Vapor Room review: A little bit of Brooklyn in SoMa
This is not a bodega. Despite what they might tell you at the door, Vapor Room is actually a carefully curated weed boutique in a mostly commercial part of downtown San Francisco where junkies, tourists, and suits compete for sidewalk space five days a week.
In a previous life, Vapor Room was a medical marijuana dispensary in the Lower Haight, serving free weed to low-income patients under the Compassionate Use Act. In the windowless bottom floor of an old Victorian, its owners created a comfortable neighborhood hang where patients consumed cannabis freely. For close to a decade, Vapor Room, like so many prohibition-era dispensaries, operated without interference. Then the feds came in. In 2012, the DEA and the IRS combined efforts to take down hundreds of California dispensaries. Vapor Room was no exception. After eight years in business, the shop was forced to close.
Now, seven years later, Vapor Room is back and it’s nearly unrecognizable. The space is small but airy. The staff is young and hip. The selection, though limited, is deliberate. The Vapor Room of today has done away with its early aughts hippy aesthetic, trading it in for a taste of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The new Vapor Room, with its marble cafe tables, brass and glass fixtures, and light wood display cases looks like it was plucked out of one of New York’s gentrified boroughs and plopped down on the still very rough streets of SoMa. But this isn’t bodega Brooklyn. This is boutique Brooklyn, and while the two exist simultaneously, they are not the same thing. Yes you can shop off the shelf like you would at one of those quintessential New York corner stores, but the bodega comparisons stop there. This is a weed boutique, plain and simple.
When The Grass Agency visited on an early Wednesday afternoon, we were greeted at the door by a lanky, laid back fellow who took our IDs and introduced us to the open shopping concept. We spent the next fifteen minutes perusing the shelves, talking casually with the three employees on the floor about the shop’s history, some of their more unusual products (Did you know Dr. Bronner is getting into the weed game?), and the origins of Bob Saget (the Sativa-dominant hybrid, not the comedian).
The shop’s owners have emphasized the importance of locally sourced, sungrown, and sustainable products, but there’s still plenty of indoor weed on the shelves here. You’ll see flower from Northern California heavyweights like Flow Kana and Sherbinski, which actually got its start selling to Vapor Room in the Lower Haight. There’s a whole wall dedicated to edibles, with everything from your standard gummies to Potli’s infused chili oil. You won’t necessarily find everything you’re looking for – the shop’s owner, Martin Olive told Cannabis Now, he’s not trying to run the “Walmart of weed” – but, if you’re as curious as we are, you won’t walk away empty handed either.
We ended up with a small bottle of Potli, a pack of Brother David’s Pineapple Punch pre-rolls, an eighth of Sherbinski’s Pink Panties, a Grizzly Peak pre-roll, and a canvas tote bag that reads “Good, Green, Grass.”
We would have stuck around to light up – the café-style seating next to the large store-front window is warm and inviting – but just as we were handing over a fist full of cash something strange happened. We’d glanced away momentarily to snap a quick picture of some branding near the counter, when Olive popped out of the back with a clear look of frustration on his face.
“Can you not take so many pictures? We have a policy about that!” he scolded.
“That’s funny …” we responded, taken aback by his clear frustration. We waited for someone to step in: the woman who helped us on the floor, the dude ringing us up, maybe the door guy who gave us express permission to take pictures in the first place? But nothing. Before we knew it, Olive was gone and the store’s staff continued on like nothing happened. We put our phones away, paid our bill, and made a beeline for the exit.
When we came in, the door guy had given us the go-ahead to snap at will, and, out of common courtesy, we’d avoided getting anyone in our shots. The staff didn’t seem to care where we aimed our cameras, but something was not sitting right with Olive. With his drive-by reprimand, he turned an inviting space into a din of awkwardness.
We get that there’s sensitivity to photography in this business. Whether it’s a holdover from the days when federal crackdowns were a real threat or a nod to patient privacy, not everyone’s cool with you taking a selfie in their space. We respect that and we respect the hard work put in by cannabis pioneers like Olive, but we just can’t get down with the hostility.
No, this is not a bodega, but up until that moment we would have agreed with this description from the store’s website: “Vapor Room is San Francisco’s friendly neighborhood cannabis dispensary.”
Ultimately, Vapor Room is a beautiful space with a pleasant, if not unique, aesthetic. It’s staff is well-trained, knowledgeable, and cool. The selection and intention are deliberate, even admirable. We won’t write Vapor Room off because of one awkward interaction; it’s been around far too long and has way too much history to forget. We just wish the vision for this space matched up with our experience.