24th Street Express

The 24th Street Express
By Karen Solomon

Now that swank boutiques have colonized Valencia Street, where do the hipper-than-thou go to be truly boho? Apparently, one more BART stop south to 24th Street. The ten-block stretch between South Van Ness and Potrero is still a thriving working-class Latino neighborhood, but it's morphing into the city's newest artsy barrio.

"It has way more character than Mission Street," says Ellen Gavin, the Brava Theater Center's founding artistic director. "There used to be so many drug dealers that the shops closed at six. Today I feel really excited to be a part of this neighborhood." 

Anchored by such cultural draws as the Galería de la Raza and its Studio 24 shop of Mexican handicrafts, the Precita Eyes Mural Arts & Visitor Center, and the Brava, which reopened in 2000 after a multimillion dollar renovation of the old York theater (built in 1926), this once-quiet neighborhood is flowering. Signs for artists' studios are cropping up, and the brightening of numerous buildingwide murals and the renovation of neighborhood parks are under way.

Then, of course, there are the eateries and watering holes catering to a new clientele. First came Lorca, which gave this strip of window-barred taquerias and Mexicatessens its first white-table-cloth restaurant, and the restored St. Francis Fountain, established in 1918. By last year, the street's hipster creds were firmly in place when ex-employees of the Lexington Club (a lesbian bar in the Mission) took over dive bar Pops, dusted off the retro video games, and started Joe Millionaire Happy Hours. The former gangster hangout now attracts a crowd of punk lesbians and bike messengers.

Says St. Francis co-owner Levon Kazarian of the changes, "This is a rare moment when the neighborhood—art kids, students, Latin families—eats together at the same table."