The Hot Spot for the Short Crowd on a Balmy Afternoon

The In Spot
After a week of steady rain, the arrival of warm spring days released a lot of pent-up demand among the preschool crowd for some outdoor recreation. As temperatures hovered around 75 yesterday afternoon, the playground at Precita Park was jumping. There were toddlers galore, hip mamas and dads with tattoos and piercings, and a gaggle of bigger kids racing their bicycles around the perimeter sidewalk. All in all, an idyllic urban scene.

PHOTO: Precita playground by Telstar Logistics

Spring is Here

Did anybody notice how the temperature rose 10 degrees on Wednesday afternoon?

One minute, I’m sitting in the shade at the Giants’ game thinking that I should put my jacket on, then suddenly there’s a warm wind blowing in my face. (No, I wasn’t at the hot dog stand.) Anyway… that, and other signs, can only mean one thing.

How Will New Ownership Change the Old Clam House?

20100128 The Old Clam HouseAs if to prove that even the most timeless institutions don’t stay the same forever, change has come to the Old Clam House. The venerable eatery along Bernalwood’s eastern frontier has been in business since the days when Bayshore Boulevard was just a grubby plank road, and today it claims to be San Francisco’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation in the same location. But now it has new owners, a new menu, and new decor.

Tablehopper has the details:

The Old Clam House has been bought by the group behind The Stinking Rose (who also own Calzone’s, Bobo’s, The Franciscan, and the upcoming Salito’s/old Margaritaville in Sausalito). The restaurant has been around since 1861, and when it became available, Jerry Dal Bozzo was interested in picking it up—the group’s director of marketing, Brandy Marts, reminded me he has an interest in historical properties: Dal Bozzo was the one to reopen the Cliff House in 1973. They are currently updating the space room by room, refreshing the paint, chairs, and other touches. They are also working to reopen the patio, which will be glassed-in.

I had a chance to catch up with chef Andrea Froncillo, who walked me through the menu changes. He’s taking a lot of the fried dishes off, and modernizing some of the preparations (for example, he’s simplifying the cioppino, with reportedly good feedback from some regulars). He also changed the clams from cherrystones to Manilas due to some availability issues, and added prime rib to the menu. You’ll also see more salads and some lighter lunch options for folks who work in the neighborhood. You can peek at the new menu here.

I confess that despite years of saying, “I should try that place someday,” I’ve never eaten at the Old Clam House. Over on Yelp, some of the old-timers are complaining about the new changes, but, really, I should try that place someday. Have you?

Lastly, if you want to taste a genuine slice of neighborhood history in the safety and comfort of your own home, try making this 1915 Old Clam House recipe for Clam Chowder. The recipe includes bacon, so it must be delicious.

Photo: Tom Spaulding

Boston Artist Paints Pictures of Bernal Heights Homes

Artist Leah Giberson lives in Boston.  She’s only visited Bernal Heights once, but she developed an instant affinity for our neighborhood — an affinity that she’s now translated into a pair of paintings about local homes.

In a note to Bernalwood, Leah writes:

I have lived the majority of my life in New England and until last summer, had only been to San Francisco once (as a teenager), but have always felt drawn to the light and color of California in general and San Francisco more specifically. When I went out this past July for my show at Rare Device, it was a pitifully short trip but I made the most of every second. I oohed and ahhed my way through the two days and three nights, feeling like I had stepped into a Diebenkorn painting – or in some cases like I had stepped into one of my own paintings!

On my second and last full day, I hiked up and down hills all day from 9 to 5 and lucked into a sunny break in the clouds just as I arrived at Bernal Heights. I fell in love immediately with the neighborhood, the architecture, the restaurants and the crazy dramatic views.

As an artist I am most intrigued by scenes that seem ordinary at first glance, but hide more complicated stories that I imagine must exist for all of us. In my paintings I try to unearth these other truths by turning down the volume on anything that feels distracting so I can pay attention to the second stories that whisper in reflections, open windows, awkward architectural angles and looming shadows.

The homes in Bernal Heights didn’t exactly look “ordinary” to my East Coast eyes, but what struck me was their relationship to the ground below. For many of us outside of San Francisco, the ground is something that we usually think of as a steady (often pretty flat) supportive surface beneath us. On these steep slopes with fault lines lurking nearby, the modestly sized homes of Bernal Heights appeared (to me) to be holding on tight to the edge of the world, grabbing on to power lines above and looking straight ahead so as not to lose their footing – determined to carry on as if this was a perfectly ordinary place for a home.

Fabulous! I say we make Leah an honorary Bernalwood resident in abstentia.

Meanwhile, if you want to own some of her limited-edition Bernal Heights artwork, it’s available at a very fair price via Etsy.

Who Is the Mysterious Swordsman of Bernal Hill?

Did you happen to see a stray ninja on Bernal Hill last weekend? Or some dude who looked like he made a wrong turn on the way home from a Dungeons and Dragons marathon? Over on the Bernalsafe mailing list, one commenter asks:

Does anyone know anything about the guy who is seen on Bernal Hill with a sword? I heard a bunch of sirens go up the hill over the weekend (Sunday, around 2pm or 3pm) and my brother just happened to be walking to my house at the time. He saw an officer with an assault rifle (that’s what he called it, I don’t know one gun from another) creeping through the tall grass… he asked what was going on and they said something about a guy walking around with a sword. They apparently did not find the guy.

