Café Flore is a popular cafe, restaurant and bar in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood with a large outdoor patio for dining. It is "one of the neighborhood's most well known establishments", open since 1973. They have a full bar, a full coffee bar and a restaurant serving California cuisine at affordable prices including vegetarian and organic entrees.
Cafe Flore was built in the early 1970s on the site of where the Finnila Family Baths had their pharmacy. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Castro District of San Francisco had a very large population of recently immigrated people from the Nordic countries. In the early 20th century - up to 1920s -, the area was known by such names as Little Scandinavia and Finn Town.
In the early 20th century, the large corner lot - attached to the modern-day Cafe Flore - located in the corner of Market and Noe Streets was owned by the Finnish immigrant family of Finnilas. The Finnila family needed a larger facility for their Finnila's Finnish Baths health club business, and in 1932 the construction work of their new bathhouse was concluded on the lot. At that time, the Finnila's older bathouse on 17th Street, a half a block west from Castro Street, was closed.
The new bathhouse building was designed and constructed by Matti Finnila and his son Alfred Finnila, who soon became known for his engineering work at the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, 1932-1937. As assistant civil engineer of California, Alfred Finnila was in charge of all the ironing work of the bridge, and half of its road work. Finnila designed the world-famous Bridge Round House at the southeastern edge of the bridge. Bridge Round House became the all time busiest San Francisco Bay Area restaurant. For many decades, it has served as the starting point for countless San Francisco Bay Area tours. Bridge Round House has been renovated in 2012 and revealed as a suave Art Deco treat.
However, in the very corner of the Finnila's bathhouse lot on Market and Noe Streets a pharmacy continued operating until 1973, when Cafe Flore was founded and set where the pharmacy used to be. The vintage Finnish decor remains in place with the original tin roof ceiling and skylights added since the 1970s. The business was sold in 2004 and was soon granted a liquor license, which was celebrated by a new grand opening in February, 2005. The Finnila family owned the cafe until 1977 when it was purchased by Mahmood and Ahmad Ghazi, it was owned by them until 2002 when JD Petras purchased the business and land. In 2013 Flore's off site kitchen across the street was in jeopardy and was granted permission to continue with an amendment to the city planning code that allowed for food processing. In 2016 Flore is seeking new investors or possibly owners although the land is not for sale.
The Cafe Flore venue often hosts community events and fundraisers. In 2006, the Halloween in the Castro event had a shooting incident only yards away from Cafe Flore. Cafe Flore was then among the first businesses in the Castro District to announce the closing down of services during the 2007 Halloween. In 2007, Cafe Flore lobbied to get a right for 24-hour food service as well as a right to serve alcohol until 2 am each morning. Cafe Flore's furniture inside is bolted in place. Thus, in its present form Cafe Flore does not serve well as a dance bar, but it aligns well with three other late night eateries in the neighborhood. In 2009, a farmers' market started operating outside the cafe on Wednesday afternoons.
Until 1986, the Finnila family owned the back storage room and garbage alley areas of Cafe Flore. Until the final shutdown on Market Street of the popular Finnila's Finnish Baths, its c. 65 employees and many customers visited Cafe Flore daily, and many have remained a part of the Finnila's-Cafe-Flore family up to the present day. Despite of public outcry and attempts to prevent the closing down of the popular Finnila's Market Street bathhouse, the old bathhouse building was demolished by the owners, soon after the farewell party held in the end of December, 1985. Today, the Finnila family still owns the newly constructed Market & Noe Center building attached to Cafe Flore - which was built in place of the old bathhouse -, in the corner of Market and Noe Streets.
The one-floor venue of Cafe Flore sits at the corner of Market and Noe streets. Most of its walls facing the streets are made of windows. The cafe has a large wraparound patio on both street sides and in the late 2000s it started seating customers on the sidewalk as well. With an abundance of plants, the windows help invoke a greenhouse-style atmosphere. The patio is surrounded by planters as well.
