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Fillmore Street Escape

A jazzy stretch of San Francisco let’s you shop ‘til you bop.

Eating brunch at Elite Cafe, Fillmore St., San Francisco, image
Photo credit
Photo: Catherine Karnow
Photo caption
Brunch at the Elite Cafe brings beignets, biscuits, and cornbread.

Claudio Barone, a native of Naples, Italy, just can’t help himself. "I have 5,797 chandeliers and counting," he says. Though most are in storage, more than 500—including one made of feathers and another that once lit up a Belgian bordello—dangle from the ceiling at Cottage Industry, Barone’s packed-to-the-rafters import shop on San Francisco’s Fillmore Street. With its crazy collection of chandeliers, the shop bursts with personality. Just like the street it sits on.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more varied San Francisco neighborhood for shopping, dining, and nightlife than the Upper Fillmore, centered on 10 tree-lined blocks north of Geary Boulevard. Add two Lower Fillmore blocks south of Geary—where a second location of the famed Oakland jazz club Yoshi’s and a new 6,000-square-foot Jazz Heritage Center with a screening room and an art gallery are scheduled to open at the end of November—and you’ve got the makings of a great walking weekend.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, the neighborhood was a vibrant African American community known for its jazz clubs. One of the most famous, Jimbo’s Bop City, closed in 1965. Its Victorian building was moved from Post Street around the corner to Fillmore. It now houses Marcus Books, where you can find African American titles. "Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington—all the big names played here," says bookstore manager Karen Johnson. "This room has a great vibe."

Want to try an in-the-buff Japanese communal bath? Or how about an invigorating shiatsu massage or a turmeric-and-rice scrubbing? Head to Kabuki Springs & Spa. 1750 Geary Blvd., (415) 922–6000,

In recent years, the revamped storefronts of Upper Fillmore have become a shopping destination. Check out Sunhee Moon’s colorful, clean-lined women’s fashions and Paolo’s hand-stitched men’s and women’s Italian shoes in limited editions. At Elizabeth Charles you can spend a bundle on clothes by top designers from Australia and New Zealand, while down the street at Marc by Marc Jacobs, you’ll find less pricey T-shirts and accessories such as colorful $11 flip-flops. Or join the bargain hunters at Upper Fillmore’s six resale shops, including Goodwill and the Junior League’s Next-to-New Consignment Boutique, a combined new and used emporium where on a recent day $85 would have gotten you a tan linen pantsuit by Giorgio Armani. And to complete your look, stop by Shu Uemura for mascara, eye shadow, and eyelash curlers that inspire devotion among serious makeup mavens.

For feathering your nest, Jonathan Adler designs groovy, retro-inspired home accessories, including ceramics; and at one of two Zinc Details locations you can browse international modern classic furniture, while at the other you’ll find home decor items. Epicures will love Bittersweet’s 75-plus kinds of chocolate bars, including one flavored with bacon that tastes far better than it sounds. And at O&Co., fans of Mediterranean olive oil can sample a peppery Il Fornacino from Tuscany or a nutty Laleli from Turkey before they buy.

Worked up an appetite shopping? Try the Japanese fare at Yoshi’s (the jazz club is a restaurant too), Roman trattoria favorites like cacio e pepe (pasta with pepper and pecorino) from S.P.Q.R., and daube niçoise (red wine beef stew) and other southern French dishes at Cassis.

At night, the neighborhood jumps. Catch foreign and art films at the Clay Theatre and first-run independent and art flicks at the Sundance Cinemas Kabuki, where you can reserve your stadium-style seat. Hear mainstream and indie rock concerts at the Fillmore, the auditorium where legendary San Francisco concert promoter Bill Graham got his start, and local jazz performers at Rasselas Jazz Club, which also offers an Ethiopian menu. For soulful blues, it doesn’t get any better than the Boom Boom Room, a dark, intimate club where, oddly enough, a wine-colored glass chandelier from a Belgian bordello wouldn’t look entirely out of place.

Visit the Jazz Heritage Center at 1320 Fillmore St., (415) 255-7745,

This article was first published in November 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.