After going to the dogs, a Californian quarter heats up

San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighbourhood thrived until World War II – then sank into decay. Now, a flood of new restaurants and shops are making it a prime place to prowl once more.

San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighbourhood got its name from the packs of canines that once roamed its streets, scavenging scraps from the thriving meatpacking factories. With the decline of industry after World War II, Dogpatch, located on the eastern waterfront near Pier 70, fell into disrepair.

In the 1970s, however, the quarter started to attract San Francisco’s hippies and artists. Only in the past several years, though, has the area seen a real boom: enterprising residents and businesses have started flooding in, hungry for the neighbourhood’s new (and more appealing) scraps: empty buildings, cheap rent and historical appeal.

Now, Dogpatch is, without a doubt, the hottest neighbourhood in San Francisco – and while the four-legged name has stuck, it is known more for its trendy new bars, restaurants, and galleries than any stray dogs. But even as Dogpatch booms, devotees say the district still feels like a small town within the city.

“It’s hip without being hipster,” said Jeff Lyon, co-owner and operator of the neighbourhood’s newest cocktail bar, the Third Rail. “But what I like best is the strong sense of community. During our build out, so many neighbours stopped by just to say hi and welcome us. Now I can’t wait to serve them all a drink.”

Hemmed between Mariposa Street, 23rd Street, Highway 280 and Pier 70, the nine square blocks of Dogpatch make up one of the few areas of the city that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. A walkabout reveals some of San Francisco’s oldest dwellings, many of them cottages built by workers in the meatpacking and shipbuilding industries in the late 1860s. At 909 Tennessee Street stands one of the city’s oldest fire stations, built in 1925. Just up the road at 106 is San Francisco’s oldest existing public school, Irving M Scott School, built in 1895 and named for the head of the nearby Union Iron Works shipyard.

Abandoned warehouses and empty docks remain, too, reminders of San Francisco’s shipbuilding glory days. During World War II, the Bay area was home to more than 30 shipyards, machine shops and factories. When the war ended, the industries declined, factories shut and residents moved away. But by the 1970s, with San Francisco’s space at a premium and rents on the rise, Dogpatch was back on the radar, this time for artistic and creative types. Companies like San Francisco’s Esprit Corporation swooped in to purchase and spruce up the district’s historic houses and large industrial buildings.

Dogpatch has been on the rise ever since. Starting in the mid-1990s, residential and commercial development boomed, followed by major construction projects such as the nearby AT&T Park and the UCSF Research Center. A new light rail began charging down the centre of 3rd Street in January 2007, connecting Dogpatch to downtown San Francisco.

Dozens of independent shops, restaurants, bars and galleries have followed. The Museum of Craft and Design decamped from its downtown location to Dogpatch in April 2013; now in a sprawling building that once housed sewing factories and warehouses, it has more space to show its collections of furniture, sculpture and woodwork. Italian restaurant Piccino, which first opened in Dogpatch in 2006, still packs in crowds at its new location, a bright yellow house on the corner of 22nd and Missouri Streets. Since 2008, workshop Rickshaw Bagworks has enjoyed a cult-like following of local cyclists and professionals who snatch up made-to-order messenger bags. Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous (699 22nd Street, 415-970-0750), opened in 2010, lures sweet tooths with homemade ice-cream in flavours like its signature Ballpark, a mix of roasted peanuts, chocolate-covered pretzels and locally-brewed beer, Anchor Steam. Dogpatch WineWorks, a wine collective and bar, opened in 2011 in a former canning factory, while the neighbourhood also welcomed a French cheese shop, La Fromagerie, and a butcher, Olivier’s Butchery, at the end of 2012.

Even Dogpatch Saloon, a local watering hole since 1912, has a new look. The neighbourhood institution reopened in July 2013 after a five-month renovation that pays homage to Dogpatch’s industrial roots. The bar itself is original, as is the stained glass and the “last call” bell. The foot rail along the bar is a steel streetcar track that was made in 1973 at the former Bethlehem Steel plant, located at nearby Pier 70. The new cocktail list also gives a nod to the neighbourhood. One vodka used in the winter menu hails from Seven Stills, a craft distillery that opened in March 2013 in nearby Portrero Hill.  

Two even more recent openings, though, have put Dogpatch on every foodie’s must-try list. The industrial-designed cocktail bar Third Rail, opened in December by the team behind the Mission neighbourhood’s popular Range Restaurant, features a jerky bar with 10 types of dried beef and pork. Lyon recommends pairing the Landjager, a beef and pork blend seasoned with cane sugar and mustard seed, with the Red Barn Beer by Magnolia Brewery.

The choice could not be more appropriate, since Magnolia Brewery and Barbeque is the latest addition to Dogpatch. It plans to open its 10,000sqft brewery and restaurant, its second San Francisco location, in March, serving smoked and fire-cooked meats, cask-conditioned ales, creative cocktails and a healthy offering of American whiskies.

“I can’t think of any other neighbourhood in the city that offers the best of everything in one location,” said Magnolia owner and brewmaster Dave McClean. “There is a pervasive feeling of change and rebirth throughout Dogpatch right now.”

After years of waiting for its turn as San Francisco’s hot new neighbourhood, Dogpatch is again the place to prowl. Unless the city’s trendsetters and foodies are barking up the wrong tree, it looks as though this time it might be for good.