Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Old Prague Cafe

At Columbus Avenue & Pacific a curious dead zone fills the commercial spaces on the eastern edges where The Barbary Coast used to be. Like a lack of oxygen in Gulf waters, something has happened to kill off the catch that once thrived here. Yes, if you look around you'll see people going between The Financial District and the near-in neighborhoods of Nob, Russian, & Telegraph Hills, North Beach, Chinatown, and tourists flowing to & from Fisherman's Wharf. No one seems to be lingering though. From the Transamerican Pyramid to Broadway, Columbus Avenue is struggling when it should be swaggering. It has the location, it has the architecture, it has the bones, it has the history, but it has lost its nerve. It could use many more residential options, and a less hazardous business climate. There has been a decades-long stalled transition of the area. When once it was the center of the original City by the Bay, it is now a murky corridor waiting for the next thing to happen, flagging in its enthusiasm for the great things that have happened already here.

uploaded by deanv41.

The original Prague Cafe occupied this abandoned site. It has since moved, expanded, contracted again. I was taken aback by how quickly the structure was gutted in the year since it shuttered.

Decline seems accelerated in the wake of The Great Credit Crunch and far too many spaces in The City are empty. New enterprises are as often 'carts' as Establishments in brick and mortar. I'm all for more street food, but it does reveal quite a change of fortunes in the past few years. Lately in this district, a new City College campus is rising in a lot that has a contentious history both socially inspiring as well as intractable and damaging. The looming presence of the brutalist landmark Chinatown Hilton on the site where the courthouse had been also makes the political equation for development more complicated.

There is a thriving Scientology Center in an historic flatiron a block away and a new gastropub called The Comstock Saloon opened across the avenue serving stellar cocktails and a vintage menu, slightly updated. My sinerest hope is that the district tilts toward the saloon's reinvention and leaves stressed-out souls to their own devices. The ghosts of The Barbary Coast and Old Prague might agree.

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