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Arts & Entertainment

SF’s most notorious neighborhood wants you to know how great it really is

“I Love Tenderloin Week” is intended to show the hustle and the labors of love that make the city’s most misunderstood neighborhood a fascinating place. | Courtesy Alicia Tapia

A containment zone, a focal point of the fentanyl crisis, a place where governors drop by unannounced for photo ops—San Francisco’s Tenderloin is routinely dismissed as little more than a sorry collection of metaphors. But the compact, almost hyper-urban neighborhood is also home to a number of theater companies, some extraordinarily beautiful 20th century architecture and people from diverse backgrounds fighting to make it livable in spite of it all.

Enter I Love Tenderloin Week (April 30-May 6), a seven-day celebration intended to show off—flaunt, even—the remarkable history, restaurant scene and constellation of hustling do-gooders who make this neighborhood unique. 

“There seems to be so much negative media around the Tenderloin, so we’re working with a lot of community organizers and businesses to find a way to uplift the positive,” said Michael Vuong, director of Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco’s Tenderloin clubhouse. “We want to invite as many people as possible and share in the neighborhood pride.”

From happy hours to walking tours, a game night at Fluid Cooperative Cafe to a beautification drive, I Love Tenderloin Week is full of events intended to show that the immigrant-filled community has always been a place where people get a fresh start, Vuong adds. It’s got a stamp of approval from its supervisor, too. 

“The Tenderloin’s a gem,” said Preston Kilgore, legislative aide to Sup. Dean Preston, who represents the area. “And Michael goes above and beyond with the Tenderloin. He ran with it and made it happen.”

A number of the neighborhood’s players are involved, like La Cocina’s Municipal Marketplace and Cutting Ball Theater. The lauded Tenderloin Museum is hosting not one but two events.

“We’ve planned two all-star, Tenderloin history programs on two of our favorite subjects: neon and drag queens!” Alex Spoto, the museum’s program director, told The Standard. 

With a handful of exceptions—like the April 30 grand opening of The Healing WELL, a kind of yoga-centric community arts center—there’s little on the I Love Tenderloin calendar that doesn’t happen on a regular basis, Vuong noted. He compares it to another well-known event intended to showcase its varied participants.

“Look at Restaurant Week,” he said. “It’s not that restaurants don’t exist without Restaurant Week, but it’s a cool opportunity for them.”

Funding came from a few private donors and from the city’s Human Rights Commission, but the true benefactor was a white-shoe law firm headquartered in Milwaukee called Foley & Lardner. Through an employee who sits on the board of the Tenderloin Community Benefits District, the firm has donated holiday gift cards, so there was already a working relationship.

The phrase “I Love Tenderloin” may strike some ears as slightly awkward; what happened to the “the” in the neighborhood’s name? Vuong shrugged off any pedantic killjoys. 

“I’m not a language-arts major,” he said, amiably enough. “I don’t know.”

I Love Tenderloin Week

April 30-May 6

Astrid Kane can be reached at