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Posts Tagged ‘Paris of the West’

Neighborhood hangout

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on February 13, 2016

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In New York City, its a bodega on every corner. In LA, its corner liquor stores. Here in San Francisco, its the corner grocery store which, unfortunately, is being threatened by rampant gentrification.

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We live in an already upscale part of the City, between Noe and Eureka Valleys. Two blocks down from our house, an old funky grocery store (no fresh fruits or vegetables, just canned or packaged food items, often with expired dates, plus the usual alcohol) gave up the ghost several years ago. This allowed four local entrepreneurs to take over the empty space and do a soft-story earthquake retrofit in addition to overall improvements.

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The resulting business is part coffee shop/ice cream bar/prepared food store/event and class location/commercial popup/neighborhood hangout. And its been successful from the start. They’ve scheduled a class on the “Art & Science of Saving Bees, Birds & Trees,” and host boutique flower arranging by the FloraCultural Society on weekends.

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Ryan and Laurel can often be found preparing gourmet coffees and teas or serving Laurel’s sweet and savory pastries. And people do what they usually do in San Francisco coffee shops, set up their laptops for long sessions of work and play online. Neighbor’s Corner is bright and airy, with a modern bathroom to boot.

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The previous store owner left quite mysteriously and was unable to pass on the location’s liquor licenses to the new owners. Now the new owners are working through the lengthy city permit process to allow for regular coffee shop occupancy and patronage during business hours. Given the enthusiastic response from the residents, Neighbor’s Corner looks like it’s here to stay.

UPDATED 2-14-16:
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Posted in Eureka Valley, gentrification, life, Noe Valley, Paris of the West, San Francisco, San Francisco neighborhoods | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Aroma Tea Shop, San Francisco

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on February 3, 2016

Aroma Tea 6th Ave

I can’t imagine how I missed this place until now.

Aroma Tea Shop inside

Aroma Tea is a quirky—inside and out—tea shop on 6th Avenue in the Inner Richmond. The owners are eccentric yet extremely knowledgeable, traveling often to China to select and buy the teas they sell.

Colorful Teas Multiple Varieties

It’s “all tea all the time” here, with the varieties of tea in wildly packaged tins. The selection is outstanding; black/red, oolong, jasmine, green, white, pu-erh, even herbal. They have daily tea tasting during business hours where you can sample the teas you wish to buy, which also means looking over and smelling the leaves.

Aroma Tea owner

They have two locations:

302 6th Ave @ Clement St.
San Francisco, CA 94118
415.668.3788
Everyday 11am—7pm

845 Washington St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
415.362.6588
Everyday 10:30am—6pm

Tea Tasting

The first time I visited yesterday I purchased 2 ounces of premium white tea. I’ll be back for more.

Posted in Bay Area, life, Paris of the West, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay Area | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Street saints

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on November 30, 2013

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It was an evangelical church. Or maybe a Baptist church. This whitewashed building has been vacant for years on Market Street, just up from the corner of Church Street. If memory serves me, when it was a still functioning church, it displayed messages simultaneously offering to pray for those “lost souls” who were gay and welcoming all to attend without regard to the state of their souls’ salvation.

Today, the building is looking for a buyer. And someone has added a bit of street iconography to the outside that may or may not be up for long. Saint Billie Holiday and Saint Sarah Vaughan. All they need are flowers, incense and candles. San Francisco already has a Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church. The hagiography is in the streets.
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Posted in bebop, jazz, life, Paris of the West, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Changes to the neighborhood

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on November 26, 2013

I did a series on Paris (“City of Light”) and San Francisco (“San Francisco, Paris of the West”), part of which involved comparing the neighborhoods I live in or near to where I love to vacation. This post will note that there’s been a recent change to my Noe Valley neighborhood.