I was waiting for the Ingleside Newsletter for more info, but it doesn’t appear to have made the cut. My brother said the cops have had more than one report about this guy. Not sure what he is doing with the sword, maybe he’s just really into role playing or something?

Just curious.

PHOTO: One Lucky Guy

What a 20something Sees When He Looks at Bernalwood

Ah, to be young and single and living in Bernal Heights. Sure, there are challenges — OMG! So many baby strollers! So many restaurants with abstract names! — but overall it’s pretty chill. Or so says Zane Michael on Nabewise, a website that aspires to be the Yelp of urban geography. Mr. Michael — an aspiring literatus, it seems — wrote a description of life in Bernal Heights that provides an illuminating inter-generational perspective on this place we all happen to call home. His commentary is reprinted here in its entirety, because, really, I couldn’t bring myself to cut a single word.

If You’re in Your Twenties

I don’t do Yoga. I don’t have my own edible backyard garden. I don’t have 2.5 kids. I don’t eat at Restaurants with single word descriptors. I don’t really fit in with the Bernal Height locals, who some might facetiously insinuate are the personification of well-known San Francisco stereotypes. But I still feel amazingly comfortable living in Bernal even if the neighborhood sometimes elicits in me a sense of terror stemming from portentous visions of my amortizing, fettered, future.

Incontrovertibly, the biggest draw of this neighborhood is the location. Its location makes it the perfect fit for the East Bay or South Bay commuter; the 101 and 280 are both relatively close and accessible. If you depart in the morning prior to 7 A.M., you will generally be unlikely to encounter heavy traffic driving southward. And if you are coming north by auto in the evening, you egress prior to the real heavy freeway traffic that normally begins immediately after the Cesar Chavez exit. At the 22nd St. Station in the nearby Potrero Hill neighborhood you can catch the natty Caltrain south and travel as far as San Jose.

For the person that works in downtown SF, the North Bay, or East Bay, the 24th St. Mission BART Station lies less than a mile away and you can easily get anywhere in the entire city relatively quickly by bike or bus. Another attractive feature is the abundance of free parking especially in comparison with other SF neighborhoods where a parking space may cost two hundred dollars a month or more. In the picturesque area surrounding Precita Park where I reside on the North side of Bernal Heights Hill parking can be obtained almost any time excluding Sunday evening. I have not frequently ventured over to the quaint Cortland Avenue mini-village area and hence cannot comfortably impart any information pertaining to parking or dining in that sub-locale.

Verdant and halcyon, Precita Park itself is a lovely urban reprieve and usually brimming with canines of all shapes and sizes expending their pent up energy. On summer days, locals gather to blithely doze in the sunshine and consume organic picnic feasts gathered from nearby Cancilla Market. A short vertical hike up Folsom St. will take you to the top of Bernal Heights Hill, home to one of the largest off leash dog parks in the city and boasting a terrific panoramic view that would make any snapshot obsessed tourist jump for joy. Weather-wise, the neighborhood experiences slightly warmer temperatures being located in one of the several hot spots scattered throughout the city.

Being adjacent to the callow and infamous Mission district, where even the weather is hip, makes for a bevy of nightlife options for both young and old living in Bernal Heights. For the penurious late-night diner, there exists a plethora of relatively inexpensive ethnic restaurant options in the Mission district. It’s easy to mosey over to an exciting attraction on Mission St. or Valencia St. and return home to repose in lenitive tranquility: giving you the best of both worlds. This also works out well when my Mom comes to visit and lauds me for living in such a “cute” area with charming Victorian homes. I reward her by telling her inquiring suburban housewife friends that I live off of Cesar Chavez St. in SF—eliciting a look of fear in response. All jokes aside, I have never felt unsafe in Bernal Heights even when walking or jogging solo late at night. The only time I have felt genuine fear was when I accidently threw away a pizza box in a peevish ponytailed neighbor’s recycle bin. That’s not recyclable dude!

Of course slightly cheaper rent or home prices can be found elsewhere in SF. Few other SF nabes though can brag about having a little something for everyone: commuter, outdoor enthusiast, or dog lover. Nor can anyone deny the pleasure of having an idyllic small-town experience in a big city.

If visiting, be sure to check out Mitchell’s ice cream for tropical flavors like coconut or purple yam; the treasure trove of LPs at dilapidated Thrillhouse Records; Alemany’s Farmers Market for fresh produce; pupusas and futbol at Balompie Café 3; The Knockout for sweet tunes and cheap booze; and the adorable Bike Basket Pies.

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Wildflower of the Moment: Shooting Stars

Ashley Wolff wrote to Bernalwood recently with another update on what’s blooming right now:

Scattered on the steepest part of the Hill’s north slope is a member of the primrose family called the Shooting Star. Shooting star describes the flower shape: the stamens lead the way and the petals stream back like the tail of a shooting star.

The Latin name, Dodecatheon, is from the Greek “dodeca” meaning twelve, and “theos” meaning god– a fanciful name given by Pliny to a primose protected by the gods. The 12 gods referred to being: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Dionysus, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus and Hermes.

Dodecatheon  has an interesting pollination scheme: Pollen release occurs when pollen-collecting bumblebees visit the flowers and rapidly vibrate their ‘indirect flight muscles’ at a high frequency, causing the plant’s anthers to forcefully release a cloud of pollen into the air and onto the bee.

The flowers of the Shooting Star have been used both to attract men, and to help children sleep.

Photo: Ashley Wolff