Plans to level the three-story building which stretches from Hemlock to Sutter, on the west side of Polk Street, and develop a six-story building with 54 apartments averaging around 500 square feet apiece over three ground floor retail spaces and a basement garage for 26 cars are moving ahead.

The development would demolish the existing Hemlock Tavern and Café Zitouna spaces on the corners, along with all the spaces between.

And while Café Zitouna appears to be operating on an extension of a lease which was slated to end in 2016, Hemlock Tavern’s lease comes to an ends in mid-2021, as we noted when the property traded hands two years ago.

With that in mind, an agent for the development team contacted the City two months ago to inquire about the possibility of allowing Hemlock to reopen in the same corner location once the new building was built, as rendered with a “Hemlock” placeholder above.

The official response and determination from San Francisco’s Zoning Administrator:

“Demolition of the existing structure and its replacement with a new structure is considered a significant alteration, and since the structure in which the use exists will be voluntarily razed, the use in question will not be permitted unless a new conditional use authorization is granted. Accordingly, a bar within an existing building is not portable to a bar in a future replacement building despite being on the same block and lot and same location within the subject block and lot.

Additionally, the bar is located in the Lower Polk Street Alcohol Restricted Use District which maintains that whenever a liquor establishment has discontinued its use for a continuous period of one year or more, the liquor establishment shall be deemed to have abandoned its use as a liquor establishment (pursuant to Planning Code Section 788). Although exceptions to the controls exist, they do not apply to the project since the building will be voluntarily demolished. … To prevent abandonment of the bar, it must relocate in the same location without an increase to the amount of square footage used for the sale of alcoholic beverages, in less than one year.”

In other words, Hemlock isn’t likely to survive the development, the building permit for which has been requested but the processing of which is currently on hold pending approval of the project.  And with respect to the fate of Café Zitouna, note the generic “Restaurant” placeholder above.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by It worked on Market Street

    They can’t tear down this building. The bar used to be The Giraffe. It’s historical or something.

  2. Posted by Bobby Mucho

    Can we at least have something with a tiny bit of character? Give me an arch, some brick, or at least something that doesn’t look like it came out of the Sears catalog. Or maybe just fire the architect.

    It’d be nice if planning would encourage developers to actually break up the massing, or even make the architects fake it a lil.

    • Posted by Serge

      The old building has more character in one brick than the design of the entire replacement.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        This. I’m all for densification, but all these glass box multi-family buildings are stale and tired – and the moreso as they increase in numbers. One only need look at Mission Bay to see how bland and boring an entire neighborhood of these structures is. Compare that to a Hell’s Kitchen or Chelsea, where there are a lot of smaller buildings with character (and hence smaller retail spaces, to create a really diverse, vibrant streetscape).

        • Posted by scott f

          If you don’t want a stale and tired neighborhood, focus on protecting cultural outlets like music venues, not the buildings they happen to be in. Losing Hemlock is a problem, square bay windows with accents is not.

        • Posted by Chris

          A lot of the new development going up near Hell’s Kitchen or Chelsea is exactly the mid-sized (and even high rise) glassy towers you seem to dislike.

          If the small buildings you are referring to are the original 5-story brick walk-ups in those areas, they were built over a 100 years ago.

          In any event, both Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen are now full-gentrified yuppish areas that are only “vibrant” for those with the money to afford live there (or the remaining long-term residents who benefit from rent control).

  3. Posted by Stakes is High

    Thankfully the lease (which I imagine will end up being extended as a token of good faith to the community similar to Elbo Room) runs for 3 more years and the design will surely change a few times. Even more likely, I imagine the developer will lose interest and sell the lot all together.

  4. Posted by Martin

    Is it possible to build the residential units while preserving the existing building? I agree that the existing building has more grit/character than the replacement, but we’ve seen facade preservation before.

  5. Posted by Stop Driving

    Great bar and a great music venue. San Francisco is getting more and more stale by the minute.

    • Posted by Chris

      If a large city like SF’s character depends on a single bar, then it must be pretty “stale” to begin with. Bars have opened and closed since the town was founded in 1848. That is life in the big city (or any city). I have never found a shortage of places to go for drinks, food, dancing, live music, art, or theater. If you have that problem, either you are a boring person or you are not looking very hard.

  6. Posted by scott f

    Thanks for making it clear that inflexible planning rules are the problem, not an evil developer. We need legislation to fix this. We shouldn’t have to choose between music venues and housing just because of a law that was meant to protect existing venues like Hemlock Tavern (but failed to consider temporary relocations and the need for housing).

  7. Posted by liveable city

    Very good. I live in this part of town. This is an excellent opportunity to rid the neighborhood of the [people] that have been camping out in these alleys for too many years.

    • Posted by Mark

      Right. Because additional market rate housing is going to clear up the streets. Guess again.

      • Posted by jimbo

        it will certainly help as new neighbors are likely to complain more about the drugs and poop.

  8. Posted by Dave

    This building has character with the brick, arched windows on the ground floor and interesting “insert” windows above. Technically it’s not historic, but it Is engaging and scalable. In the Pearl this type of building would be spruced up with awnings above the upper level windows, some fenestrations at the roofline and beaucoup planter boxes at street level. Repeat that again and again and that tells you why The Pearl is so acclaimed as a venue. Here in SF these buildings are torn down and replaced with sterile boxes whose ground floor retail space remains empty for years. – it’s especially egregious in the SOMA and Central SOMA areas.

  9. Posted by pal

    I pick my battles – Hemlock is not a good one to loose.

  10. Posted by keenplanner

    I think that’s a pre-quake building under the crappy remodel. If it were restored, it could surround the lower floors of the new building.

  11. Posted by Philip

    Richmond Special on steroids

  12. Posted by Mike heron

    Cafe Zitouna is a nice restaurant with healthy and wholesome food. I hate to see it relocate. I, as a customer, outcry the fact that the developer and new owner where Cafe Zitouna and the Hemlock are located have not reached yet to an amicable agreement with Najib, the owner of this wonderful Tunisian/Mediterranean restaurant.

    If no agreement is reached with old tenants, then opposing such demolishing of the old building is in order. No new owner should be allowed to take advantage of old existing tenants and ruin their livelihoods.

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