Our first place of our own in California was in Mountain View, close to Castro Street – the main drag of downtown. And my vestigial cigar habit meant I needed to spend plenty of time outdoors of an evening, which gave me lots of time to wander up and down Castro to see what was doing. I had been around there before on visits to California – mostly to go to Books Inc and occasionally to Dana Street Roasting – but this was the first time I could really wander up and down and see what was happening.
It’s been eight years since that autumn, and last night I got to see most of Castro en route to dinner. And what struck me was how much has turned over. The big appliance store appears to have some tech company in that space. Kapp’s Pizza is now Restaurant 191. King of Krung Siam is gone, replaced with a Cal-Mex fusion place. The former Wienerschnitzel on the corner of California and Castro has been half a dozen things before settling on a burger-and-beer-garden. The cigar shop is now a Mediterranean joint – under the same ownership. The pool room almost immediately turned into some sort of velvet rope nightclub. And the mildly dodgy cellphone-and-clothing shop has turned into three or four restaurants and is now waiting to get turned into Crepevine.
It’s not all bad. The Scientologists are gone, which is fine, as I got my anecdote out of them; they had nothing left to offer but an excuse to cross the road. La Bamba has arrived, for all my carne-asada-nachos needs. Red Rock has expanded to two stories. Neto is the first coffee still on offer at midnight. Jane’s Beer Store is now open with almost any brew you can imagine, Ava’s has provided a legit grocery store, and Scratch provided a top-shelf date night restaurant with cocktail offerings to match.
Meanwhile, plenty has carried on like normal. Books Inc is still hanging on in an Amazon world, as is the used bookstore next door. The gelato place is still featuring a longer line than the velvet-rope nightclub. St Stephens Green and Molly Magees are still offering plenty of food and drink respectively, although the Saint’s Irish character isn’t what it was when I arrived. Then again, neither is mine, I suppose. Best of all, Los Charros is still serving up a carne asada plate with a bottle of Jarritos for a price that has climbed from preposterously to merely ridiculously cheap.
But a lot has changed, and it drives home the point that I’ve actually been here longer than I was in DC. In fact, I’ve spent fully twenty percent of my entire life as a Californian now, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around that.