A couple of years ago my husband Kevin and I moved to the Richmond district of San Francisco. It’s a quiet area of the city out near the beach, on the Presidio side of Golden Gate Park, known primarily for its fog and its longstanding Russian population. Kevin’s dad grew up in the Richmond, and his mom grew up on the other side of the park, in the Sunset. It’s merely coincidence that my last name coincides with my neighborhood. At any rate, I’ve loved this neighborhood for a long time, felt myself drawn to it years before we moved here–in part because of the appeal of my favorite movie theatre, the Balboa, and in part because the character of the neighborhood just seemed to suit me. It doesn’t hurt that you can see a sliver of the Pacific Ocean from our house, or that we can walk right down to Kelly’s Cove at Ocean Beach, or over to Seal Rock Inn, or take a 10-minute stroll to the bison corral, fifteen to Queen Wilhemena’s Tulip Garden beneath the giant windmill at the Western edge of the park. I frequent a lot of small businesses out here, and I’ve decided to add a small feature to this blog–Richmond in the Richmond–which is just me talking about the spots I like. First stop: Simple Pleasures Cafe.
Where: On Balboa, between 35th & 36th.
Ever since my son was born almost two years ago, I’ve been going to Simple Pleasures a few hours a week to write. Delicious coffee, good bagels, and now, the excellent panini, compliments of veteran SP man Dae, who calls the panini machine “a little sandwich magic maker” and can frequently be heard reading horoscopes to the cheerfully over-caffeinated. Michelle is a calming presence behind the counter who apparently knows just about everyone who comes in. On any given day, one of several insanely attractive college-girl types can be seen working the espresso machine.
Cozily ratty couches, big tables for chatting with the regulars, wi-fi, tidy little one-tops with individual lamps and power outlets. I’m so grateful to these folks, I’ve listed them on the acknowledgements page of my new novel.
A great hangout for locals–you’ll come to recognize them: the bike guys, the retired cab driver, the guy who’s always working on a college essay, John (papa to dog Jessie), a few mamas who frequently come in with their toddlers. The owner’s wife and baby daughter occasionally make an appearance.
It’s actually not the best place to write, because there are lots of distractions, but that’s what makes it interesting. Best spot for eavesdropping is the couch on the kitchen side in the back, from which you can hear the counseling sessions going on at the opposite sofa and chair–which seems to serve as ground zero for a couple of neighborhood therapists. Here, I’ve listened to a middle-aged man complain about how his wife only has time for the baby; a young fellow in a suit cry after having his request for venture capital turned down by an older woman he appeared to be sleeping with; a girl try, none to subtly, to turn the coversation with her friend around from notable San Francisco pianists to this great new cosmetic product she’s selling–“you can get in on the ground floor for just $29! It’s really what God wants me to do with my life!” It’s great people watching because folks seem to think they’re invisible, and they kind of let it all hang out.
There’s live, free music many evenings, and there’s a nice little variety of beers on tap, including Hoegarden. Board games aplenty on a shelf beside the sofas. Outdoor tables for the cold-hardy set.