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I reported on Phoenix Books which has since changed hands, and is now called Folio Books (3957 24th St). Folio specializes in new and remaindered books, and is working to fill its shelves since opening the first of October, 2013. They’ve already set up an extensive children’s section, given that Noe Valley is full of young couples with kids in strollers. Glad to see that 24th Street has retained a full service bookstore.
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This blog will also now feature some of my own pictures/jpegs. I recently purchased a Canon PowerShot ELPH 130 IS and I’m just getting used to working with it. That doesn’t mean I won’t stop doing what everybody else does and steal the pics here from the web. But I will intersperse these appropriated photos with my own.

Enjoy.

Posted in independent bookstores, life, Noe Valley, Paris of the West, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

City of Light; San Francisco, Paris of the West: part 7-conclusions

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on November 12, 2013

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TALES OF TWO CITIES

I started the series “City of Light” to record many of our experiences during our recent two and a half week vacation in Paris. My posts were full of excitement, enthusiasm and enjoyment for the fabulous places and wonderful times we had. The second series “San Francisco, Paris of the West” attempted to parallel the first, detailing outstanding experiences to be had in San Francisco, explicitly comparing our home town with Paris in a somewhat derivative, travelog style. The first series was enlivened by my personal experiences on holiday, while the second series was often confined by my personal history with the places and events where I live. So, lets begin this final compare and contrast with:
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ARRONDISSEMENTS VS NEIGHBORHOODS

It’s apples versus oranges. Arrondissements in Paris (arrondissements municipaux, administrative districts) are not the same as neighborhoods in San Francisco. When we vacationed in the 14th Arrondissement at various times, we experienced several distinct neighborhoods within the 14th; the upper, middle and lower, all three exhibiting different architectures, residential characters, levels of commercial activity, etc. Sometimes a neighborhood, such as the Montparnasse, spans more than one Arrondissement (14th & 6th). San Francisco neighborhoods are more homogeneous, more geographically contained, easier to characterize, and San Francisco neighborhoods are a part of, or span governmental Districts. In San Francisco, for instance, Chinatown, a neighborhood, is in District 3, but spills over into 2. I take the neighborhoods of San Francisco more or less for granted, having lived here for so many years. This faulty comparison fallacy began when I used, as a basis, arrondissments in “City of Light” and neighborhoods in “San Francisco, Paris of the West.”
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PARIS: REMINISCENCE AND LONGING

