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Polk Street Is a Hot Mess

Jenna Scatena | April 18, 2013 | Lifestyle Story City Life

The six-block strip of Polk Street between O’Farrell and California Streets currently has 45 alcohol permits, which has turned the area into a constant rager for the last year or so. But this week a new ban on alcohol permits is aiming to calm the party down.

At the risk of sounding too crotchety for my 27 years, I’d like to raise a toast to the ban. Don’t get me wrong, now and then you can find me giddily clopping down Polk, maybe even sniffing out a late-night bacon-wrapped hot dog. But I’m far from the only one who believes Polk Street’s nightlife has gone off the deep end.

In the last couple of years, a slew of new bars have refreshed grimy Polk Gulch into San Francisco’s new favorite nightlife district: Hi-Lo shakes up a killer Manhattan in an industrial-sleek bar; Upcider provides zingy hard cider to pair with the birds-eye view of the parade on the street; and Playland Bar has become the ’hoods go-to dance spot. To celebrate its bustling nightlife scene, this magazine even included Polk Gulch in our January 2013 up-and-coming neighborhood package, “Project Utopia.”

But in the short four years I’ve lived in the neighborhood, I’ve seen Polk regress from being a buzzy but low-key night out for the locals, to the equivalent of a beer-chugging competition on frat row during rush week. And the usual binging baggage has come with it: the SFPD crime blotter reads like a catalogue of black-out brawls, drunken injuries, and property damages. Saturday and Sunday mornings offer clues to the mayhem from the night before: puke and blood-stained sidewalks and missing articles of clothing, as the street turns into a half-mile catwalk of shame. The other week I came home to find one charming bro talking on his phone and simultaneously urinating on my doorstep. When I pointed out that he was peeing on my stoop, he high-fived his buddy. At least once a week I’m awoken at 2am to a girl belligerently screaming at her boyfriend in the street about something he apparently did at the bar. We are not in college anymore, people. Most of my Polk Gulch neighbors have jobs to go to in the morning or kids they’re trying to keep asleep; this is not a scene to which any residential neighborhood aspires.

Not to turn this into a bitch-fest, but I think the Board of Supervisors is onto something: It’s fine to have a night out at the bars on Polk, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of everyone who lives there. Cheers.

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