As the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love draws near, we're running a series of stories that look back at some of the people and places most associated with the countercultural movement.
Fifty years ago, Connie’s Restaurant served more than West Indian and African food from 1466 Haight St.—it was also a favorite haunt of intellectuals like playwright Tennessee Williams and African-American author James Baldwin.
Founded in 1962 by Connie Williams, a immigrant from Trinidad, most of the restaurant’s staff were people of color.
According to The San Francisco Underground Gourmet, a dining guide by R.B. Read targeted at the sandals-and-beads demographic, Connie’s was a “spacious, rangy place with very high ceilings” with “just the right degree of disrepair.”
Lit only with candles, nothing on the menu was a la carte; gumbo and beef curry—along with “soup, salad, entree with fresh vegetables dessert and coffee” — was priced at $2.75, nearly $20 in 2017 dollars. A bottle of California table wine went for $3 or less.
Renowned restaurateur and food writer Ruth Reichl visited Connie’s in the summer of 1967, “with flowers in my hair,” she recalled on her blog.
When she revisited her hippie dining guide years later, however, “I was stopped cold by Read’s description of the impact the influx of hippies had on the neighborhood," she recalled.
The crowds and spectacle associated with the Haight’s hippies took such a toll on business, Williams was considering throwing in the towel during the Summer of Love.
“The general public, it appears, is so bugged by the hippy scene on Haight that nobody but her regulars and the most daring newcomers will venture near the place," Read wrote. "If things don’t change, she’s got to move before she goes broke.”
Apparently, hippies didn’t eat at Connie’s.
“Dinner, as we think of it, is much too ornate a concept for them to entertain, except in derision’ and they have other, less sustaining uses for whatever money they come by," reported the Underground Gourmet.
On July 26, 1967, then-Mayor John F. Shelley dined at Connie’s as part of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council’s “Meet Your Mayor Night,” The Chronicle reported the next day in a story titled, “The Mayor’s Hippieland Trip.”
As the mayor “faced the well-dressed group” inside the restaurant, “the occasional sounds of the beat of a bongo drum, the tinkle of a hippie’s bells [and] the lilt of a girl’s laugh” could be heard inside.
During the discussion, Shelley told attendees that the Haight was “perhaps the most changed” of any San Francisco neighborhood. During a question and answer period, one young bearded man asked the mayor who he was “so negative” about hippies.
“I’ll be very honest,” said Shelley. “I don’t like trips, and I don’t like smoking pot. I’ve seen a few young kids at San Francisco General with permanent brain damage from trips. I haven’t the answer of how they can be reached.”
By February 1969, Connie’s had relocated to 1909 Fillmore St., where it operated for several years and was frequently a venue for African-American cultural events.
“We were so blithely thoughtless,” wrote Reichl.
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