The Bacchus Group’s flagship restaurant, Spruce, considerably burnished its Michelin star rating when it hosted President Obama in February. It joined with Chez Panisse, La Folie, Great Eastern Restaurant and the now-closed Hawthorne Lane in the pantheon of local eateries that have served recent U.S. presidents. Obama was cosseted in Spruce’s Laurel Room, which rents for a minimum of $3,000, and dined seated on a faux ostrich chair against a backdrop of chocolate mohair walls. To be sure, such soothing fixtures are thoughtful managerial gestures for salving the rigors of wading through a wine list of 90-plus pages and 2500 selections.
Spruce is set to bring its latest iteration to the Tenderloin corner of Post and Larkin. Scheduled to open this fall, the Saratoga will occupy 4,200 square feet on two floors and be the sixth Bacchus restaurant property. It takes its name from the building that houses it, a former hotel and SRO that has been extensively renovated. Owner Neveo Mosser, a landlord whose notoriety long precedes him, was sued by the city in 2002 for failure to pay back taxes and for practicing “musical rooms,” where landlords move tenants to a different room every 28 days in order to deny them permanent-tenant status. Mosser is also offering two ground floor storefronts flanking the Saratoga site, priced respectively at $7,500 and $7,750. Both come with triple-net leases, requiring tenants to assume all the building’s taxes, insurance and maintenance.
Another recent Mosser-owned renovation is 57 Taylor, which corners at Turk. An online brochure describes the location as “the explosively transitional tech driven Mid-Market area.” A row of spanking-new storefronts gird the building, one of which has been leased to restaurateurs Daniel Patterson (Coi) and Roy Choi of L.A. truck food fame. Their 3,200 square foot space will be called Loco’l.
Surveying the present-day churn of the Tenderloin, Mosser has remarked, “This is what Brooklyn looked like 10 years ago.” Presumably he’s referring to the borough’s northern neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Lefferts Gardens and Gowanus, storied immigrant districts whose generations of inhabitants worked at livable wages in its factories and warehouses and who could manage a mortgage on one salary. Today, Williamsburg is all but unrecognizable in a welter of theme-park gentrification, with the $269 per square foot costs of home ownership 10 years ago having risen to $1,160. Meanwhile, its mean rent for a studio has become $200 higher than a comparable unit in Greenwich Village. Apparently Mosser views this trend as a good future fit for San Francisco, and for the Tenderloin specifically. Enticing three high-profile restaurant organizations to grace his commercial premises has doubtless markedly enhanced the value and desirability of his buildings.
Spruce’s Executive Chef, Mark Sullivan, set the tone for the Bacchus move to the ’Loin in an interview with 7×7: “Sure it’s a tough neighborhood, but there’s something exciting brewing around here.” Assuredly, it’s a far cry from the decidedly more apt locales the group has utilized: outer Sacramento St., Union St., and Woodside, among others.
The incongruity of founder and managing partner Tim Stannard ferrying his group’s food and beverage lineage into the Tenderloin provides cause for concern, to say the very least. It’s rather sad that the sort of professional, financial and social cachet he has achieved is somehow personally insufficient. We might have expected some deeper consideration from the son of an academic, an American Studies graduate of Cal, and more pertinently, a San Francisco native, something along the lines of: Is this move really appropriate? Appropriate these days, in these times, and in this city, in particular?
Apparently, those questions are moot. In the restaurant industry’s preoccupation with newness, competition and acclaim, an endless subservience to “concept” holds sway. The gambit, the action, the wager, rule the day. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the novelty of an “edgy” and “gritty” Tenderloin stage-set would prove to be so very appealing for a new venture.
The surrounding proscenium for this drama is, of course, globalism’s hollowing-out of American cities in the neoliberal quest for the planet’s cheapest labor. As an ironic corollary, the overclass eventually seeks to reclaim the urban core it had abandoned, embarking on a journey to “tame” the “wilderness” and recast it in its own image and likeness.
As the SF version of this menacing urban wilderness witnesses the arrival of Bacchus’ Saratoga incarnation, we can expect that the group’s hefty vitae of cuisine and terroir will furnish a scintillating added component for it’s faithful customer base.
The Saratoga’s broad expanse of windows will afford diners a superb view of the transgender prostitutes shuttling between the Divas nightclub a block west on Post, and the west side of Larkin, where they work the street from Post to Bush and the alleys in-between. In similar fashion their johns can be glimpsed in their slow nightly circling route along Sutter, Polk and Post. The straight-shot panorama down Larkin reveals homeless men and women bunched against the walls on both sides of the street and the in-your-face-rawness tableau of the Hartland Hotel corner at Geary. Had the Saratoga been in operation earlier this month, its view would have included someone attempting to murder a homeless man in front of the hotel. It appears that for patrons who may be in keen anticipation at the prospect, the distinguished fare produced in Mark Sullivan’s kitchen will soon be accompanied with a side of ecstatic titillation and presented on a bed of delightful mayhem.
Clearly the Saratoga customer demographic is not one to stroll these streets and arrive as walk-ins, and it’s a fairly safe bet they won’t be waiting on a MUNI ride from their nearest Presidio Heights stop. Nor will they drive their own vehicles and chance having to leave them parked in the neighborhood, even if they’re daring enough to walk the remainder of the way. Taxis become the option, and that presents a significant problem in itself.
The Post and Larkin cross streets are both three-lane and one-way, east and north respectively. These are major arteries and the flow is voluminous and rapid (read: habitual speeding). The Saratoga will be open from midmorning every day for 12 to 14 hours. Loading and unloading passengers on either side of this corner will demand the utmost caution, and would seemingly necessitate that a number of parking spaces on both streets be removed in order to alleviate cabs double parking and possibly obstructing the intersection as they queue. Even if valet service could make the process somewhat more efficient and less hazardous, available garages are many blocks away, close early, and make retrieving cars too time-consuming. Looking ahead, as the Polk St. bikeway and the Sutter Health hospital project on Van Ness commence, traffic on Post and Larkin will expand accordingly, as will safety concerns.
With Bacchus’ February confirmation of its plans, Inside Scoop’s Paolo Lucchesi breathlessly exhorted his readers to “file this one away as a potential blockbuster.”
What we see reflected in the Saratoga deal, in short, is a frightening abuse of scale and proportion, and a project that will conclusively cement the gentrification of upper Larkin St.
Over the past nine months the block of Larkin between Post and Sutter has undergone complete displacement. The Mr. Holmes Bakehouse and two side-by-side art galleries have already opened. They await the renting of the former chiropractic office at the top of the block ($5,000 monthly) and the two high-end storefronts flanking the Saratoga site.
The Saratoga buries the final nail into the lid. The north-south pincer onslaught against the entirety of Larkin St. has begun.
The Tenderloin Economic Development Project’s Anh Nguyen has been tracking the displacement numbers throughout the Tenderloin. Within the past year, 10 commercial businesses in lower Larkin’s Little Saigon have closed or are in danger of closing. The showpiece district that defined and celebrated the immigrant/refugee experience now finds itself in jeopardy. And the traditional welcoming of arrivals bent on forging a life that’s always been the Tenderloin at its best, withers by the day.
This fall, amidst the swirl of the grand opening of the Saratoga, when that esteemed gathering peers out those wide windows, the question isn’t what they might see, but what if anything they might feel.
(First of two parts)
Appeals to the Board of Supervisors about whether this project is “necessary or desirable to the neighborhood” remain open thru Monday, April 20 (415-554-5184).