Best of the Bay 2008
This mid-Market foodie haven proves that industrial-chic decor, organic ingredients, and a kick-ass oyster bar are a timeless combo.
1658 Market, SF. (415) 552-2522, www.zunicafe.com
Gold Dust Lounge
World-class jazz, absurdly low happy hour prices, and a storied history have kept the Gold Dust a Union Square mainstay since 1933.
247 Powell, SF. (415) 397-1695
BEST MUSIC ORGANIZATION
Community Music Center
With campuses in the Richmond and Mission districts, the Community Music Center has been making music education accessible to all since 1921.
544 Capp, SF. (415) 647-6015, www.sfcmc.org
BEST ARTS ORGANIZATION
Intersection for the Arts
The Bay Area's original alternative arts venue, Intersection for the Arts, has been going against the grain since 1965.
446 Valencia, SF. (415) 626-2787, www.theintersection.org
BEST RETAIL SHOP
City Lights Bookstore: Best Classic Retail Shop
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY ARLENE ROMANA
City Lights Bookstore
Responsible for legitimizing the paperback and making San Francisco the center of the literary universe, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's North Beach shop remains fiercely independent.
261 Columbus, SF. (415) 362-8193, www.citylights.com
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco's postcard perfect landmark, only northern exit, and beacon for destination suicides, this iconic suspension bridge has been rockin' that orange vermillion hue since 1937.
Hwys. 101 and 1, SF. www.goldengate.org
BEST HISTORICAL BUILDING
Coit Tower, the art deco phallic symbol on Telegraph Hill, has been proudly crowning San Francisco since 1933.
1 Telegraph Hill, SF. (415) 362-0808
BEST RESOURCE FOR BAY AREA HISTORY
San Francisco City Guides
This all-volunteer army of local history buffs doles out free walking tours that delve deep into the heart of San Francisco's past.
100 Larkin, SF. (415) 557-4266, www.sfcityguides.org
BEST CLASSIC AUTHOR
Armistead "Teddy Bear" Maupin's iconic Tales of the City newspaper series has been published in novel form, turned into a television series, and translated into 10 languages.
BEST CLASSIC ARTIST
The driving force behind the West Coast's flirtation with figurative painting by way of abstract impressionism, Diebenkorn found inspiration in his Berkeley surroundings.
BEST CLASSIC MUSICIAN
Revered by guitar buffs, fusion enthusiasts, and stoners everywhere, Santana began his career during the peak of the '60s rock era and produced the last No. 1 single of the 20th century ("Smooth").
BEST CLASSIC ACTIVIST
With his tie-dyed armor, clown nose, and perpetual force field of bubbles, Wavy Gravy — living ice cream flavor, Woodstock MC, and '60s impresario — now flies his activist freak flag over Camp Winnarainbow.
BEST CLASSIC POLITICIAN
As the first openly gay man elected to public office, Milk helped usher in a new politics — smashing glass ceilings for minority candidates everywhere, igniting the local LGBT rights movement, and establishing San Francisco as a town without closet doors.
BEST SONG ABOUT SAN FRANCISCO
"I Left My Heart in San Francisco"
Whether it's Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra crooning about the fog that chills the air and the little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars, there's nary a dry eye when this tune climaxes.
BEST FILM MADE OR SET IN SAN FRANCISCO
In this 1958 gumshoe thriller, Hitchcock introduced the world to San Francisco the character, complete with impossibly steep hills, panoramic views, and gorgeous architecture.
BEST LAST OF THE RED-HOT DADAS
Alternative theater is a precarious vocation at best, even in an alternative kind of town. Venues come and go, companies founder and fold, everyone wants to move to New York, and hardly anyone breaks even. Despite the tough climate, one stalwart survivor of the downtown downturn continues to expand — and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The EXIT Theatre has been a haven for experimental small productions since its 1983 inaugural performance in the lobby of a nearby residential hotel, and has supported the advancing artistic endeavors of a host of Bay Area faves including mugwumpin, RIPE, Cutting Ball, Art Street Theatre, Crowded Fire, Banana Bag and Bodice, foolsFURY, stealth DIVA Sean Owens, and master illusionist Christian Cagigal. Founder and host of the annual San Francisco Fringe Festival, the EXIT attracts performers and audiences from around the world. Additional festivals such as the DIVAfest, Labor Fest, and the fondly remembered Absurdity Theatre Festival keep them coming back for more.
