This list is probably going to disappoint you.
The Bay Area is a tough place to run a bar or restaurant in the best of circumstances, given high rents, skyrocketing cost-of-living, and a bureaucracy that seems designed to confound. Add to that the pandemic, which has blocked the region’s restaurants from serving sit-down diners and shuttered bars without food completely, and the end result is a running list of permanent closures that’s so long we had to break it up into the early spring, the earliest months of the pandemic, and when it was clear that we were in this for the long haul.
That means that this year’s list of the 10 closures that hit us the hardest will likely leave off one that hit you the hardest, be that your regular dumpling destination, a dive bar you had wild nights at 15 years ago, or the place you had your wedding reception. You might even be frustrated that we included the closure of a restaurant that you disliked, passing over your beloved shuttered spot in the process.
That’s okay — in fact, that’s why we like you so much, because you care about restaurants as much as we do. So, for one time only, we’re opening the comment section at the bottom of this story so you can add your own entries for the places that closed this year that you’ll miss the most. Let’s commiserate together.
White-tabdim sum spot Ton Kiang had served diners for 24 years from its two-story Geary Boulevard location, from casual meals to Christmas feasts to family celebrations. That ended in August, when second-generation owner Richard Wong said he wished to retire. “It takes a lot of energy to run a good restaurant. I don’t think I have that much energy left,” Wong told Eater SF, saying that the pandemic just sped up a plan he’d already had in place. Read more here.
The owners of the Stud, a 55-year-old SoMa queer bar, insist that they’re not closed, they’re just evolving — but the fact is that they moved out of the building they’ve occupied since 1987, and have yet to announce a reopening plan. The LGBTQ+ spot was a ubiquitous stop during any queer nightlife crawl and a home to local and national drag performers giving shows that would leave a casual Drag Race fan’s head spinning. Read more here.
Louies’ and the Cliff House
Some have argued that these two restaurants, both owned by the National Parks Service (NPS) and merely rented by their operators, will roar back to glory once the pandemic ends. That’s likely, as the buildings remain, as do their epic views. But the same folks operated Louis’ diner since 1937, and the same family ran the restaurants inside the 157-year-old Cliff House since 1973, so whatever happens in those structures next will be different. It would be great if the NPS chose another local operator, as opposed to an international conglomerate like rumored-top-Cliff-House-contender Aramark, or a generic national chain. That shoreline deserves better than, say, Applebee’s By The Beach. Read about the Loius’ closure here, and the Cliff House’s here.
Locanda’s closure in March was, perhaps, the first time diners realized the level of stress the pandemic had placed on an already-struggling industry. The well-liked rustic/Roman spot in the Mission District was from Craig and Annie Stoll, the folks behind Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina, and its sudden shutdown was a shock to fans of their bucatini all’ amatriciana and other comforting dishes. Speaking with the SF Chronicle, Craig Stoll said “even though it was busy, it was never really profitable ... It’s just not going to make it through this. There’s no way.”
Food truck Liba Falafel was a street food pioneer, one of the region’s first mobile restaurants beyond the standard taco truck or lunch coach. In 2016, owner Gail Lillian opened a permanent location in downtown Oakland, a fast-casual falafel bar that was packed on the daily. But it’s that model that prompted Lillian to shutter in June, telling Eater SF that “the things that don’t work about this industry were magnified by the problems that I was about to face while navigating operations during COVID times.” Read more here.
The first sign that It’s Tops was closing was also its last: Twitter users caught a truck hauling off its sign and red vinyl booths in June, signaling the end of the 85-year-old late night and early morning diner. Second-generation owners Bruce and Sheila Chapman refused comment at the time, but weeks later they told Hoodline that with only 12 counter seats and eight booths, the level of social distancing necessary to operate indoor dining safely was not an option.
In September, the Glass Incident Fire roared through Napa Valley, damaging at least 31 restaurants, wineries, and resorts. Among those was the Restaurant at Meadowood (TRAM), a 3-Michelin-star fine dining spot that burned to the ground, eliciting a flood of social media grief (and subsequent Twitter backlash, with some former workers alleging toxicity inside its kitchen). Owners of the St. Helena luxury resort that housed TRAM have vowed to rebuild, but chef Christopher Kostow (who was at TRAM for over a decade) has yet to announce his future plans. Read more here.
Trou Normand, Obispo and Nommo
When Thad Vogler announced in September that he would be closing all three of his currently-open restaurants, jaws dropped across San Francisco. All three of the venues — Trou Normand, a six-year-old SoMa spot with a gorgeous dining room; Obispo, a barely two-year-old Caribbean restaurant and rum bar; and Nommo, a gigantic Rincon Hill restaurant that opened in 2019 — were the kind of cool, smart places that were as beloved by industry insiders and food critics as they were by regulars and neighborhood residents, making Vogler’s empire feel too successful to fail. The always candid Vogler would be the first to disagree with this glowing assessment, however, telling the SF Chronicle that “I made mistakes,” he said. “Classic restaurant mistakes: growing too quickly so you don’t have enough cash, then your places become mediocre because you don’t have the bandwidth to maintain quality. That’s where I was when COVID hit.”
Chef Anthony Strong had just reopened Prairie, his year-old Mission District restaurant, with a new focus when the pandemic hit. The spot opened as a critically acclaimed modern Italian restaurant, but Strong, always eager to mess with success, revamped the spot into a live-fire, fixed price grilling experience in February of 2020. When the Bay Area shut down, Strong bobbed and weaved with the punches, turning the spot into a retail venue at a time when store shelves were bare. But by August, Strong told Eater SF that “at a certain point I had to come to terms with the fact that this couldn’t successfully continue ... failure would have been stretching this out into the inevitable.” Read more here.
Long before every tech bro knew how to pronounce “omakase” there was ICHI Sushi, with chef-owner Tim Archuleta serving up unpretentious sushi experiences from its tiny bar and restaurant space. The 14-year-old restaurant was perhaps the definition of a hidden gem, so jam-packed that in 2014 it expanded to a larger space, then moved back to the smaller one a couple years later, after Archuleta suffered a health crisis. It was Archuleta’s health and ICHI’s shoulder-to-shoulder space that prompted its closure in June. Read more here.