If one just watched the news, one would think that Bay Area business districts are crowded with shoppers, all in a mad rush for beans, toilet paper, and other assorted sundries. But once one gets out of the Whole Foods parking lot and into spots where restaurants once drew notable traffic, a different San Francisco emerges — one where lines of diners feel like the relic of a long-ago time many call “last month.”
Getty photojournalist Justin Sullivan has long chronicled the Bay Area’s news and places, and now he’s doing some of that reporting from above. Speaking with SF Gate, Sullivan says that he’s been sending drones up to record the region’s empty streets, saying drone photography “is a great tool to show the enormity of this thing — and not have to pay thousands of dollars to charter a helicopter.”
Sullivan tells SF Gate that the image that’s shaken him the most of one taken of Japantown, a neighborhood known for its multitude of sushi spots, noodle joints, and high-end spots like Nari, restaurateur Pim Techamuanvivit’s jam-packed Thai spot, which during the coronavirus crisis has pivoted to a driveway-pickup takeout model. Sullivan, who’s lived in the area since 1987 (so, yes, he witnessed the devastation wrought by the ‘89 quake) says, “I’ve never seen that ever,” regarding the stillness of Geary Boulevard, the area’s most-traveled street.
Powell and Market streets are equally quiet. It’s a spot that’s usually laden with food carts, tourists, and people headed to spots like John’s Grill, a classic San Francisco restaurant that features in noir cornerstone The Maltese Falcon. John’s has gone dark for the duration of the shelter in place, a decision that “will ensure the health and well being of our guests and staff,” its website reads.
The Outer Richmond, a destination for dim sum, Korean barbecue, and in-demand spots like Pearl 1601, is also subdued. Pearl is closed for now “in observance of the quarantine mandate,” while its around-the-corner sister restaurant, Pizzetta 211, is open for takeout Wednesdays–Sundays, its website says.
Restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf are usually full of tourists, but these days, they’re quiet and dark. The neighborhood is also home to the city’s only location of burger chain In-N-Out, a spot also closed for the duration of the crisis, its website says.
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Busy (but quiet) day around the bay with empty freeways, an empty ballpark on @mlb opening day, more people getting tested and nurses practice social distancing during a protest to get the proper equipment to safely do their jobs. (Photos by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) #covid_19 #coronavirus
Sullivan also noted SoMa’s empty streets on March 26. That was opening day for the 2020 Major League Baseball season, a day during which the bars and restaurants near Oracle Park would usually be crowded to overflowing. The opening day now reportedly being “floated” by the MLB is July 4 — a decision which, if it comes to fruition, could again pack the Embarcadero with sports and Independence-celebrating revelers.
Most recently, Sullivan’s drone took a spin over San Francisco’s Chinatown, which on Wednesday remained deserted. Many restaurants in the district are still open, however: According to a list managed by volunteers by the Rose Pak Democratic Club, spots like Brandy Ho’s, Golden King Vietnamese, and Hing Lung are open for delivery and, in some cases, takeout.