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Mission Implacable 

Peter Glikshtern used a tire iron on four interlopers in his Mission District bar. Then he beat their lawyer's attempt to make the fight a political caues.

Wednesday, Jul 5 2000

Page 2 of 4

To Ramirez, Glikshtern and his bar were symbols of the forces pushing Latino immigrants out of their neighborhood. It was enough that Glikshtern looked like the enemy that had moved roughshod into the Mission. But though a new privileged class is publicly flaunting its disposable income and its whiteness in the barrio, Glikshtern wasn't going to be blamed for the negative side effects of the local economic boom. He fought back.

"Enrique Ramirez thought he could ride the backlash of gentrification and galvanize around the fact I'm a white guy and a bar owner. He was looking for a scapegoat and saw me as a goddamn meal ticket," Glikshtern says. "Here I had made it and had a good thing going, and he wanted to take it from me in an opportunistic way. Of course I was going to fight. He was unfortunate in picking me as his target."

Ramirez lost his case in April. His biggest mistake was trying to make an example of the wrong man. "It's a stretch to say I'm a racist," Glikshtern says.

When Glikshtern and his family lived in Ukraine, they shared a flat with five other families. Jews in the Communist Soviet Union didn't get good jobs or into good universities, and were among the last to be assigned housing by the ruling party. "It was like being black in America before the civil rights movement," Glikshtern says. His family fled their hometown of Odessa and came to the United States claiming religious persecution. Though he was only 10 when he moved to San Francisco in 1979, Glikshtern understood he would have a better life here. And though he still had to share a home with a Russian family in the Richmond District -- and his mother had to buy his shoes on the $1.99 rack at Safeway -- compared to life in the Soviet Union, "it was luxury."

Growing up in San Francisco, Glikshtern was often teased for being different. "I got my ass kicked because I spoke funny," he says. At first he didn't know any English and struggled for a long time with language skills. His parents weren't much better, but his father was trained as an engineer and was able to get a job. "We weren't doing great, but we weren't on the street," he says.

In high school Glikshtern began practicing judo, excelling so much that he was invited to train for the Olympics. Those hopes weren't realized. But he attended UC Berkeley, earning degrees in political science and Russian literature. As a young man, he was also a constant presence in the Mission, shooting hoops on the neighborhood's basketball courts and hanging out in its bars, making strong local friendships years before gentrification was even a thought. In his 20s, he worked as a financial analyst for Oracle and made a comfortable living. But Glikshtern, with his ever-so-slightly spiked hair and slim goatee, looks like he belongs in a punk band. He is a club creature at heart, and wanted to apply his business acumen to the nightlife he enjoyed so much. Visiting underground bars in New York, he knew there would be a demand for such clubs in San Francisco. So at 27, borrowing $10,000 from his parents, maxing out two credit cards, and using his savings from Oracle, he bought Liquid.

For the inexperienced Glikshtern, the Mission was the perfect place to open his first business. In 1997, storefronts in the worst parts of the neighborhood were cheap; he paid just $25,000 for Liquid, far less money than he would've had to invest doing the same thing in a more developed neighborhood.

Glikshtern was gambling that people frequenting Valencia Street's new hot spots would be willing to venture into the more dicey parts of the Mission. At first, they refused to walk any farther than the corner of Valencia and 16th streets, opting to take cabs the few short blocks to Liquid. But they came, and Glikshtern's bar was a hit.

Now he owns two popular bars. He has matured as a businessman and personally, marrying last year and becoming a father to an 8-year-old Latina stepdaughter. He is buying a house in Berkeley; a new baby is on the way. And as president of the Mission Merchants Association, he presides over meetings in a button-down oxford shirt -- untucked, naturally. At 30, Glikshtern is serious about his aspirations for the neighborhood, which include his vision of the intersection of 16th and Mission streets being the gateway to a "Miracle Mile" of shops and businesses. "I want the Earth to stop on its axis and revolve around the Mission," he says. "As for my business, I wanted for the Mission exactly what happened. I wanted the pimps and hookers and dealers to go away. I really had faith that things would improve." He boasts that the two storefronts next to Liquid, which were vacant for a decade, are now locally and Latino-owned businesses: a bicycle repair shop and a Salvadoran restaurant. "Not your typical gentrification joints," he says. "Maybe you can say I cracked the door for gentrification, but at the same time I helped open the door for others."

Glikshtern is also quick to deflect any responsibility for the upheaval so many people in the Mission are upset about, saying larger market forces -- like a runaway economy and a housing crunch -- are to blame. He likes to point out that in the first few years the Valencia corridor was being turned into a nighttime hot spot, there was no massive residential displacement in the Mission.

About The Author

Joel P. Engardio


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