Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on February 12, 2017
In Their Words: The Van Ness Mickey D's And MeMickey D's at Van Ness and Golden Gate. | Photo: Fred Y./Yelp

[Editor’s note: Hoodline occasionally publishes first-person stories from locals about their memories of their neighborhood and beyond. Have a story? Just let us know more—email [email protected].]

Shaquina Blake, an IT professional turned multi-media journalist, grew up in The Fillmore in the '80s and '90s. She has a travel blog at Travelista TV and is a contributor for The Guardian US, and

In Shaquina's Words

It seems fitting that the McDonald's at 600 Van Ness Ave. will soon be converted into a mixed-used development. The city is transforming from a seaside town that reveled in counter-cultural liberalism to a booming technopolis, with shiny 21st-century monuments of glass and steel replacing our quaint 20th-century icons.

 My first memory of the corner of Van Ness and Golden Gate Avenue is of the Doggie Diner that stood on the west side of the intersection. Doggie Diner was the Bay Area’s own fast-food chain, and its seven-foot fiberglass Dachshund head was its enduring mascot. The spot served hamburgers and hot dogs, reaching peak popularity around mid-century, which was a bit early for me.

Doggie Diner on at 601 Van Ness Ave. | Photo: 

Before I got the chance to gobble down my first dog, the Doggie Diner head came down, and in 1978 the Golden Arches went up across the street, a conglomerate replacing a local chain to serve the next generation's fast-food needs. 

It’s hard to overstate the excitement for kids when a McDonald's is built in your neighborhood. Sure, we had haunts like Family’s on Divisadero and Powell’s in Hayes Valley, which in truth served a better burger, but McDonald's was something special. For kids, the very mention of McDonald's sparked dreams of Happy Meals and birthday parties with Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar. And as we grew older, we imagined an infinite supply of Big Macs and endless hours spent hanging out in McDonald's booths, chatting with friends. 

How I imagined my birthdays would be. | AnnainCA/Youtube

I don’t actually remember the first time I ate at the Van Ness McDonald’s, but I do remember the first time I went unaccompanied by an adult. It was 1984, and the last day of fifth grade at Sacred Heart Elementary. It was a half-day, so we could go for lunch after school ended. And it was also "free dress day," so I could wear whatever I wanted.  

I was pretty excited, to say the least, and I couldn’t sleep the night before the big day. It was going to be just like the commercials: hanging after school with my friends, just like older kids did on TV. We might even call it "Micky D's"! 

That day, I dressed in my best '80s-era pastels, and I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. I  skipped down the Fell St. Hill, giggled my way through the Fillmore until we reached the outskirts of the TL and arrived at the McDonald's.  

My notion of going to McDonald's as a pre-teen. | VintageCOmPlus/Youtube 

The Van Ness location differed from the commercials, however. For starters, it wasn't exactly kid-friendly. The restaurant was surrounded by government buildings, bordered downtown and was adjacent to the very adult-oriented Polk Street of the '80s.  

Instead of the tweens and teens that filled the seats, our Mickey D's reflected the eclecticism of the city in those years. The patrons were families, but also office workers, tourists, and the eccentric and sometimes odd characters of Polk and Van Ness. Our McDonald's swapped suburban wholesomeness with city cool: picture punk-rock kids instead of Ronald McDonald and leather-clad hunks instead of the Hamburglar.

Sometimes, the place was outright weird, like the time my family and I looked up from eating Big Macs from those styrofoam boxes only to be greeted by the crack of a grown man's exposed ass. Luckily, he never turned around.  

Say no to "crack" and yes to burgers in styrofoam. | PHOTO: EBAY  

But on that last day of fifth grade, it was quiet. We arrived between lunch and dinner hours on a school day, so we kind of had the place to ourselves, the stars of our own McDonald's commercial. We slid into a booth and shared giggles and gossip, slurped shakes and nibbled on fries. It was the start of the summer, so we lingered a bit. The next year would be junior high, and some of us would be going to different schools. That day was my coming of age: I was officially a big kid.

As the years rolled on, Burger King, Round Table and Taco Bell arrived in the surrounding blocks, and in the Fillmore, we got our own Mickey D's at Fillmore and Golden Gate. As I had more options, my visits to the Van Ness location were less frequent.

The last time I remember eating there was sometime in the '90s. I was back from college, and I ate on the second floor (because that area wasn't always open, it was a bit of a treat). It was warm summer day, and I reveled in the freedom of being a young adult, while at the same time feeling comforted by the food of my childhood.

Photo: Fred Y./Yelp

I was saddened to come home in 2015, and find the Van Ness McDonald's boarded up and vandalized. My friends told me that just as our youth faded, so had our beloved eatery. It hadn't updated with the times, and before it closed, was badly in need of some TLC.

 As San Francisco continues its rush into the future, it makes sense that the 20th-century icon makes way for 21st-century housing. It's progress. But the kid inside me, wearing '80s-era pastel clothes, yearns to sit at the booth on Van Ness street one more time: hanging with my friends on the second floor, chomping down burgers from a styrofoam box, and feeling like I had finally made it.