Hipster Jackboots: Sam Herlihy On Restaurants And Gentrification

In his latest Come On Fry Young food column, Sam Herlihy ties himself in knots while battling the twin spectres of inner city gentrification and artisanal fusion cooking

Image via Shutterstock

In San Francisco they are blocking the GoogleBuses. These unmarked chemist-white coaches, air-conned and wi-fi’ed up, that ferry GoogleDudes and GoogleGirls to get to their days of Googling, or creating the Googling, or the doing of the Google noun/verb/adjective whatever the hell it is that they do in their Google Playhouse/Campus/Sleepover/Teepee. They are blocking the buses and chucking bricks at the windows and bread-bowls full of shitty tourist-bait clam chowder at the windscreens as they go gliding up and down Paul Newman’s hilly-as-all-hell streets from Google to Google. Google.

Rents in most places are rising like hyped-up viagra boners. The buses have become the focus of the GoogleRage. The only people who can afford to live in many parts of San Francisco now all work for Google or banks. The only people in the Mission district are GoogleFolk, financial sector automatons in sweet rides wearing natty threads, and junkies. Because San Francisco’s insane rents don’t pay to shift Dribbly Joe the smackheaded wino, hep-cee spitting crackheaded derelicts, or even the staggering mentally ill people who piss and vomit and scream at passing GoogleBuses like they just woke up from one nightmare of torn brain threads into another, this one, patrolled by pretty rich people, long white buses, and bread-bowl after bread-bowl of discarded tourist-half-gnawed clam chowder being picked over by gulls the size of kid-dream nightmares about pterodactyls.

Some quotes from a recent anti-gentrification protest in the Mission:

"Shoot the cops!"

"We know where you live and we will burn this place to the ground!"

"Shoot the cops and burn coffee shops!"

Some quotes from some pro-gentrification people at the protest:

"Yay gentrification!"

"People hate who I am because I am supposedly this evil, rich guy who is ruining people’s lives and evicting them. But I am just someone who planned and worked. I’m not like these people, who are all probably into drugs and alcohol."

"What did I do? I just moved here; I don’t know what’s going on!"

All people are idiots.

This is where people used to open restaurants.

My partner in culinary crime James and I cooked a sort of corporate/promoish thing for a booze company and a swish magazine a while ago. We turned up in a cab and unloaded the food, half prepped and dying under foil and clingfilm. We were to cook in a giant, specced-up kitchen, in a warehouse conversion, up a wrought iron spiral staircase. The rest of the warehouse conversion was made up of big-windowed offices for design firms, internet startups, font designers and super successful Etsy trinket peddlers. In every one, rows of Macs, some sort of big neon or graff-art bullshit on the walls. Is that a juice bar in there? Definitely a giant wheezing old-school Italian chrome coffee machine in that one. Help yourself! Get involved yeah? Lets just create here! Right by this sort of Banksy piece, no, Hirst? Hang on! That bird with the bed that stinks of urine and fag butts! Emin! Hey! You wanna Kale with me? Friendster! Craigslist! Geocities! Adidas Originals! Fischerspooner!

Yeah we sneer. But what at? I’d like to work there if I had to work in an office somewhere. Rather an office with a sweet coffee machine in it than in an NHS office undecorated since 1972. Cork board. Filing cabinets. Smell of coffee. Misfiring fluorescent tubes. Misfiring fluorescent tube covers to diffuse sickly glow, full of dead flies and expired moths. Mugs. Staples. A stationery cupboard – a real-life stationery cupboard in the year 2014. Misery. Paper. Paperclips. IBM. Grey and brown and misfiring fluorescence making everyone look like a character in one of those Russian books you haven’t read but pretend like you know what happens in them. A fly, an office, a dead wife, or something. In Russia, mad depressing.

Also these loathed individuals are the ones with a little cash to spend, a need to show off, in restaurants and bars, their Japanese import denim and buffed brogue/boot/flipflop barefoot technology satchel shoes. And the girls in dude trousers and mussy hair and bored jobs and they’ll eat a burger because girls can eat burgers now ‘cos fuck Grazia and fuck not smoking and fuck England anyway I’m Berlin as fuck and I have literally spent all day listening to Fischerspooner and it def holds up.

So someone opens restaurants there.

Hold tight to that wave of self righteous: "What about the Chicken Cottage that’s been there for ten years!" schtick you’re about to spray down yr dial-up.

Fuck the ‘Cottage.

Balls to the ‘Cottage, the Dixie Chicken, the Pizza ‘N Wings To Go. Fuck all of them. As I seem to wail every time I wail here, no snob am I, but these jokers sling battery chicken bits to kids and drunks. Battery fowl is cruel and gross. Kids shouldn’t be eating this trash walking to school, and drunk people in fried chicken shops are mad annoying, rude as all hell and should fuck off.

A chef named Christian Puglisi wanted to open a restaurant. Having no money, the only place he could afford was on one of Copenhagen’s no-go streets*.

*I know. "Copenhagen’s No-Go Streets" doesn’t quite have the terror and creeping menace of "Detroit: Death City" or "Moss Side: Kill Or Be Killed".

"Copenhagen’s No-Go Streets": A gentle look at some of the more ‘rugged’ and ‘zesty’ areas of Denmark’s beloved capital city. See public urination! Mild right wing views espoused in marker pen! And a dealer of drugs enjoying a cup of fantastic fresh brewed artisan coffee while drumming up passing trade! Presented by Jonsi from Sigur Ros and Sir Ragglekins, his pet kitten.

