The literally decade-long saga surrounding a single empty property in the Castro will enter its next and most certainly not final chapter later this fall when the Planning Commission will decide whether the former Patio Café space at 531 Castro can become a new branch of drag bar/burger joint Hamburger Mary's. Property owner Les Natali, who also owns Castro bars Badlands and Toad Hall, has sat on the property, much to the chagrin of many in the neighborhood, claiming for years that San Francisco bureaucracy (and not his own stubbornness) was preventing him from reopening the restaurant, which closed in 2002. Now, as the Bay Area Reporter tells us, Natali will get his hearing before the Planning Commission on December 4, at which point he'll be arguing that he should be allowed to bring the Hamburger Mary's chain back to San Francisco where it started, even though it technically qualifies as formula retail and would be banned at that location under current law.
We first learned of Natali's plan back in February, at which point Natali was arguing that Hamburger Mary's isn't a "typical" formula retail chain because employees don't have to wear certain uniforms, etc. Also, what began as a kitschy, gay-friendly burger spot in SoMa in 1972 has grown into a small nationwide franchise with 11 total locations, including a still popular one in West Hollywood. 11, though, is the magic number when it comes to S.F.'s formula retail regulations, meaning that Hamburger Mary's is right on the line and has to go before Planning for a conditional use permit.
While some are going to argue that anything is better than nothing at this long-empty space, which has created some deadened blight on what was once a more lively block of the Castro, some in the local neighborhood organization have already argued that there are already a dozen places in the neighborhood at which to get a burger, and Natali has been presented with any number of other options for the space over the last 12 years. Update: A member of the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association writes in to note that in a vote of 60 percent of its membership, an overwhelming 3-to-1 majority voted in favor of Hamburger Mary's coming in.
You can expect that even if Natali gets his permit to open, it could still be appealed by others in the neighborhood. This should get interesting.