The smell of various kinds of Asian cuisine and the sound of ukuleles filled the air at the highly anticipated Sunset Night Market on Friday as attendees came out in droves to witness the pilot program’s launch.
Throngs of people walked abreast at the inaugural event along the closed portion of Irving Street from 21st to 23rd avenues, bumping into one another while scoping out activities ranging from children’s games and live music to local vendors offering an array of food and merchandise.
Estimates on the event’s attendance reached close to 10,000 people, according to Supervisor Joel Engardio, who conceived the idea after visiting a similar night market in Taiwan.
Outer Sunset resident Meghan Berry was impressed with the turnout and said the food vendor list prompted her and her husband to stop by.
“We’re looking forward to getting some food,” she said, adding that the car-free space was a breath of fresh air. “I think the idea of having the market will help businesses get more foot traffic. We definitely need more spaces like this.”
Food lines were packed at vendor tents and local restaurants, with lines stretching almost a block for the Wooly Pig and KPop Chicken booths and wait times reaching over an hour for a table inside nearby PPQ Beef Noodle House.
Engardio said many of the food vendors sold out before the event ended, which he said shows the appetite—literally and figuratively—among residents for the night market.
“We need a lot more food, which is a good problem to have,” he said. “I hope people show us grace in that we were trying something new for the first time and we’re going to improve upon it, making it bigger and better the next time.”
Edward Young Lee, a former Sunset resident who now lives in South San Francisco, said the excitement for the event went beyond the boundaries of the neighborhood.
“We had this event on our calendar for a while now,” he said, standing alongside his wife, Jan, and their two children. “Stuff like this really activates businesses and creates a sense of community and belonging.”
The market ultimately featured 80 vendors, a “dance zone” with live music and DJs, as well as a “fun zone” for children in the Walgreens parking lot on Irving Street and 22nd Avenue—one that included a foosball table, basketball hoop and inflatable slide.
According to Lee, the turnout for the night market should prompt city leaders to continue to utilize Asian businesses, not just in the Sunset but also in the entire city.
“San Francisco has a huge Asian and Asian American population,” Lee said. “This just shows that we should lean into that heritage.”
Mayor London Breed joined Engardio and presented an award to celebrity Chef Martin Yan—who earlier in the day had put on a cooking presentation for onlookers.
“A night market brings people together, makes streets safer and gives small businesses a boost—all the things we need right now in San Francisco,” Engardio said during the presentation. “We are not destined to the ‘doom loop’ on the news. We can overcome it. And we’re starting with this night market.”
As the night wore on, lines seemingly stayed packed with some residents, like Steve Gehrman, calling for an expansion of the street market past 23rd Avenue.
Gehrman, who was able to catch the end of the night market due to his schedule, ran back to his home off Irving and brought out his neon orange juggling clubs to entertain onlookers.
“We should definitely have this spread out more. It’s so crowded, but it seems like everyone is having a great time,” he said. “It should probably go another two or three blocks to spread it out.”
According to Engardio, the plan is to continue the success of the event and expand night markets to other parts of the Sunset. No dates have been set, as Engardio said his office needed to debrief on what did and didn’t work.
“We started small—three blocks—because we weren’t sure how it would work out, but we need to double it,” he said. “We definitely need to extend it two or three more blocks. Based on the feedback I got in the crowd, people were clamoring for more.”