With this recent vacation, I’d been to Paris three times. My wife had been there four. We’ve shopped on rue Cler, avoided the pickpockets to marvel in the gloom of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris (6 Parvis Notre-Dame), visited Le Halles, above ground and below, wandered about the startling architecture in Parc de la Villette (211 Avenue Jean Jaurès), took the barge up the Canal Saint-Martin along the Quai de Valmy, first underground and then open air, caught the remnants of Paris 1968 left in Butte-aux-Cailles, climbed to the Basilique du Sacré Cœur (35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre), then wandered the surrounding environs, and many more experiences. Yet, we can never get enough of Paris, nor have we seen everything the City of Light has to offer. Still on our wish list: the Opéra de Paris housed in the Palais Garnier for either a tour or a performance, the Musée Marmottan Monet, the neighborhood/village of Saint-Paul, the Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaïsme, the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt, etc. There’s always something more to see and do in Paris.
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The Paris Metro is the 8th wonder of the world, as far as I’m concerned. You can get almost anywhere you want in the city by using the underground metropolitan system. Sure, its crowded, some parts of it are old and decaying, other parts of it are plagued with pickpockets and crime, and the whole of it is not at all handicap friendly. But its still one of best municipal subway systems in the world. The underground musicians are often a delight, and it can be enchanting to hear music waft through the metro tunnels as you rush to meet your train. And there’s rarely more than a 2 to 3 minute delay between trains during normal operating hours. So what if it occasionally takes 3 lines to get to your destination. My love for the Paris Metro is on a par with my affection for the NYC subway system.
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That Parisians are rude is a complete myth. Given our accumulated times respectively in Paris—over three months for my wife and over two months for myself—we have never encountered a rude Parisian. A clerk or waiter or worker occasionally can be harried or distant or unresponsive, but rude? We haven’t experienced it. As for the ordinary Parisian on the street, and aside from dodging them walking on the sidewalks, we’ve never had to deal with rudeness. Parisians in particular, and the French in general are exceedingly polite and formal. Once you address them properly (“Bonjour monsieur,” or “Bonjour madame”), and make some minimal attempt at the social niceties (“merci” for “thank you” and “excusez-moi” (“excuse me”) madame or monsieur), the average Parisian is more than willing to help you out. Throw in some self conscious attempts at speaking their language (“Je suis américain(e)” or “Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas français”) and cap it off with “au revoir” (“goodbye”) or “bonne journée” (“have a nice day”), you can get along just fine in most situations. However, if you ignore even these basic formalities and come off as a typical American, grinning from ear-to-ear, demanding information or service or attention, you’ll get what you deserve. My wife and I had exited the Cartier-Bresson Foundation on our first vacation along Impasse Lebouis and rue Lebouis, eventually walking up allies and along a strip of boutique shops to reach rue Jean Zay. A little lost, we flipped through our Paris Pratique to find Avenue du Maine and transportation to our next destination. A Parisian man came up to us, unbidden, and after the appropriate introductions, asked us where we wanted to go. He spent five minutes giving us directions, pointing out the correct, if distant bus stops to take, and bid us goodbye. We walked away hesitantly, still not clear about his directions or the route to take, given the difficulties in language and translation. Suddenly, he was by our side again, and again after the proper introductions, he said that his wife had told him he had better show us what to do. At which time, he took us over to the right bus stop, pointed out the right line to take, and then again bid us adieu. This happened more times than we could count while we vacationed in Paris.

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SAN FRANCISCO: FAMILIARITY AND DISAPPOINTMENT

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for twenty-three years, and in San Francisco proper for nearly fourteen years. My familiarity with San Francisco and its surrounding communities, while not breeding contempt, has no doubt made me jaded with respect to the available attractions and activities. In a previous part of this series, I noted the differences in area and population between Paris and San Francisco. Compared with the urban concentration that is Paris, San Francisco is positively rural, an impression compounded by the infusion of nature throughout the city. From the beaches to the west of the Golden Gate Bridge to Crissy Field to the east, from the manicured expanse and many attractions of Golden Gate Park to the City’s rambling neighborhood parks, some of which I reviewed in this series, San Francisco has an airy, wide open feel to it. Throw in the numerous tourist attractions—Coit Tower (1 Telegraph Hill Blvd), the iconic cable cars, the Victorian “painted ladies” on Alamo Square, the cultural institution that is City Lights bookstore (261 Columbus Avenue)—and San Francisco’s quotient for charming, quaint and enchanting is extremely high. Having lived all these years in this city, I still haven’t seen and done all that I’ve wanted—actually walked the Golden Gate Bridge, shopped in China Town, climbed the Moraga Street tile mosaic stairs between 16th and 17th Avenue, explored the new, improved Presidio, etc. So much more to see and do before I die.
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What’s so great about San Francisco is the temperate climate. No sweltering summers that force half the population to leave and old people to die, and no winters with sleet and snow to brave. Its pretty much good weather all year long here, thanks to being surrounded by water. My wife and I live east of Twin Peaks and we are treated to the City’s natural air conditioning, fog pouring over Twin Peaks to moderate the weather. The neighborhood microclimates are well known, yet the overall mildness of the weather is a feature that promotes casual walking by residents as well as year-round tourism. Being homeless, not a pleasant prospect anywhere, is mitigated by being able to hang out outdoors and live rough in this city. September/October is the best time to visit Paris (or for that matter, New York City). In San Francisco, its positively gorgeous.
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One thing that I’m disappointed about with respect to San Francisco is the overall attitude of the people who live here. There’s an aloofness, a sense that people here just can’t be bothered. I wrote above discounting the myth that Parisians are rude. Now, having visited New York City off and on for the past thirty odd years, I know what rudeness is. There’s no mistaking the “go fuck yourself” temperament that’s part and parcel of your average New Yorker. San Franciscans are so self-contained, no, self-absorbed, so as to be detached from their fellow human beings. The proliferation of hipsters (who squat every available coffee shop seat) and the influx of techies into the City (who drive to and from work in their private, air conditioned Google or Genentech buses) has only made things worse. Say what you will about your average Parisian (or New Yorker), they aren’t detached from their surroundings or other people. Take your “individual looking at a map” test, not as some “thought experiment” but as a real life exercise. I described what occurred when my wife and I stood around a Paris intersection looking at our map. This happened to me many times when I was a tourist in New York, looked lost, and consulted my map. Invariably, some New Yorker would come up and ask “where do want to go?” perhaps not out of pure friendliness so much as an attitude that said “hey, I know this city like the back of my hand.” When I visited San Francisco as a tourist, but before I’d actually lived in the Bay Area, I would walk around different parts of the City, often checking out my map for where to go and how to get there. This happened on numerous occasions, but no one approached me to ask “where do you want to go?” Then, one time, when I was befuddled and staring at my map somewhere in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district a man came up to me and said, in a perfect Brooklyn accent, “so, where do you want to go?” Enough said.