EXIT Theatre, 156 Eddy, SF. (415) 673-3847, www.theexit.org
BEST BAND-AIDS FOR BRUISED FANS
In a mega-festival concert world where a bottle of water can cost more than $5, we're lucky to have Rock Medicine, a nonprofit emergency response service celebrating its 35th anniversary that hands out earplugs, patches up cuts and scrapes, and gets over-excited and dehydrated kids back to the show — all for free. Made up of volunteer paramedics, doctors, and other helpful, rockin' citizens, the Rock Medicine program is run by the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, part of the free love legacy of the 1960s. As the concerts of the famous era got bigger and more and more kids flocked to the Bay Area, concert mogul Bill Graham contacted clinic head Skip Gaye, and Rock Medicine was born. Now the organization tries to be present at every humongous musical shindig that takes place, with representatives usually located at a table bearing a giant jug of Gatorade. Rest assured, you'll never surf the mosh pit without some helpful medical back-up.
BEST PLACE TO SCORE CRANK
Laughing Sal at Musée Mécanique:
Best Place to Score Crank
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY ARLENE ROMANA
In the style of London's Madame Tussauds or the Musée de la Magie of Paris, San Francisco's own Musée Mécanique is dedicated to exhibiting the beauty of childhood esoterica. Dan Zelinsky's private collection of hand-cranked musical instruments, antique arcade machines, and automated guignols — many that date from the turn of the century — give visitors a wondrous pre-digital toy experience. Among the many objets d'art, highlights include the automated Drinking Man, who imbibes spirits at the drop of a quarter only to have the liquid recirculate to the cup through his arm; Naughty Marietta, who is seen through the hand-cranked Cail-O-Scope in various states of undress; Laffing Sal, one of the most famous and frightening exhibits purely because of her laugh, and the Orchestrion, a mechanical orchestra that plays a hideously enchanting racket. While some may find these strange machines and life-like dolls less entertaining than disturbing, the Tim Burton weirdo in us adores them.
Pier 45, shed A, Fisherman's Wharf, SF. (415) 346-2000, www.museemechanique.org
BEST REHAB TRACK RECORD
Most rehab centers are cushy, designed for spoiled brats whose parents, managers, or partners are so sick of desperate phone calls and missing jewelry they'll pay any price for a month of addict-free peace. But what addicts really need is a place that takes no shit and offers real results, providing a path to self-sustenance and a community dedicated to change. That's what the Delancey Street Foundation, a privately-funded rehab center, has been supplying to San Francisco's hard life crowd for more than three decades. Unlike many other such facilities where the failure rate is as hopeless as Britney Spears' attempt to raise children, Delancey Street boasts a 98 percent success rate. And it's free. All you have to do is show up and prove your dedication to self-improvement. If you pass the test, you're given a room and an apprenticeship at one of the organization's 12 former-addict-run enterprises. Selling Christmas trees, frothing lattes, and moving furniture may not be a catered month by the ocean, but it works.
600 Embarcadero, SF. (415) 957-9800, www.delanceystreetfoundation.org
BEST PANGLOBAL WHIRL
Where can you see a hip-hop dance troupe, a moving human sculpture in Indian classical style, and a Scottish highland romp dedicated to the Celtic god of fire, all in the same short weekend? The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival was founded in 1978, the first city-funded multicultural dance event in the country. Since then it's played host to some 14,000 artists performing in more than 100 genres at various locales. This year the festival celebrated its 30th anniversary with flair, expanding its season to four weekends and adding new programming, like film screenings and dance classes. A $100,000 grant enabled festival directors to fly artists in from overseas for the first time. Sadly, Ethnic Dance Fest comes but once a year, but the auditions held in January at the Palace of Fine Arts are open to the public — audience members can expect a standing-room-only, casual atmosphere, and a different act every 10 minutes.
(415) 474-3914, www.ethnicdancefestival.org
BEST MONUMENTAL URINAL
There is much to celebrate about the ever-static interior of the beloved House of Shields as it begins its second century of operation. The yellowing Charles McCabe clipping on the wall tells no lies when it proclaims, "Time Stands Still at the House of Shields." But our favorite relic is not the ruggedly handsome Victorian back bar, the ornate wood paneling, or even the long closed tunnel connecting the old basement speakeasy to the Palace Hotel across the street. And although we enjoy the quirky music programming at this downtown live venue (everything from live blues standards to "twee pop punk"), there's something more. Discreetly tucked away in the men's room is the largest single-user urinal we've ever seen. No chance of missing the mark with this one. Laid on its back, the mammoth porcelain plumbing fixture could double as a short bathtub. They just don't make 'em like they used to.
