It has taken five years to transform a blighted two-block area of Polk Street from a problem to a thriving business community, but the new activity also comes with noise, crowds and late-night partying.
On Friday and Saturday nights, hundreds of drunken bar patrons crowd the sidewalks, blocking entrances to homes and keeping many residents up at night, neighbors say. Bar owners, on the other hand, say they are bringing good business to a once-grungy area.
“The problem is on the weekends” said Ron Case, chairman of the Lower Polk Neighbors group. “We have a dynamic neighborhood, but people come in, drink too much, then they come onto the street and start screaming and yelling and there aren’t enough cabs to take them home.”
The main trouble spot is between Bush and Post streets, where there is a concentration of bars. Case said “the perfect storm” hit the area when McTeague’s Saloon, Mayes Oyster House and Lush Lounge opened within several months of one another.
Case acknowledged that owners can only do so much to keep crowds calm. He said one way they have addressed neighborhood concerns is by staggering closing times to prevent large gatherings outside.
“We have last call at 1:15 a.m., and everyone is out the door by 1:30 a.m.,” said Chris Shegren, a part owner and manager of McTeague’s. “We could stay open until 2 a.m. and make more money, but it’s not worth running into problems.”
Shegren said several bars are working together to create solutions before the problems escalate.
Management at Lush Lounge declined to comment for this story, but a photo posted outside shows the neighborhood before the bar took up residence at 1221 Polk St. It shows a boarded-up building sprayed with graffiti, with a message that reads, “This is what Polk Street looked like before responsible small business owners cleaned up the street.”
Management at Mayes Oyster House could not be reached for comment.
Jocelyn Kane, executive director of the Entertainment Commission, said the noise issues are a product of Polk Street’s popularity surge in the past five to seven years.
“There are new, fresh interesting places to go in the neighborhood so people come,” she said. “It seems there has been some kind of drastic change, but it’s really been slow.”
Northern Police Station Capt. Ann Mannix, whose coverage area includes Polk Street, said though there have not been major incidents of violence on the thoroughfare, large crowds late at night are an issue throughout The City.
“It’s always tough getting people to move along,” Mannix said of the noise and loitering. “Generally speaking, though, people are exiting bars and going to their cars or apartments, they’re not staying in the neighborhoods after.”
Nob Hill Neighbors Vice President David Harmer disagrees. He said the crowds spread throughout all neighborhoods all hours of the night.
“It’s escalating on Polk Street,” Harmer said. “It’s become an entertainment monster and there’s no control. It just keeps expanding.”
In the 12 years Case has lived in the neighborhood, he said he has never seen anything like the crowds that now gather on Polk.
“It just took a while for people to get fed up with it,” Case said.