LOVE: OLD AND NEW

This concludes my two series—”City of Light” and “San Francisco, Paris of the West”—on the only theme that remains appropriate to the subject. Love. Love for Paris and love for San Francisco. Thanks for following this blog.
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Posted in arrondissements in Paris, City of Light, Golden Gate Park, life, neighborhoods, Paris, Paris of the West, San Francisco, San Francisco neighborhoods, series | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 6

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on November 4, 2013

TWO OUTLYING NEIGHBORHOODS

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The above map, provided by a local real estate company (the name of which has been dutifully photoshopped out), provides the common realty names for various San Francisco areas. I’ve been focusing on the three neighborhoods surrounding my residence in this series; Eureka Valley/The Castro (or Eureka Valley/Dolores Heights), greater Noe Valley, and the Haight-Ashbury (including parts of Cole Valley/Parnassus Heights & Buena Vista Park/Ashbury Heights). There are two adjacent neighborhoods I also enjoy visiting and will briefly cover, while comparing them to Paris. Let’s begin with:

WEST PORTAL

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West Portal is the residential area that runs west of the three block commercial West Portal Avenue. Bookshop West Portal (80 W Portal Ave) has been an anchor store for the neighborhood. It’s run by one of the former owners of Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, and it sells new and remaindered books, as well as provides a range of services, from author signings and book release events to a meeting place for classes and community activities. It has a nice kids literature section, tables and shelves for current fiction and nonfiction trade paperbacks, and magazine racks. The staff is dedicated and knowledgeable. This is a well loved, full-service neighborhood bookstore that easily could be found in Paris. Right next door, there’s The Music Store (66 W Portal Ave). Okay, so they’re not big on creative names here, but this tiny little record shop is crammed full of CDs, DVDs, vinyl, tapes, anything musical new or used. Mostly used. This place promotes various local and regional musical events as well and besides, its simply a cool fucking store. Lot’s of great pictures and posters. In Paris, everything has pretty much made the transition to digital, and there’s not much specialty vinyl around. Not like specialty Parisian bookstores, anyway. So The Music Store is truly unique.

