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stories from cole valley

My first visits to San Francisco were a big disappointment. Yes, it was a lovely city, but I couldn't quite find what it was that would account for the devout adoration that some espoused. These trips would typically go as follows. Arrive at SFO. Take taxi to some downtown mega hotel. Do a little business. Do a little shopping. Return to airport via taxi and fly home. It was just OK. But things change and I found myself on my way to San Francisco to look for a place to live and I landed in Cole Valley. No taxi from the airport, no mega hotel.

I don't live in Cole Valley. Just over the hill, but I consider it to be my neighbourhood. Cole Valley has Zazie. Weekend brunch at Zazie is divine. Everyone milling outside in the sunshine waiting for a table, chatting. Cole Valley has Alpha Market, Cole Valley Hardware, Cole Valley Fitness, The Video Nook, a great cheese shop, a little tiny fancy soap shop, a good wine store, etc. It has everything a neighbourhood needs to create community.

But the epicenter of Cole Valley is just a little to the north and a little to the east of all this perfect hub bub. It's a divine purple bed and a log in the fireplace. It truly is heaven.


It was a glorious sunny day. One of those Saturdays when everyone is blissed out, in a lazy, hanging out, kind of way. We wandered across Cole from Reverie to a stoop sale, coffee and tea in hand to have a look at the proffered loot. At first glance, it appeared to be just like every other stoop/yard/garage sale. Unwanted kibble and bits littered the table - mismatched chipped china, an odd tchotchke here and there, working, but out of date small appliances - the typical stuff. My eyes swept left and I encountered merchandise that I'd never seen before at any stoop/yard/garage sale.

Leather, and a fine selection at that. Dog collars, bondage gear and other items of similar ilk. I lifted my take away cup to cover the smile which tugged at my lips. I didn't want to give away my "I've just moved here" naivete.

I love San Francisco.


tigger and chieka, my two small chihuahuas were jumbled in my arms early one morning this week as i maneuvered through the small pack of early morning walkers at the top of the dog park. one of the neighbourhood kids spotted the dogs and made a beeline to my side.

"i want a cat dog too!"

he's one of those bright, talkative kids who can hold his own with the various neighbourhood characters.

"a cat dog?" i asked.

"uh huh.... they take the ears off of cats, and put them on dogs!"

tigger came to live with me in new york in the late summer of '98. i'd been harbouring a love of small dogs since my first trip to paris when i spied a very chic woman on the metro was carrying a black toy poodle in her purse. i knew even then that it would only be a matter of time before i too would have a small dog.

tigger's a handsome devil, a retired champion show dog who needed a home upon retirement. and chieka? well, she's a spark plug who came from a family in new brunswick. think pinky & the brain - "one's a genius and the other's insane" - a dynamic duo of chihuahuaness.

in all this time, i had never, ever heard of chihuahuas referred to as "cat dogs."

"chihuahua?" i exclaimed with some alarm.

"ya, *everyone* knows they put cat's ears on these dogs."

everyone that is, except me.


If you have been to Cole Valley, you have been to a mini Paris. Cole Valley is such a delightful neighborhood to live in. It has all the quaintness and charm of a small neighborhood, but all the amenities of a true cosmopolitan city. From Say Cheese (a true charcuterie, cheese, and wine shop) to HaMa-Ko (aka The Sushi Nazi), there is something for every type of palate. A typical Saturday can mean walking into Boulange de Cole Valley for a large bowl of coffee and a pastry or french baguette. You can sit there for hours reading the paper and neighborhood people watching. This is owned by the people who own the other Boulangeries in the city as well as Chez Nous. It is a great new addition to the neighborhood (only open Wednesday through Sunday). Then you can walk into Cole Valley Hardware for some gardening supplies and other things you may need to work on your Cole Valley home. You may run into Craig Newmark (of Craig's List) while you are there as he is also a Cole Valley resident. Afterwards, you may need to stop in the art shop/gallery of the neighborhood called The Shop. Featuring local artists, you may find some beautiful jewelry or unique artwork for your home. Next door you can find a very chic hair studio (The Mane Attraction) if you need to get your hair done for a special event. If you are looking to go somewhere before a special event for dinner or drinks, try EOS restaurant or Wine Bar. Both true treasures of the neighborhood. There is nothing like the shitake mushroom dumplings that I still dream about....

If you are in the mood for sushi, you have not tasted anything more pure and fresh than the fish at HaMa-Ko. If you are a spicy tuna roll or california roll type, you may have to go around the corner to Grandeho's. The couple who has been running HaMa-Ko for 19 years may kick you out for ordering something less than true nigiri or sashimi.

As I mentioned, Cole Valley is the mini-Paris of SF. You can even go to dinner at Zazie on one of their French speaking nights. However, don't mistakenly walk into Finnegan's Wake next door which is truly the dive bar of Cole Valley.

If you just want to stay home for the evening with a bottle of wine and some cheese and bread from Say Cheese, you have to check out Adel's wine selection at 17th and Cole Market. Even better, ask for Adel and have this true wine connoiseur tell you what you need to own, drink, or buy. You won't go wrong with Adel no matter what the occasion.

Can you tell that I love my neighborhood? There really is no reason ever to leave. Plus, with Golden Gate Park being so close, you can even get some exercise outdoors to burn off all the delicious foods that you will intake in CV. If the park is too far, you can always walk up Tank Hill which is a treasure in itself with its wrap around views and sometimes live entertainment.

See you in the neighborhood!

Joy & Wayne

It was a summer evening in France. I was lazying out in the moist French summer evening air, after a nice late barbecue with the best friends I ever had. When I logged on before going to bed and read these stories, remembered Reverie Cafe and Sundqy Garage Sales, I realized how much I had loved my favourite SF neigborhood, Cole Valley.

Daniel Franco-American, former tenant on 813 Cole St #1


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{ 15 April 2005: Posting has been discontinued. }