Eventually he managed to convince the dealers to deal over the street, the vandals to tag the shutters and not the windows, and the drunk Danes pissing in the street to maybe aim for the bushes, not the front step on the restaurant.

A year later he opened a bar across the street. The dealers wandered off a little further down the street. Later this year, a bakery. Joining the coffee shops, art galleries, and probably an intimidating shop thats sells high-end imported denim to a soundtrack of Joy Division and Fischerspooner.

Gentrification in full Nordic-Magic flow. The young restaurant first, and then the rest followed.

For the sake of balance and even-keel reportage, perhaps we should consider the plight of these displaced drug dealers? They had a young startup business ticking along quite nicely until that meddling Christian Pugilisi, Jonsi from Sigur Ros and Sir Ragglekins showed up.

Goddamn gentrifying scum! Shifting the poor humble dealer, just providing a service, from his storefront. Where is he going to go now? Think about it. Think about all that sweet graffiti that won’t be there now. No scrawled tag names, less urine… I miss things the way they used to be. The community has been torn asunder. The vitality of the street, vanquished. Junkies as refugees, shifted on by the jackboots (Got them in Berlin. Handmade in East Berlin, in an old armaments factory, made of leather from Crimean War saddles) of hipsters going for dinner.

I’m not quite dumb enough to suggest that anyone opening a restaurant is doing it for any reason other than to make some bank. All I’m suggesting is that, sometimes, the first people setting down new businesses in rundown areas… dilapidated streets… shitholes, are young people trying to start a restaurant. Sometimes they bring a bunch of new investment in the wake of their hipster clientele. Most are going to fail quicker than the second Hope Of The States album campaign. (Look it up, philistines.)

They fail because your burger ‘concept’ is crap. Your burger tastes like ass and gloves. No amount of old baseball memorabilia, bourbon cocktails and Tom Waits quotes on the menu will change that. Tom Waits thinks you are a prick.

Restaurants go under because while you can cook everything from the Ottolenghi cookbook passably well, ladies-who-lunch are not quite ready to pick their way around comatose drunkards and feral cats to eat your falafel with a delicate Berbere spiced yoghurt sauce on the edge of a sink estate in Merthyr Tydfil.

This is all you can afford, though. Think of yourself as a pioneer, not as a gullible, desperate fool chasing a dream. This old takeaway place, long shuttered, this spot – this is going to be the next hipster restaurant of the year. It’s kinda Spanish tapas but with a real Asian spin on it. Fish sauce in the tortilla, yeah? Coriander on everything. Yo! You know what Sriracha is, don’t you?! In Hull.

It’s going to be just a classic NYC Italian red-sauce joint, yeah? Pasta and meatballs! Cannolli! Like in The Sopranos. But with heavy influence from Noma, foraging and shit, yeah? And we are going to blast vintage hip hop too! And make bourbon cocktails! And have a unisex bog! And call it a ‘bog’, ‘cos that’s mad funny. Yeah? In Homerton.

Good on them. Go forth and blow your inheritance money. Your rich mate’s bonus from Goldman Sachs. That creepy record producer’s ‘nest egg’. A Premiership footballer’s ‘silent backing’. Go find a dump, and build the restaurant of your dreams. Get rid of the junkies, the trash, the hookers and the homeless. They are all gross and useless anyway. Take out the trash and then serve up your masterpieces. Your Persian Doughnut concept. Your steak and milkshake souk-style takeaway. Your super high-end thirty course tasting menu for three people only per night, consisting of foraged foods dredged from Regents Canal just down from the Shell Garage on the Hornsey Road. Your awesome burger ‘joint’.

Good on the idiots opening these places. Good on the people going and eating this stuff. Once in a while, one of these places is going to be lush. Some talented cook is going to open a great place and people will want to eat there. What starts up in the middle of a knife gang-patrolled, scary-after-dark horrorshow, will eventually find itself marooned between Starbucks, Lush Cosmetics and Pizza Express. The bored dereliction and the casual seething violence moved along elsewhere. The sneered-at hipsters long gone, onwards to the next place. Pushed out by familiarity and rent increases. The people who used to live here are long gone too. I don’t know what to call that. Were they evicted? Abandoned? Just what happens these days?

The biggest cliche of modern city living in full effect. First the people who’ve always been there. Then the artists, students, the goddamn hipsters. Then the money, then the displacement. Then the bunch of people wondering on it, commenting on it. Trying to make judgements based on Google vs poverty, or heroin vs artisanal fusion kimchee cafes. Who in hell knows anything?

Gentrification is a super complex and multi-faceted issue, dude. I however, am not. I am an idiot. Whilst Come On Fry Young (thanks for the column name John Doran) is, without question, a forum for a deep and fascinating culinary mind to espouse all manner of wonder and wit upon you, it is not a place for considered thought, complex issues, macroeconomic ponderings, questions of race, the Marxist angle, intelligence.

I’m all about snidey burger talk.

I imagine some hardcore Oneohtrix Point Never fan spitting bile into his wanking sock in the depths of his parents’ basement will come at me with all manner of outrage upon the comments section.

Calm thyself young man. I have no answers, I just come up with this shit.

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