Urban Pharm: Opaque origins at SoMa’s steampunk pot shop
For one glorious week each summer San Francisco is transformed. Every year, hordes of obsessive festival goers flee the city, making the trek to the Nevada desert for a drug-fueled celebration of life-sized Rube Goldberg machines, adult tutus, and sand-caked ass cracks. For some, Burning Man is a spiritual awakening, an escape from the pressures of Bay Area living. For those of us who prefer a quiet commute to tripping tits-out on the Playa, though, it’s an escape of another kind. For that one sweet week, San Francisco becomes just a bit less congested and a bit more livable.
When it comes to Burning Man, San Francisco is a city divided: You’re either a burner or you’re not. If we had to guess, we’d say the owners of Urban Pharm are the former. Just a short walk from Civic Center, SoMa’s own steampunk pot oasis comes complete with over-engineered bar stools, circus signage, indoor log cabin facades, and a rusty metalwork flying pig. Love it or hate it, this is the Burning Man of weed shops.
Luckily, the steampunk fantasy stops at the decor. Neither the staff nor the clientele looks or smells like they’ve been tripping balls for eight days straight without a shower. Quite to the contrary. While we’re split on the looks of this place – Reena thinks it’s fun, like an amusement park and I, well, I shouldn’t say what I really think – we’re agreed about the experience. The staff is pleasant and knowledgeable; the retail experience is frictionless; and the consumption lounge is clean and lively.
The menu is heavy on concentrates, and there’s a decent amount of wax too. They even have a cannabis wine, although we’re not sure we’d call it that. Without the alcohol, isn’t it just infused grape juice? As for the flower, much of it comes from North Country Pharms, part of a family of companies that also includes Urban Pharm and North Star Holistic, a Sacramento dispensary.
During our visit, we opted for a THC-heavy hybrid pre-roll and hit the lounge. Well, “lounge” maybe overselling it a bit. The space is more like a hallway with a row of bar stools facing a wall. There’s a row of seating on the opposite wall and at the end of the hall, a dab bar. The lounge was bumping even before the five o’clock rush and, from the sound of it, many of the clients were regulars. It’s clear Urban Pharm has attracted a following with its bold aesthetic and solid service, but who’s responsible?
Neither the staff nor the clientele looked or smelled like they’d been tripping balls for eight days straight without a shower.
Quite to the contrary.
According to the shop’s website, the founders are “multiple cannabis cup award winners who foster a cannabis culture like no other dispensary in the country.” Not only is that a mouthful, but it’s basically all the info you’re going to get. Whether from a lack of marketing prowess or a desire for anonymity, there’s no origin story to back this crazy place up. Aside from a single SF Weekly article that claims its owners evicted a preexisting dispensary to open shop, the press here is thin.
Urban Pharm regularly shows up in local and national media. It frequently appears on dispensary top ten lists and it has a 4.5 out of 5 on WeedMaps. For all of the attention this place receives, though, we still don’t know much about the company or the people behind it. The aforementioned founders don’t appear in the media or on the site’s social accounts, which, for a place as unique as this, seems like a big miss.
Just a few blocks away, dispensaries like Sparc and Vapor Room are cashing in on unique histories. Their owners appear frequently in the media, touting deep roots and commitment to community. Through social media, formal marketing, and outreach they’ve cultivated brands based in storytelling.
At most of the city’s dispensaries you can get a sense for who you’re giving your money to and what they stand for. At Urban Pharm, you get a flying pig in aviation goggles. I won’t speak for all of us when I say airborne swine isn’t what I’m looking for in a dispensary. It’s true: steampunk is 100 percent not my scene, but I can appreciate committing to a look and Urban Pharm has done just that. It has the Burning Man aesthetic on lock. It also has a dedicated and friendly staff, a busy dab bar, and a regular clientele.
On the surface, it’s not lacking much, but what’s missing is worth considering.