charm, beauty and oxygen, and are subtly important to the well-being of the neighborhood. Studies have shown that tree-lined and green streets in commercial corridors such as ours generate more business, and add value to the properties in the area. People such as Perry Butler of Perry’s and Café Des Amis have recognized the importance of plantings and have taken great care to replace or add new, while others (you know who you are) have been quietly removing them without a thought. Not only is this illegal in San Francisco because one needs a permit for any change, but it is simply inexcusable. Several of us have been and will continue to be vigilant about this issue, so if you happen to notice an unprecedented removal, call James from Urban Forestry South at 415-641-2675.
As for cool new (and not so new) places on Union, I am loving the whole summer feel at Nettie’s Crab Shack, Tacko and Marengo. Under Nettie’s big palm tree, owner Annette personifies cool, and the whole place feels beachy even in the midst of the fog. The seafood and oysters are always fresh and delicious, and if you haven’t already, try the burger with shoestring shaved potatoes. Mmmmm. At Tacko, the feel is beachy too, but in an East Coast Nantucket way. My go-to meal always includes any taco prepared Nick’s way and the corn con queso, a white corn on the cob brushed with cotija cheese and just the right amount of cayenne. And finally, Marengo’s sliders, which are not so much a day at the beach but rather a day at a backyard barbeque. The little burgers are perfect, as are the pulled pork sliders and the sweet potato fries with sauce – and oh, that sauce. Everyone here is genuinely friendly and, despite the usual crowd, are always welcoming and calm.
Lastly, some briefly noted news (and again not-so-new news) on the street. Ottimista Enoteca at 1957 Union has changed hands. Owner Melissa Gisler has sold her portion of the business to Sam Landrum, one of the owners of Brickyard. In spite of the rumors of bar changes, Sam says no, that he lives in the neighborhood and loves the restaurant as it is. Mimi of Mimi’s has retired after more than 30 years and has sold her business. We wish her well. The new Lightning Tavern at 1875 Union, which replaced Unwind (renamed 4 Corners not too long ago), has opened. So far so good, especially if you consider great tater tots to be their own food group. Sure, it’s another place to get a drink on Union, but the pub food that goes along with it is as good as it gets. And Ipanema Brush Tanning Salon at 2185 Union, which has been “coming soon” for the past six months, is still coming soon.