But this year's fair, scheduled for June 10th, is in limbo. And the neighborhood vibe is not mellow. Several community groups have joined with the police (aka the Man) in an attempt to reign in the bacchanalia. Disgruntled neighbors say the fair turns the street into a filthy pit, packed with zealous drinkers who are plastered by midafternoon. One merchant complains that he has had people pass out inside the store and a Haight resident reports "rivers of urine" on Waller Street during last year's fair.
"We don't want it to be so out of control," says Cheryl Brodie of the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association.
Her faction has picked up some surprising supporters like Jim Siegel, who has run Distractions, a head shop on Haight Street, for 31 years. He's still part of the counterculture, he says; his store is a ticket outlet for Burning Man. Siegel says he has been accused of "siding with the the rich bourgeoisie," but that he's tired of the fair's liquor-soaked atmosphere. A few years ago, a drunk came into his store and puked all over a rack of clothing, ruining $1,000 worth of merchandise.
In previous years, revelers could stroll from Masonic Avenue to Stanyan Street with open containers in hand. To contain the carousing, Brodie and others are advocating fenced-off "beer gardens."
But the fair's organizers oppose confining the boozing to beer gardens, which is why the city hasn't yet granted them a street closure permit. Flip Sarrow, a member of the fair's board, argues that the gardens would "change the character of the fair" by making people feel like deviants who needed to be corralled and supervised. At a recent community meeting, many residents echoed Sarrow's concerns, and added that public drunkenness is an integral part of the event. One young guy confessed to the crowd, "I've been going to the fair and drinking beer since I was 14."
All the current over-consumption of legal intoxicants makes us nostalgic for a simpler time 40 years ago when all people did was smoke weed, drop acid, and get naked.