History of the Atlas Cafe

Twenty years ago the Northeast Mission around 20th Street and Alabama was a very different place.  An old bar called El Vaquero had been closed by the SFPD, and the Alcoholic Beverage Control bureau was going to make sure that a bar didn’t reopen in its place.

By all accounts it was a pretty rough joint. The neighborhood with many old empty warehouses and rundown homes still had lots of gang activity, drugs and crime.  Even the locals, consisting mainly of immigrant families, artists and students were afraid to walk around after dark.  

The garage behind the old bar became a place to fix motorcycles for a group of friends and old bike enthusiasts, and the friends held barbecues and brought their friends over.  Sometimes the guys would have a rockabilly or country band come over to play in the back yard. But the bar building sat empty.

Then Bill Stone, one of the friends and former owner of the popular Soma restaurant/bar The Ace Cafe, got an idea.  Why not open a café, sort of a community center in the old bar, a place where people could drink coffee, have some snacks, and hang out and maybe hear a band in the evening?


Twenty years ago the Atlas Café was born, and it turned out the neighborhood really needed a place like Atlas Café. The local residents and workers from nearby businesses that were scattered among the empty warehouses were happy to have a place to hang out and get great coffee and food, and they turned out in force.

In the years since that time, other businesses such as Blowfish, Southern Exposure gallery, and Flour & Water gingerly put down roots and found that they, too, could do okay.  Now there are quite a few cafes, restaurants, art studios and bars in the area now called by some the 20th street corridor.  Atlas is still going strong and very well known for it’s great food, casual atmosphere and music.

July 16, 2016 the Atlas Café celebrated its 20th anniversary with a barbecue, live music, beer and coffee tastings, photos of the old days, a DJ, and Manny, Moe, and Jack, the famous 3 dogs from the Doggie Diner chain, who were there to bless the event, too. 


Here's to 20 more years of one of San Francisco's favorite meeting spots, the Atlas Cafe.




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