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.
There may be no single person polarizing San Franciscan voters more than Dean Preston. He’s District 5’s supervisor since 2019, the first democratic socialist on the board since Harry Britt’s tenure in the late 1970s. Locals love to hate him or hate to love him; San Francisco lobbying group GrowSF says he’s a “middle school boy who just discovered communism,” and in an exchange with Mayor London Breed over “wellness hubs” and drug-related arrests in the Tenderloin, she accused Preston of being a white savior.
On a sunny Friday evening, Preston seems undaunted. In the last year, he unveiled the mayor’s now-banned practice of asking appointees to sign undated resignation letters upon starting their jobs and secured eviction protections for tenants and small business owners during the pandemic. He continues spearheading affordable housing projects as developers jump ship on sites including the Touchless Car Wash space on Fell and Divisadero streets — a development Preston said he saw go sideways after about seven years of planning.
Moreover, he says national media is having a feeding frenzy on all the hard issues happening in San Francisco. Still, the city is having a tougher recovery from the pandemic’s impacts in comparison to other cities, with far fewer total downtown visits per week, year over year, according to Downtown Recovery Dashboard’s statistics. “We all see the same viral video of the worst thing happening in the city,” Preston says. “But when you walk around our neighborhoods and see things rebounding, business is booming.”
His district includes Lower Haight, Japantown, Hayes Valley, the Fillmore, and the Tenderloin, and he says it’s hard to pick favorites amongst these wildly dense food- and drink-loving neighborhoods. (He does say Toronado on Haight Street might be “the best beer bar in the city,” a favorite since the ’90s.) But the Divisadero business corridor remains an anchor for him, so tag along as Eater SF hits a weekend bar crawl with the neighborhood’s supervisor. “I love Divisadero,” Preston says. “It’s a couple blocks from my home, and it’s always been my go-to area for just about everything.”
298 Divisadero Street, San Francisco
Preston’s move at one of San Francisco’s finest neighborhood bars is simple: He sidles up at the taxidermy-laden bar for a bottle of Scrimshaw beer. The Page has been around for about a century and manages to straddle both the charm of a dive and the quirkiness of a hipster bar with ease; during the worst of COVID’s impacts, it built out a parklet full of personality and vibrancy where the business hosted live musicians that still play to this day. “It’s one of the best parklets,” Preston says. “We made some lemonade out of lemons during the pandemic.”
Sitting in the back of the cash-only bar one finds an array of guests, from college students to venture capitalists pitching each other over gin and tonics. And, as we leave the bar, a bevy of locals approach Preston. The carpenter working on Kava Lounge’s fire-stricken site says he has high hopes for the space, and a longtime bartender from Toronado says he’ll see Preston soon.
528 Divisadero Street, San Francisco
Another legendary pandemic parklet destination lies a few blocks up the road at 528 Divisadero Street. This upscale bar and restaurant, now leaning into afternoon cafe service, is where Preston will go when he’s feeling fancier, when he’s landing on the Old Fashioned end of his drinking preferences — with the other end of the spectrum being, unsurprisingly at this point, beer. He enjoys everything from Guinness to pilsners to porters. “I’m all over the map on beer,” Preston says.
At Horsefeather, our server sells him on the Ol’ Smokey, a ritzier older sibling of the Old Fashioned. The brown butter-washed whiskey meets a medley of Ceylon tea, bergamot, and cardamom for a complex and powerful cocktail ideal for letting the week’s worries melt away.
543 Divisadero Street, San Francisco
Preston has been coming to this historic bar and restaurant just across the street for decades. Club Waziema opened in 1997, and before that was known as Club Morocco in the 1960s, a venue for artists including Marvin Gaye and Billie Holliday. The venue lay dormant and worked as a pseudo-private hangout for a few years before owners Giday Beshue and Nebiat Tesfazgi took over. Then, it took three years of hearings to get all the certifications approved by the city, a process both owners say Preston was instrumental in supporting. Much of the space, from the stage in the back to the bar in front, is held over from the original club.
In addition to the powerful drinks and vibey music, Waziema is in fact a worthwhile restaurant all on its own. The owners know Preston’s order and fire it up once he walks in, preparing an extra order of the vegetarian combo for him to take home for his daughter. While we pile into the well-spiced, potato-centric medley — all lovingly wrapped in fermented injera — two locals ask Preston his thoughts on the Dolores Hill Bomb arrests, and what he thinks the police should’ve done. The three of them chat as the evening’s eaters and drinkers flock to the sidewalk outside, no doom loops in sight. “Just come visit and find out for yourself,” Preston says of San Francisco in 2023. “Enjoy the city.”