Earlier this week I had a free morning and decided to take a walk and have some coffee. Of course it’s never just that easy so rather than hitting up just one coffee shop, I thought I’d go on a mini tour of a few of my go to shops along a few mile stretch just to see how they all stacked up against each other. I started off in the Mission and knew I had to hit up Ritual. For years this was the place I’d travel across the city to visit but for some reason it seems to have dropped off a bit recently. Or maybe the other offerings have just gotten much better. Maybe it’s just that the people there don’t seem to care as much as they used to. That said, the were the only place I visited that had vegan donuts available so that more than justified the trip there. Don’t get me wrong, stacked up against most other coffee shops in the city Ritual is still very high up on the list, it just happens they weren’t the very top of the places I visited. (more…)
It’s been a cold, foggy, blowy day. The sun never came out, and tourists hurried into souvenir shops and Walgreens to buy crappy beige SAN FRANCISCO sweaters and hoodies. On days like today you wonder how the hell the city ever became known as the capital of free love, unless it was the urge to get back into bed, and when two people had the same idea, then… Yeah, that would work.
This morning I went to my favorite café, Progressive Grounds at 21st and Bryant. As I sat there reading The Savage Detectives I became aware of a woman with a braying voice having a loud phone conversation — unusual at that café. “I’m twenty-six,” she was saying. “I’ve got long hair, almost down to my ass. I’m 36 double-D. I’m real pretty, I work at Centerfolds…”
I looked up. The speaker was a frankly ugly woman with thin, straight shoulder-length hair. She was in her mid-30s at least, fat, and dressed like a Capp St. hooker in a dirty pinkish party dress and a bright pink puffy jacket. She had on weird hookerish tinted glasses and high-heeled shoes, and she was saying “I just got off work at 4:00 a.m. Yeah, I have pictures on disk that I can send you. Well, what are you looking for? No, I don’t have a cell phone camera. Well, why is that important?”
Then the party she was talking to apparently hung up. The woman went to the counter and ordered a complicated vanilla latte with lots of whipped cream. (The staff at the café treated her with as much respect and politeness as they treat everyone, I noticed. Did I say I really like that café?) Then she took her drink back to the table and, with her finger on an advertisement in the back pages of the SF Weekly, phoned another potential employer.
I was thinking two things at the same time: She is atrocious, but also, she is awesome. She had probably never been pretty. Her voice sounded like the dregs at the bottom of a bottle of beer. But she was working that camera-less mobile phone and lying up one side and down the other about how gorgeous she was. What was the point? What were people going to say when she actually showed up at whatever strip club or massage parlor she was calling? Did she look in the mirror and see herself as she described herself? And how much of the way we all present ourselves is mostly bluff and squinting in the mirror and hoping that other people never call us on it?
After the second phone call she checked her messages, collected her things, and departed.
This morning I was sleepily reading in the recently opened and very nice Café Sainte Honoré on the corner of San Pablo and Solano in Albany (for those not familiar with the East Bay, that’s just north of Berkeley) when I was roused by police sirens. Through the windows I could see a large crowd at least two blocks long coming down Solano, led by police and fire vehicles. They were proceeding at such a funereal pace that I thought at first it had something to do with yesterday’s huge funeral of four Oakland police officers.
One of the reasons I love San Francisco so much is because it is so dog-gone friendly. I am a huge fan of dogs, they have been apart of my family my whole life. I take my chihuahua Funston with me everywhere I can, and when I can’t, I conveniently pop him into a bag.
I first discovered that I could take dogs into some bars in SF when I visited one of my favorite establishments, Bender’s Bar & Grill on S Van Ness. A large mastiff Sweet Pea frequents the joint along with other regulars. I took Funston there to meet up with Ridley and they happily hung out as we downed our beer.
Unfortunately some not so well behaved dogs and their even more misbehaved humans can ruin it for everyone. Just the other day I went to Four Barrel Coffee and noticed this sign:
I spoke to barista Jeremy about the sign and he explained that a couple of people complained to the health department and now he can’t even bring his own very well behaved dog in. He lost one of those intrinsic job perks that keeps him motivated.