The historic F-Market trolley-cars travel on rails along Market Street - in front of Cafe Flore -, ending their westbound runs one block down from Cafe Flore, where Market and Castro Streets cross. There, the trolley-cars turn left to 17th Street and travel around one block back to Market Street, to now head eastbound towards the San Francisco Ferry Building by the San Francisco Bay, in Embarcadero. Because of its proximity in the middle of San Francisco's Castro District and because of its glass walls, Cafe Flore is known as a good place to do general "people-watching". In early 1990s, New Colonist stated that Cafe Flore "is a de facto nexus of gay life in this town."
Awards and recognition
- 2004 “Best Cafe”
- 2005 "Best Coffeehouse";
- 2007 "Best Cafe"
- 2009 “Best Cafe"
- 2010 "Best Cafe"
- 2010 “Best Well Drinks”
- 2011 "Best Cafe", SF Bay Guardian, Bay Area Reporter (also "Best Place for a First Date"),
- 2012 "Best Cafe", SF Bay Guardian, Bay Area Reporter (also "Best Place for a First Date"),
- 2013 "Best Brunch", "Best Outdoor Patio", (and "Best Place for a First Date"), Bay Area Reporter.
- 2014 "Best Brunch",
- 2014 "Best Lunch",
- 2015 "Best Lunch", and "Best Outdoor Patio"
- "Sure, You Go to Cafe Flore to Cruise Guys. The Mac and Cheese Is Almost as Tasty" By Trevor Adams, Thu., Jun. 17 2010, SF Weekly.
- Café Society by Wilson F. Fang.
- "No Castro Halloween this year, and no official S.F. alternative", Wyatt Buchanan, August 09, 2007, San Francisco Chronicle.
- Bracco, Steven. "Castro's 43-Year-Old Brunch Favorite Cafe Flore Is For Sale". Eureka! (July/August 2016). EVNA.
- Cafe Flore - A Community Center and Good Neighbor, listing of community benefits from 2006-2007.
- "Cafe Flore", The Feast, NBC Universal, Inc. 2010.
- Bridge Round House, designed by Alfred Finnila, renovated and revealed as a suave Art Deco treat - SFGate.
- Cafe Flore Grand Opening, Mark Kliem, Lavender Lounge, February 22, 2005.
- "Cafe, chain stores win reprieve", Matthew S. Bajko, Bay Area Reporter, 12/13/2007.
- "This toddlin' town", Donna Sachet, Bay Area Reporter, 04/30/2009.
- Stevanne Auerbach. The Contest.
- "Music and Nightlife Bar Guide: Cafe Flore (Outdoor/Gay & Lesbian)", SF Weekly, Jan Richman, 2009.
- "About Cafe Flore", SF Station: A City Guide by Boulevards, 2010.
- "To Market, to Market: exploring San Franciscos ritzy, raffish heart has never been more interesting." Sunset, 01-NOV-02.
- "LOCAL GUIDE: San Francisco's Neighborhoods", Koren Capozza , 2010, Go Nomad.
- "Deductible Junkets: If You're Headed to San Francisco", Jessie Scanlon, Wired, Issue 3.01 | Jan 1995.
- "8 spots for outdoor dining", Colleen McCaffrey, San Francisco Bay Guardian, April 22, 2008.
- Readers' Poll - 2005, San Francisco Weekly, 2005.
- SF Bay Guardian Best of the Bay Readers Poll 2007.
- Best of the Bay 2009: Readers Poll Winners - Best Cafe, SF Bay Guardian, January 4, 2010.
- "Best of the Bay 2010 Readers Poll: Food and Drink", San Francisco Bay Guardian, 07.27 2010.
- Readers' Poll Winners - 2010, San Francisco Weekly, May 20, 2010.
- 2012 Best of the Gays readers' poll, http://ebar.com/botg/article.php?sec=botg&article=19
- Bay Area Reporter, http://ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=68638
- Bay Area Reporter, http://ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=68642
- Bay Area Reporter, "Best Of The Gays", http://ebar.com/botg/article.php?sec=botg&article=27
- Timberlake, Sean. "Eatin' up Besties: Dining, Best food ranges from comfort to crepes". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
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