Internet Mandarins do Waterfront Chic

The City of San Francisco, pioneer of tie-dye, the gay ghetto and environmentalism now brings you waterfront chic.

By Bobby Winston 
Published: September, 2000

The City of San Francisco, pioneer of tie-dye, the gay ghetto and environmentalism now brings you waterfront chic.

Once again, the City is at the cutting edge of a radical departure in how people live, work and play. The waterfront is "in", just starting to take off big-time, and there’s no better place to see this phenomena in action than at the beautiful new Lapis Restaurant at Pier 33.

Until quite recently, political leaders all around the Bay had little use for the waterfront and even viewed it as dangerous, most likely because unionism festered there. As a result the waterfront was often literally a dump (look for large mounds at waterside all around the Bay – they’re covering open-air landfills closed not so long ago). In the case of San Francisco, planners vandalized the waterfront by installing the Embarcadero Freeway, a supremely ugly concrete slab that slashed across the City’s underbelly – and deep into its aesthetic soul — effectively splitting the community from the Bay.

The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake was certainly a terrible disaster but we should be thankful for one thing: it brought down the Embarcadero Freeway. San Francisco, reconnected with the Bay, is experiencing an exciting revival of its waterfront that is a harbinger of the "post freeway" era.

California is about to hit rock bottom with its addiction to cars and freeways. You could pave over every square inch of California — and pass out space suits to deal with the resulting air pollution — and you’d still have gridlock.

People need a different way to live and work. And what’s happening on the San Francisco waterfront is a preview of how that’s going to be.

City planners, architects and world class entrepreneurs are laying plans for a return to the 

past, to a time when it was possible to commute via trains and ferries from pretty much anyplace in the Bay Area to anyplace else. But there is nothing nostalgic or anachronistic about these plans; they involve cutting edge economic and telecommunications concepts that serve the crème de la crème of the Internet warrior class.

At the heart of these plans: compact communities with exciting and worthwhile destinations instead of soulless, car-dependent suburban sprawl. What better place for these communities of the not-so-distant future than the waterfront?

And not just because that’s where you find the best views, but also because the waterfront is convenient to all modes of transit. Importantly, ferries prove that public transportation is not just for within big cities; significant numbers of folks joyfully commute from relatively small communities such as Alameda, Vallejo and Sausalito to San Francisco every day.

And when they get to San Francisco, what do they find? Well, right now they find a drab, barely utilitarian ferry terminal, but that’s about to change dramatically for the better with the opening of the glamorous San Francisco Ferry Terminal, just weeks away.

Lapis exemplifies the "new waterfront". Located on Pier 33, not far from Fisherman’s Wharf in distance but worlds away in style, Lapis follows in the footsteps of the elegant "new waterfront" pioneer Waterfront restaurant and represents a case study of what we can expect more of – lots more of – on waterfronts all around the Bay, not just in San Francisco.

The dream child of high-tech mandarins Sheila and Seifi Zaki (she’s Director of Finance at Cisco Systems, he’s a high-tech success story in his own right), Lapis reeks style, elegance and

good taste. Taking over a "problemed" spaced that has seen several restaurants quickly come and go, the Zaki’s, with the able assistance of long-time San Francisco restaurant pro Steven Smith (see inset), have shown that they’re as savvy at picking important lifestyle trends as they are at picking killer jobs. Doesn’t it just make you sick?

We decided to write about Lapis because of what it represents in terms of the emerging new waterfront – hip new place, exciting design, glamorous ownership. But in the course of preparing this article we’ve had a chance to taste the food (bless their hearts) and we’re here to tell you: it’s great.

However sluttish it may be journalistically, this writer feels compelled to evangelize the Nicoise salad. It’s truly magnificent. I’ve been there five times now, and have ordered it every time. Since I’ve thrown pride out the window, why not point out that the service is sublime; understated excellence a’ la the late, great Square One (run by the sainted Joyce Goldstein). You simply can’t go wrong checking out Lapis – and it’s not even that expensive.

In the coming months, Bay Crossings will be looking at more examples of the "new waterfront", not only in San Francisco but all around the Bay. Until then, if you’re looking for us you can find us sitting by a dock on the bay – bone dry Vodka martini in hand – at the extraordinary Lapis restaurant on Pier 33.