The Mission is a very walkable part of San Francisco and you see people with their pooches out all the time. Eric and Mark and doggie Karl came by Four Barrel expecting to go right in, but stopped when they saw the new sign. Eric had to wait outside while Mark got them coffee and Karl was left confused.
It seems pretty overboard to complain about people bringing their dogs into grab some coffee. The floor at Four Barrel is cement and the coffee and the donuts being served can’t be accessed by dogs. The only explanations I can think of are that some people are allergic and/or a dog got up in the face of a non-dog friendly patron.
I’m not sure how to resolve this to everyone’s satisfaction. Clearly there are the dog lovers, and the not so much. So we don’t continue with the negative trend, I ask San Francisco dog owners to please keep your dog in check if you are going to take them into food establishments so the rest of us can enjoy this privilege. And for those of you that aren’t so dog friendly, have a heart. Nobody wants to see a sad dog!
My hope is that we can try and be the friendliest dog city in the world and add more signs like this one at Sidewalk Juice:
A very warm day in the middle of a heat wave. I spend much of the day working on my book in a borrowed room, and at the end of the afternoon I go to the Atlas Cafe in the Mission District to have a cappucino and make a few notes.
As I circle to find a parking place, which is difficult in the Mission even on a Saturday afternoon, I notice an unmarked police car with a plainclothes driver keeping an eagle eye out for something. And a couple minutes later I see three cop cars come roaring up the street. They turn the corner by the cafe.
When I reach its front door I see the cops have detained two Latino teenagers dressed in the baggy, neutral uniform of the neighborhood: white t-shirts and black shorts. There are now five cop cars for these two kids, whom I had idly noticed walking quietly along a block away when I was looking for parking.
Inside the cafe, most of the tables are occupied with people studying or working on laptops. A young woman and young man are playing guitars — mostly ragtime and songs from the 1920s. They play a few choruses and then the woman sings one of those old songs in a clear tenor voice. (Their names, I found out when I looked at the CD they had for sale, are Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod, and here’s a YoutTube video of them performing at the Atlas earlier this year.)
The cops let the two kids go and the police cars drive away. Almost no one in the cafe noticed the roust taking place across the street.
After several songs, the woman’s place is taken by a young man, who plays instrumentals while the woman passes a hat. Then a couple in their thirties — the man in a straw fedora, a woman in a sundress — stand up and begin to dance the tango. The guitarists are still playing ragtime but the dancers are good enough to do the tango to ragtime anyway.
I always get a little nervous when I see San Francisco listed on the front page of the Sunday New York Times travel section. A haute restaurant here, a travel deal there: frequently their writing about places outside of the greater New York area seems to have an air of superiority. When I was in Chicago they ran a piece about Wicker Park that seemed condescending (to the effect of “Look at these funky people who live here! How quaint.”)
Yesterday’s piece on Valencia Street, “Hipster Hunting Ground,” wasn’t quite as offensive, but it still seemed to view the Corridor through a Brooklyn lens. The Curiosity Shoppe, Paxton Gate, Spork, and Ritual Roasters were all featured, and fairly. I was surprised, however, that Dosa was featured while Range didn’t get a mention; the same for Little Star (maybe I’m just a sucker for the jukebox and heirloom tomatoes). The piece, while limited in length, doesn’t capture the neighborhood’s character and even gets lazy toward the end: “Like the street itself, [Amnesia's] lineup is full of surprises.”
Two of my favorite things are set to convene this Wednesday: Ritual Roasters and Bikes to Rwanda, a non-profit that unites American roasters to improve the quality of life for Rwandan coffee farmers. A ping-pong tournament is set for July 9th at 5 PM at 1026 Valencia to help build five bike shops. Read: the $25 you could spend this week on big brand coffee could provide a co-op farmer with a bike toolset, including tire lever, frame pump, and wrench.
