We live in a little-known San Francisco neighborhood called West Portal, so-named because it’s located at the western entrance (or, that’s right, portal) of the public transit tunnel cut under Twin Peaks.
One of the first businesses we patronized when we moved here, some 22 years ago, was Village Grill, a definite step back in time, in a neighborhood that felt like the San Francisco I remember from my youth. It was a place with simple food, good and ample. It was a place where you’d run into friends, friends of parents, off-duty MUNI drivers and mechanics, the local dentist and, every so often, politicians and reporters.
The Village Grill was hospitable to everyone.
On one Sunday morning, when the place was too crowded to get a table or a booth, Erika and I sat at the counter and met a lady, about a decade older than my mom, who told us about her honeymoon at Yosemite in the early 1930s.
The servers became friends, or at least confidants. The cooks were blurs of activity and sweat.
It was always active, without ever being too noisy to talk. The food was good and basic. It never became cute, trendy, or fashionable. They did, a few years ago, add a full Irish breakfast to the menu, but that was an accommodation to the many Ireland-born tradespeople in the neighborhood, not any foodie pretensions.
Sadly, I have to use the past tense because, as of tomorrow, the Village Grill will be no more. The owners have sold to the owners of the very-foodie Toast, a place that deals in much loftier fare and atmosphere. Neighborhoods, change, it is true, as my neighborhood proves. We’ve long since lost our Payless Shoe Store. But this loss hits me hard.
For me The Village Grill was living proof that my neighborhood wasn’t growing too big (or trendy) for it’s purposefully old-fashioned britches.