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Why Isn’t San Francisco a 24 Hour City?

Updated: Nov 10, 2022 10:40
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I’m not a well-traveled person. However, I have traveled a little, and one thing that I can’t help but notice when I’m out and about in America’s major cities that don’t sit beside the San Francisco Bay, is that all of them have a bevy of businesses that stay open past 2 AM.

Why don’t we?

I’m not just referring to places that serve alcohol. I’m fine with California’s 2 AM cutoff. I like drinking, but I understand that binge drinking all night isn’t necessarily a benefit to the community. I’m talking about bookstores, cafes, coffee shops, diners, movie theaters, and other places that promote late night socializing. San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley are severely lacking when it comes to shit to do after midnight.

I recently went to Las Vegas for work, and while I would never trade the beauty and brilliance of the Bay Area for the sandy soullessness of Las Vegas, there was something refreshing about being able to go to a third wave coffee shop at 3 AM. Not only was it open, people were in it doing coffee shop shit. All the regulars were there. I saw a dude on a MacBook Pro doing something that looked important. There was a plant that looked expensive next to a brick wall decorated with art by local artists. A barista with dyed hair and a septum piercing made my cappuccino look hella pretty. Underground hip hop was playing at a low volume from from a large boombox behind the counter.

San Francisco is more densely populated than both Portland and Vegas, yet we don’t nearly as many options after 8 PM.

I usually make jokes about these kinds of establishments because they try too hard and usually end up somewhere on an unflattering bell curve between trite and mediocre. But after a redeye flight to Las Vegas, that coffee shop was an absolute lifesaver.

Las Vegas isn’t alone. Back in 2010, me and my bestfriend decided to go to Portland. We didn’t really have a plan, but we had heard it was the place that “young people go to retire,” and we wanted to see for ourselves. We were both ambitionless kids who worked at a Round Table Pizza in the East Bay and had little to lose if we left it all behind. So, we decided that an impromptu visit to Portland was justified. When we got there, we didn’t really know what to do, but luckily for us, Downtown Portland was brightly lit and mostly open for business.

As I stated earlier, I’m not well-traveled. At that point in my life, I had only lived in the Bay Area beside a one year stint in Glendale. So when I was  walking around Portland after midnight, seeing everything from bowling alleys to bike shops open was cool.

San Francisco is more densely populated than both Portland and Vegas, yet we don’t have nearly as many options after 8 PM. This is especially true if we don’t factor bars into the equation.

Why?

I would love to have a large bookstore that was open all night with comfy chairs and a section that served high quality coffee somewhere in or around San Francisco. Wouldn’t it be cool to go bowling with a friend at 4 AM? San Francisco is tolerant of everyone except insomniacs.

We’re a big city, but we sleep like a suburb.

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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, BrokeAssStuart.com. His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground is available now!

8 Comments

  1. Stephanie Arora
    November 8, 2022 at 9:38 am — Reply

    I’m looking forward to your article in which you dig into the economic issues that impact local businesses and keep them from staying open. Perhaps, you will reveal some other reason for our sidewalks rolling up so early. These days even bars close before 2. It’s getting to be a little rediculous.

  2. Ross
    November 8, 2022 at 2:20 pm — Reply

    I agree with this COMPLETELY. It seems like it is partly caused by our transit systems effectively shutting down before 2, but not sure if that’s a cause or effect.

    • H. Thomas
      November 10, 2022 at 1:49 am — Reply

      From an outsider’s perspective I think crime, economics, & labor attitudes are the biggest factors. I have lived in Tahoe for 20 years. Up until 5 years ago, my friends & I would routinely plan outings to the Bay Area for sporting events, concerts, outdoor adventures. Usually 5-10 per year. Now it’s 1 or 2 max. And we rarely stay overnight anymore due to complaints about crime & the filthy environment. The labor supply is a problem just like here in Tahoe. Those that do want to work, do NOT want to work Graveyard shifts. We literally have 1 – 24 hr restaurant within 30 miles. Everyone thinks they are a fabulous employee & deserve the premium shifts. Lastly the economics. Inflation & supply chain issues have made everything including these touristy outings cost prohibitive.

  3. Christine Leishman
    November 8, 2022 at 4:31 pm — Reply

    Yup. San Francisco is and always has been somewhat provincial with the Castro being the exception and even that neighborhood is far more provincial than it once was

    • Otik
      November 10, 2022 at 3:58 pm — Reply

      Ahh the old days of the Lucky Penney and that 24 hr cafe that played movies all the time, both were on Geary. Used to see students study at that cafe at 2 am. And Tart2Tart also opened until midnight.

  4. Peter Andrews
    November 8, 2022 at 8:18 pm — Reply

    Take a look around your adopted city (and town) at 4am and compare it to your 2010 visit to Portland and explain for yourself. We? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Maybe this isn’t the right side of town (or country) for you.

  5. Lindsay McCarthy
    November 8, 2022 at 10:26 pm — Reply

    I can think of some luxuries to recite amongst a tiny violin, too.

  6. November 9, 2022 at 8:57 am — Reply

    I’ve been in San Francisco since 1976. It was never a great 24 hour town, but in the 70s and 80s there were several places that were 24/7.
    Frisco is a beautiful city with a unique cultural history. There’s still an interesting underground underground scene that’s hard to find but there.
    Unfortunately, in so many ways SF is an embarrassing place that is a provincial backwater with delusions of self importance. Our “blue chip” art scene is deeply embarassing. The museums and most galleries want to be New York and they never will be, while they have consistently ignored the genuinely groundbreaking cultural stuff that has happened in this city that has influenced the rest of the world. Unless somebody in New York says it’s important, these people are too dumb to see what has grown and percolated here and how singular and influential the SF underground -from the late 70’s thru the 90’s – has been to the larger culture. The fact that we roll up the sidewalks and go to sleep at midnight or even before is pathetic. I live in North Beach. This is a neighborhood that should be going 24/7. In any other major city in the world it would be. So would the Mission. We get in fights over “Frisco” – how ridiculous. We think that somehow we are in competition with Los Angeles. Los Angeles has no idea nor could they care about some purported competition with San Francisco.
    LA just does LA stuff. They also have 24 hour restaurants. Young people looking for creative lives go to LA now, not San Francisco. Much more happening there. I love this town and I hate it. I will be here until I retire for various financial and personal requirements. Once I’m done with that I’ll be in New York City or LA. I think I can find a tiny place I can afford so that I can live in a place that is really vibrant and has 24/7 life.

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