I’m a big fan of Clara Seasholtz, the founder of the organization that raises money for a low-cost bicycles that farmers use to transport supplies and 130-pound bags of beans. Seasholtz helped the group provide more than 250 bikes to farmers last year and is currently focusing on opening bike shops in Rwanda to teach communities how to care for and build bikes. She’s on a Northern California trip this week, and I admire her unique approach to using what she knows (the American coffee industry) to impact what she saw as problematic (Rwandan farmers lacking transportation to increase their marketability). Now that deserves some table tennis.
I must admit that Zuni Café is an old stand-by for me. It is my go-to restaurant for late-ish dining, for entertaining out-of-town guests, for enjoying a meal with hard-to-impress friends, and it seems, for constructing sentences with lots of hyphenated phrases.
I’m hardly breaking new ground by reviewing Zuni, but more and more, I’ve run into people who’ve lived in San Francisco for at least a couple of years and have never eaten there. My advice: invite some out-of-town guests to visit and take them to Zuni.
A couple weeks ago on the MediaBistro site Agency Spy, a blog about the advertising industry, there was a post about a mysterious (to me) booklet published by “an international trends-led publishing, events and consultancy business” called Piers Fawkes. The booklet, PSFK Snapshot, purported to be a sort of guidebook to San Francisco’s most cutting-edge culture, the places to find the real trend-setters, or “influencers,” which I think is the more current term.
Curious, I ordered the book (seen at left). It’s a square booklet about 4 inches on a side, and about 56 pages long. It lists a few cafes, restaurants, art galleries, community events and so on. The list is pretty standard hipster fare: Blue Bottle Coffee, Red Poppy Art House, The Crucible, Maker Faire, Burning Man. In other words, nothing you wouldn’t learn living in San Francisco for one week, or by reading this blog, SFist, and BoingBoing for a month or so.
I got through the whole book in about 90 seconds, and when I was done I understood even less what the book was for. Suppose it is absolutely essential to know that the most snobbish coffee fanatics go to Blue Bottle. If I’m in the advertising industry, what is that knowledge going to get me?
In fact, I was much more interested in the booklet as a product of the Blurb publishing website, where you can upload photos and text and have them print a pretty little book. If I were a photographer, or preparing a booklet for my mother’s 70th birthday or something, it looks like a great service.
After dropping the kids off at school, I strapped on my crash helmet and pedaled through Golden Gate Park towards Trouble Coffee, which according to the map on the website is somewhere in the neighborhood of Judah and 46th Ave. I could tell you the exact address – and so could Trouble – but where would the fun be in that? In other words, if you’re curious, you’ll find it. Others have come before you, and didn’t fall off the side of the world. It’s right before you pass the serpents lurking in the waters beyond Ocean Beach. You know, across from 7-11.
Trouble is 225 sq feet of space, most of which is behind the counter. Very clever, in my opinion. The owner is named Julieta (Giulietta?), and she said it was about the size of a hotel room. Less is more, or as explained in her manifesto and the sign outside, “Make your own damn house!” Well, it looks like she’s done just that, and you’re invited. Except Tuesdays and Wednesday when it’s closed.
Besides espresso drinks and drip coffee dubbed “elbow grease”, she serves toast and whole coconut. Seriously. Every cafe should offer toast, and yet they don’t. So don’t be dumb. Order the toast. She gets the bread from Just For You Cafe. The toast was perfect, and came with cinnamon and sugar on top even though I didn’t ask any, nor did I complain, because I got the last piece of toast that day, which I think was some sort of omen in my favor.
Order a coconut. She gets them from trees. But don’t just drink the juice with the straw, use the spoon that was given to you. Don’t waste the good stuff even if you have to work for it. I’m not being bossy here, it’s just my advice.
Are you like Charlie Brown and say, “blech!” to the idea of coconut? Okay, fine. But be honest here, have you ever tried a whole coconut? I’ve had coconut in things like cookies and candy bars, but it was the first time I’d ever walked in to a place and said in a clear voice, “May I please have a coconut”… and I’m here to tell you today you won’t regret the experience.