Wednesday, September 14, 2011

San Francisco Bookstores — Bird & Beckett, A Glen Park and City Treasure

I really don’t know what to call them. They seem like more than neighborhoods, villages really, yet within the city limits. We didn’t have many of them where I grew up in Indianapolis. By the time I was moving around the city, what few defined areas that once existed vanished or became homogenized. Most neighborhoods looked pretty much like the others.

However, in San Francisco, there are still self-contained, one-of-a-kind, self-sustaining neighborhoods, places with their own character and spirit. One of these places is Glen Park. If you live there you have what you need — a hardware, barbershop, fitness centers, restaurants and coffee shops. It is a hub for Bay area public transportation, including its own BART station. But Glen Park has some very special places as well. There are a couple of incredibly fine, special-night-out kind of restaurants (Chenery Park and Le P’tit Laurent) and a pizza place (Gialina) so good that it draws from miles around. Add a cheese store, a wine and oyster bar, one of the best gourmet groceries (Canyon Market) in a gourmet city and a really, really good book store. Lunch, on the other hand, might be hard to find.

It’s a small community. The commercial district is little more than a “T” street crossing. And the bookstore I mention is relatively small as well. But if you are serious about serious books, you have struck gold. Not room enough for every kind of book, there is a preference for quality in a carefully selected blend of new and used books. We’ve all had the bookstore experience where we feel as if we are interfering with the staff’s personal interests. Bird & Beckett manages to be welcoming without hovering.

The new books and magazines are in the front along with some fascinating remainders. Farther back in the store are the used books — international fiction, poetry, philosophy, history, politics — and some comfortable chairs. There is also a raised area, a stage of sorts, where, on occasion, there is jazz (every Friday night), and panel discussions on literature, as well as poetry and prose readings. There is a sense that Bird & Beckett is also a community center. The entryway is plastered with posters, business cards and announcements. However, it’s important to note that the bookstore is not just for the locals. It is a worthwhile destination for the city at large.

Like San Francisco’s other out of the way villages — Potrero Hill and Bernal Heights, for example — Glen Park isn’t likely on the standard tourist itinerary; and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it has slipped the minds of many San Franciscans as well.

653 Chenery Street, (415) 586-3733,

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