39 New Montgomery, SF. (415) 392-7732, www.houseofshields.com
BEST CRYSTAL COVER-UP
Jeff Fairclough of Mark Harrington Glass:
Best Crystal Cover-up
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY ARLENE ROMANA
So you're house-sitting at a friend's swank Noe Valley Victorian, and you decide it couldn't do any harm to have a few people over and crack a few beers. Before you know it, a misfired attempt to crowd-surf off the billiard table knocks a priceless Wedgwood bowl on the floor, dashing it to pieces. You may not be as screwed as you think. Mark Harrington Glass in the Mission has been repairing glass, crystal, and china by hand since 1932. Co-owner Linda Gotelli says they stay afloat because they've cultivated a "niche" in glasswork: they do everything by hand. This is safer for the glass and allows them to take on odd-sized objects, like a five-foot tall antique Italian olive oil jar. Gotelli says she expects her customers to be honest, but admits that the company offers "invisible repairs" capable of fooling all but the most knowledgeable antiquers.
286 Sanchez, SF. (415) 931-6809, www.markharrington.com
BEST STOCKHOLM SYNDROME
The Swedes get to take credit for Ikea and H&M; Legos and modern furniture go to the Danish; the Norwegian cruise around glorious fjords. Finns export Finlandia, while the Icelandic claim Björk and ram scrota soup as their own. If these many accomplishments don't make Bay-transplanted natives of those consonant-heavy countries lucky enough, they also get a shared cabin in Tahoe (replete with ski boats), a cabin in Clear Lake, and a loft in the city that hosts fabulous parties. All this comes with membership in the Young Scandinavians Club, a 58-year-old organization that encourages pride in Nordic heritage and tons of drinking and wakeboarding with tall, tan, white-toothed, blonde people. So dig into your family genealogy and find old Swedish grandpa Gustaf, or marry Henrik, that green-card-seeking Norwegian, to join. People who have lived in a Scandinavian country for more than six months are also invited into the club. Just say ja.
(415) 346-7450, www.ysc.org
BEST DETOUR TO UTAH
The Hotel Utah Saloon looks like it was hastily assembled out of whatever was lying around — a giant stuffed deer thrusts its head and shoulders through the wall near the door, while the second floor gallery seems to float on the stern of a small wooden boat. You get the feeling that if you came back the next day you might find it completely rearranged, or vanished altogether. This isn't surprising in a place as old as the Utah, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year. In the early evening, the bar fills with regulars trading anecdotes with tattooed, comely, competence-oozing barmaidens. Around 9 p.m., the music starts and a younger set drifts in. Over the years, the unpretentious Utah has hosted Robin Williams, musical outfit Cake, and countless local bands — yet the door will rarely set you back more than $8. The food runs a tad pricey, but the fried cheese sandwich ("fried cheese" sandwich or "fried" cheese sandwich? Our lips are sealed) is worth it and ample enough for two.
500 Fourth St., SF. (415) 546-6300, www.hotelutah.com
BEST LITTLE WAREHOUSE IN PORT COSTA
A daytrip to Port Costa is not usually on anyone's must-do list, unless you ride a Harley, in which case you're probably already there. This Best of the Bay pick aims to change that. Tucked along the lazy meander of the Carquinez Strait, Port Costa (pop. 250) is exactly the sort of place time forgets. What isn't forgotten in Port Costa is the art of having a good time — most evident when bellied up to the bar at the Warehouse Café. Filled to bursting with the fanciful detritus of saloon decor such as leather booths, elegantly fringed lampshades, a campy tribute altar to Marilyn Monroe, 1980s-era video games, and a 9-foot tall polar bear in a glass case, the 100+ year-old former grain warehouse also features live music and barbeque on summer Sundays and an everyday list of more than 400 international beers, which you get to pick out of an enormous walk-in cooler on your own — if you ask nicely first.
Warehouse Café, 5 Canyon Lake, Port Costa. (510) 787-1827
Forget that shady dude in the Haight: the best people to score shrooms with are the members of the Mycological Society of San Francisco, a nonprofit formed in 1950 to promote an exchange of information about gathering and eating mushrooms. (Sorry, but we're not talking about the mushrooms that go with psychedelic felt posters.) The society welcomes any newcomers interested in moving past the white button salad staple to learn about where to gather mushrooms and how to detect poisonous specimens. Lectures and meetings held by professional mycologists are held monthly, and group gathering expeditions provide a chance to bond in the outdoors with your fellow enoki enthusiasts. An adjunct culinary society hosts potluck dinners every month, with every dish, from the chanterelle salad to the candy cap mushroom cookies (trust us, they're delish) featuring the fungi among us. And don't forget the biannual fungus fairs, which help the public learn more-l (groan) about mushrooming and mycology.
