Join us for Tag Along, where local writers, artists, food authorities, and celebrities shine a spotlight on the best food and drinks in their favorite Bay Area neighborhoods.
Colin Winnette is a long-haired, wide-smiling, game-writing bohemian living in San Francisco. Hailing from Denton, Texas, he’s worked as a bookseller on Haight Street, a copywriter for hospitals, and a ticket-taker at a movie theater. He’s also the author of seven books, most recently Users from Soft Skull Press, which earned a glowing review in the New York Times in May and another in The Nation in August. The book is about the perils and potentials of virtual reality and was written at a handful of bars and cafes in the Mission District. “San Francisco’s got a lot of heart,” Winnette says. “It’s a beautiful city to work in with deep literary roots.”
Winnette finished a book tour in spring 2023 and, on the day we meet to traipse through the Mission, he’s en route to Dog Eared Books for a print copy of the paper. He’s glad that, after emerging from COVID lockdowns, people still felt like coming out to say hello. He’s doubly thankful for the sleeper, unsung hangouts in the Mission that allowed his book to come to fruition. Join Eater SF as we accompany Winnette on a typical day of writing, caffeinating, drinking, and eating around the Mission District.
3139 Mission Street, San Francisco
Finding CoffeeShop on Mission Street is sort of like doing a word search puzzle; it’s the kind of hidden spot one could miss by blinking. The soy latte — and maybe an everything croissant on a peckish day — gets Winnette started each day. The shop itself, though, is well-known for its Sherpa, a rendition of the Bulletproof coffee trend. The joint, which has been in business for more than a decade, also freezes its coffee into cold brew ice cubes and makes its pastries in-house.
Winnette lived around the corner from this tiny storefront while he wrote Users, taking his soy latte to the sidewalk where the cafe stocks a few literal stumps. They work as tables, or in the writer’s case, a desk, as the 49 bus flies by. There are no plugs, no “work here” culture, as Winnette describes it. He gets through his coffee, works maybe an hour or so, takes stabs at early sentences, then heads on to the next destination. “I’m better when I indulge my restlessness,” Winnette says. “Rather than saying ‘Sit! Work!’”
3049 20th Street, San Francisco
The sunny and expansive patio at this 20th Street restaurant plays host to a big daytime crowd. Winnette became a regular thanks to rock climbing sessions at Mission Cliffs a couple of blocks away; he’d come here for a smoked trout bagel, served on bread once the bagels sell out in the afternoon. The shop serves Grand Coffee from Mission Street, and the tangy espresso and foamy cappuccinos are both affordable and delectable. It’s the laid-back nature that allows Winnette to enter the writing space. “These are uninterrupted places,” Winnette says.
The bagel or a sandwich on rosemary bread, doesn’t hurt, either. He opts for a window seat, anywhere with a plug to recoup lost battery spent at CoffeeShop. But, just like that micro cafe, Winnette doesn’t stay here longer than a few hours before moving on. He attributes his frenetic approach to an undergrad interdisciplinary arts degree, one that had students in and out of various studios as a form of inspiration. The noise from the chatter of cafe-goers is still as important as the espresso and food. “It’s chaotic enough to become like the ocean lapping on the shore,” Winnette says. “Hypnotic.”
1398 South Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco
This lowkey Mission Street bar, a few blocks from decidedly not lowkey Tacos Patron, opens at 2 p.m. Or, that’s what you’d think from its posted hours — really it opens whenever it opens. Walking over isn’t too strenuous, though Winnette might hop on the 14 or 49 Muni lines to get a bit closer. The move here is a gin and tonic or a beer — nothing esoteric, just to get the wheels turning in a new direction. “This is me changing drugs,” Winnette says. “From caffeine to alcohol.”
To some, this decades-old bar is the perfect dive. Its pool tables and dimly-lit ambiance let Winnette unwind a bit, though he stays focused on the writing. He and an old pal, a high school teacher who lives a double life as a Jeopardy! whiz, would sip whiskey and read each other old poetry for fun. “There’s a great writing community in San Francisco,” Winnette says. “Even though the city has priced out a lot of great artists.”
Front Porch and Rock Bar
65 29th Street, San Francisco and 80 29th Street, San Francisco
A shot of whiskey with a pony boy Miller High Life is how the author ends the day. Rock Bar is one of those haunts that serves familiar faces day in and day out — and has now celebrated the birthdays of four neighborhood dogs over the years — on an otherwise unremarkable corner. Across the street, before hitting the pub, Winnette might grab dinner to take to the bar. Southern restaurant and bar Front Porch is happy to oblige; Winnette loves the veggie burger while his wife opts for the beignets, and, for company, they order a pitcher of signature cocktail Porch Swing.
The fried okra also goes hard, and Winnette says the grits — best with a fried egg on top — might be the finest in the city alongside the fare at Brenda’s. These are the meals that keep him ready for a swim with the Dolphin Club or pondering artificial intelligence civil rights (something Winnette thinks is just over the horizon). As he winds down at Front Porch or Rock Bar, he reads the paper, trying to be a human being after being a writer, he says. Sometimes his books’ reviews appear in those papers. But, most of the time, he’s just drinking a pickle back and eating fried okra after sifting through the white noise of San Francisco for eight hours or so. The author says these bars and restaurants remind him of Denton, in that they’re ubiquitous and unpretentious. “They have a thread of home,” Winnette says.