The Official Re-Birth of the Barbary Coast. Sort of.

Certain travel magazines and newspaper travel sections like to proclaim that cities and neighborhood’s have been re-born. I remember seeing an article in a travel magazine several years ago that claimed Stockholm had achieved this seemingly other-worldly status. Oh really? I thought. It seems such an enlightened incarnation of an entire city would have been more newsworthy.

Aside from travel writing’s sometimes proclivity for exaggeration, the once legendary and long disappeared Barbary Coast neighborhood has been re-born. Well, sort of. I’ve spent the month of August looking for remnants of it and until I met a man named William Sauro I had no idea that the neighborhood is officially back.

But, you’re probably thinking right now, I thought the Barbary Coast was long gone since 1917?

I met Mr. Sauro at the Old Ship Saloon, fittingly enough, since the bar – on Pacific and Battery Streets, right in the heart of the Barbary Coast – is constructed from an old ship that had brought miners from New York to get in on the potential riches of the Gold Rush. I wanted to ask him the same question about this supposed resurrection of the Barbary Coast.
Mr. Sauro, who is retired, told me he’s the president of the Barbary Coast Neighborhood Association. Such associations, he said, have a lot of power in San Francisco. The infamous and longtime Telegraph Hill Dwellers are the most powerful neighborhood association in the city. And so, in 2005, some of the denizens of the area formerly known as the Barbary Coast decided to create their own association. “It’s mostly so we can have a say in land development and quality of life issues,” he told me as I sipped a glass of pisco punch. “Someone needs to represent the residents here and that’s what the neighborhood association does.”

But why, I asked, did they choose the name Barbary Coast? After all, it’s a bit ironic that a bunch of well-off city dwellers would take a name known for crime and poverty (adding an extra dose of the irony is that the San Francisco Board of Realtors endorsed the name change).

“The Financial District Neighborhood Association just doesn’t sound very cool,” Sauro said. I agreed.

Sauro did make an interesting connection between the current neighborhood and the legendary one, noting the expensive restaurants that have popped up along the nearby Embarcadero. “They’re great restaurants,” Sauro said. “But so expensive that people in the neighborhood are still being shanghaied–just in a totally different way.”

And so, as such, the Barbary Coast is re-born. That sounds newsworthy to me.