A Coffee Shop Perks Up a Sullen Part of San Francisco

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Coffee Bar Kearny, designed by jones | haydu, adds a jolt of energy to a tired part of the city, and serves up barista culture inside a dramatic scorched-wood interior.

Kearny Street, in San Francisco’s financial district, hasn’t seen much prosperity in the past two decades. Its buildings have sat vacant, and next door is a lot that has long stood empty. So, when a coffee shop opened here, the third location of Coffee Bar, there was much to improve upon when it came to street life.

Interestingly, the cafe – designed by jones | haydu, which is also responsible for the Coffee Bar around the corner, on Montgomery Street – is built into the street’s problematic fabric. It takes up the 65-square-metre entrance to Saint Mary’s Garage across from the Bank of America plaza; after the Loma Prieta earthquake, the garage was upgraded – with a massive concrete shear wall – to better withstand seismic activity. Now, that concrete wall, which once made the property undesirable to business owners, has been opened to connect the garage to the sidewalk. Wood siding, scorched according to the Japanese technique of Shou Sugi Ban, invites patrons to hang around outside, and indicates to passersby that something new and exciting has taken up residence inside.

Inside the garage, the piping and other industrial features of the space have been left exposed. And the scorched wood recurs as the main event: it clads the walls and bar that form a frame around the baristas as they pull a perfect espresso on the Fetco machines and artfully foam a tall latte. The charred finish of the wood allows the merchandise to stand out in the recessed shelving of this shop within a shop. The blackened steel counter, which will patina over time, cantilevers dramatically on one end, where patrons can grab their coffee and go.

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