by Patrick Heig - 324 Reviews - 95 List
Unlike nearby Hayes Valley, which went from drug-infested no-man's-land to crimeless yuppie paradise seemingly overnight, the Lower Haight has maintained some of its gritty character as the city around it has changed. Lately, a slew of new, bourgeois spots have opened, but, Sid Vicious-types still lurk outside of Molotov's, a strong scent of weed wafts out of the pot clubs and, in the wee hours, there is still the real big-city feeling of not being 100 percent safe. Here's a guide to what's new in the Lower Haight from a guy who grew up there.
Updated: September 28, 2009
After taking over the always-deserted Visit Thai space, St. Germain's was immediately welcomed in the neighborhood, mostly because it serves classic, competently executed French bistro classics at a good price--$9 steamed mussels, $15 whole roasted chicken, $20 daily three-course prix fix--and is completely unpretentious. Mixed crowd includes everything from bears on dates to families with children (very rare 'round these parts) and even some actual French people.
Not only is the ice cream at this tiny shop certified organic, but the owner, fresh out of the Peace Corps, buys carbon offsets, uses compostable containers and spoons and is generally just a better person than you. Among the 8-10 flavors offered--think Madagascar vanilla, milk and cookies and balsamic strawberry--there's almost always a vegan option. The ice cream isn't quite on par with Bi-Rite or Humphrey Slocombe (yet) but the grimy Lower Haight needed some kind of a sweet shop and this one will do just fine.
There's nothing more bourgeois and un-Lower Haight than a wine bar, but Uva--run by a tatted-up 28-year-old with a passion for Italian wine--gets a special pass from the locals for having great regional Italian food, interesting/obscure wines (try the lambrusco) and $4 paninis and $1.50 Peronis during its 5-6:30pm happy hour. Ask for Boris and tell him I sent you. You'll be eyed suspiciously and made to pay for your meal upfront, but he's a great guy and knows a lot about wine.
This beer-only sports bar isn't new, but after a renovation that replaced the splintery old tables and chairs with big comfy booths and put a huge flat screen in every sightline (10 total), it's at least 1000 percent better. The downside is that it's now pretty crowded on game days, but you can still bring in food from any of the neighboring businesses and catch every major soccer game--even the ones that start at 6am--live (for schedules, call the 24-hour soccer hotline at (415) 442-7996).
Nickies isn't new either, but after a complete renovation that transformed it from rundown derelict hangout to a comfortable lounge with a full kitchen and bar, multiple flat screens for game days and nightly DJ'd events, it might as well be. Thankfully, the re-design stopped just short of swanky, and the prices on everything from the Fulton Valley fried chicken to the beers on draft are right for the 'hood.