BEST SUBCULTURAL CIRCULATION
Skateboarding may have been born on the streets of Los Angeles, but the sport and/or lifestyle would've been destined to a future of irrelevance — remember Rollerbladers? — had it not been hijacked more than 25 years ago by the San Franciscan gangstas who run Thrasher Magazine. The founders of the lo-fi zine — now a globally distributed glossy — dedicated themselves to defining what it meant to be a skateboarder as opposed to a surfer bro who occasionally rode around on a piece of wood. The current editorial team, headed by local legend Jake Phelps, carries on that tradition today, infusing a distinct SF feel into modern global skate culture. Thanks to Thrasher's coverage of underground music, fashion, and events, skateboarding has grown into a full-fledged subculture with its own set of rules, a truly bizarre crew of nonconformist leaders, and an indisputable spot at the top of the pop culture food chain.
BEST SLICES OF HISTORY
For 30 years the Inner Sunset's Milano Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant has been helping folks get their piece of the pie. It's a real-deal mom-and-pop pizza joint where an old TV flickers above the clinking of plates and glasses and the rumbling of the streetcar. The staff buzzes about while friends sit at tables eating heartily, drinking $5 pitchers of IPA, and conversing amiably. Photos line the walls — and this is what really makes Milano special: three decades' worth of San Francisco memories. Old-time regulars hold up Milano T-shirts, athletes show off regional title trophies, and would-be actors and actresses stare with dramatic intent. There are sepia-toned shots of the owners' family and a loving memorial to Jack and Dolores, namesakes of the Jack and Dolores Special (Canadian bacon, garlic, onions, feta, and pesto). Many autographed pics of local music acts whose members have worked at Milano are also displayed, including one of DJ Shadow, taken at Milano by Annie Leibovitz for Rolling Stone. But even if you never become quite that famous, at least there's a hot slice waiting for you.
1390 Ninth Ave., SF. (415) 665-3773
BEST DREAM FACTORY
No other Bay Area film production house possesses the charm, history, and long-term awesomeness of Francis Ford Coppola's 39-year-old art collective turned premier cinematic dream factory, American Zoetrope. The legendary company has put out some of the world's most acclaimed titles (the Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, Lost in Translation), nurtures local up-and-coming directors and screenwriters, and represents the apex of the classy side of San Francisco's movie industry. Coppola's reach doesn't stop with film, of course. His empire has grown to include an award-winning literary magazine, a distinguished winery, and a restaurant and bar called Café Zoetrope in the fabulously triangular and historic Sentinel Building, American Zoetrope's operational home base (and also where the Kingston Trio recorded many of their hits, the Caesar salad was reportedly invented, and the Coppola family has its pied-à-terre). Coppola's team congregates at the bar after work to drink with other esteemed locals like Lawrence Ferlinghetti or chat with legendary tale-spinning bartender Peter.
BEST VIVACIOUS UNDERGROUND VENUE
Café Du Nord turned 100 this year, but the roster of live performers that enlivens this well-appointed, intimate, literally underground music venue remains anything but musty. Forward-thinking (if history-respecting) music makers Rykarda Parasol, Nada Surf, and Raised by Robots joined spunky old-schoolers like Rickie Lee Jones, Was (Not Was), and the Lady Tigra on the schedule this year, and the sometimes raucous Porch Light storytelling series, organized by writers Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte, keeps San Francisco's literary scene on its toes. Located beneath the Swedish American Hall, Du Nord features several holdovers from its speakeasy days, including trapdoors and an elaborate system of tunnels, and the ghosts of illicit-grog-swilling artists, working girls, and con men are said to sometimes join in the modern-day revelry. Yet updates abound: owner Guy Carson is building a daytime café and gallery adjacent to the music hall; featuring musicians' art in exhibits that tie in with shows, it's slated to open in mid-September.
2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016, www.cafedunord.com
BEST PAPER CLIPS WITH A PAST
Need staples? Forget Staples — or any of those other impersonal office supply Borgs from Planet Big Box. For every kind, shape, size, and width of pencil, pen, notebook, or eraser you need, we have Patrick and Company, a 135-year-old purveyor of business necessities that's been providing all manner of indispensable items since San Francisco was a set of tin shacks in the sand dunes (well, at least the outer reaches of it). Long before the Great Quake hit, the Patrick family was keeping lowly company clerks up to their visors in ticker tape and hand-cranked calculators. But the five Bay Area Patrick's locations don't limit themselves to stocking the manila-tinged totems of daily drudgery — they also feature a wide variety of colorful and collectible stickers and other yummy must-wants that add a splash of color to your beige cubicle. Plus: office furnishings! OK, we know, office supplies may not be the most exciting things in the world (to some), but at Patrick and Company they at least come with a history.
Various locations. www.patco.net