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There is absolutely no way I can visually describe El Toreador Restaurant (50 W Portal Ave). The exterior has that bright Mexican house coloring that only hints at the complete chaos inside. The furnishings are as multicolored as the exterior, and every other surface—every wall and the ceiling—is entirely covered with stuff. Photos, murals, paintings, streamers, pinatas, dolls, sculptures, hanging furniture, “day of the dead” figurines, jugs, pitchers, dishes, signs, neon, graffiti; this is only a small fraction of the crap stuck on everything, everywhere. This is only decent Mexican food, what I used to call border Mexican food when I lived in San Diego. The amazing deal is the range of beers on the menu and displayed via empty bottles lining the walls. I’m no longer a drinking man, but I was impressed with the selection. There’s no experience comparable to El Toreador Restaurant in Paris. While the cuisine is no great shakes, the decor is authentic and eye popping. Plus, its a family owned and run establishment. After a Mexican meal, its time to take in a movie at the CinéArts at the Empire (85 W Portal Ave) across the street. First run movies, some “independent” and some 3D, in this multiplex movie theater, which offers stadium seating, air conditioning, and the usual food concessions. The CineMark chain got into trouble when a CEO (I think) acknowledged donating to the Proposition 8 Campaign and provoked a short lived boycott from the gay community. Yet, with the dwindling number of cinemas around (unlike Paris), CinéArts at the Empire has managed to weather this controversy and remain a hub in the West Portal neighborhood, as well as relevant to San Francisco in general.

GLEN PARK

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Okay, Bird and Beckett Books and Records (653 Chenery St) fucking rules. This shop has had to struggle financially, like so many independent bookstores in San Francisco, and its month-to-month as far as the rent and bills. But Bird and Beckett is still here, and it is an institution not only in Glen Park, but in San Francisco as well. This place is not unusual by Parisian standards in offering new and used books and records. What is unique is the regular poetry readings and bebop jazz performances, in addition to the usual book and author events common to most other bookstores. When Bird and Beckett was evicted several years ago from down the block, its future appeared bleak. Now, at least the bookstore has a future, if only tentative. Keep patronizing Bird and Beckett to keep them afloat.

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Pizza is a religion in San Francisco. Thin crust, deep dish, twice baked, New York style; people fight over which is the best. Gialina (2842 Diamond St) serves up thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizza, not to mention fresh antipasti and salads, and a roast of the day. The place is small, and Gialina doesn’t take reservations, so expect to wait to be seated. It’s also family friendly, so a few squealing kids is par for the course. Canyon Market (2815 Diamond St) is right across the street. Canyon Market considers itself a full service neighborhood grocery for Glen Park, but its somewhat of a boutique market and a tad pricy. But what stands out here is the prepared foods, the salad bar, the butchered meats, and the fresh baked breads, which rivals anything to be found in Paris. My wife and I do go out for take-out grocery food, but of all the markets we frequent, Canyon Market offers the tastiest, most varied prepared foods. Delicious.

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When I reviewed Dolores Park in part 5 below, I mentioned that it had the pretense of “wildness.” Glen Canyon Park (Elk and Chenery St) is the real thing, at least as real and as wild as a park gets completely surrounded by a city. Paris offers nothing like Glen Canyon Park in a fully metropolitan setting. There are grassy areas and playgrounds and baseball fields and a recreation center. Yet it also covers 70 acres, with a free flowing creek (Islais Creek), hilly and rocky terrain laced with hiking trails, and lots of trees and coastal scrub. Red-tailed hawks and great horned owls breed in the park, and coyotes have been seen in here. An example of urban planning at its best.

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I’ll conclude both this series (San Francisco, Paris of the West) and my other related series (City of Light) in a combined part 7.

Posted in City of Light, coyotes, coyotes in San Francisco, Glen Park, life, Paris, Paris of the West, San Francisco, San Francisco neighborhoods, series, West Portal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 5

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 27, 2013

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I once asked the late, great Bruce Roehrs why he lived in the Haight.

“All the bars I like are in the Haight,” Bruce said.

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I was never a fan of bars and “bar culture,” even when I was a drinking man. And I’ve never been a fan of the Haight-Ashbury. I arrived too late for the hippies, even to visit during their heyday. Then the Haight careened, crashed, revived, gentrified, and here we are in 2013 with the part circus, part zoo, part snooty neighborhood off-the-main-drag but on all the tour bus routes that is today’s Haight. There are plenty of accounts of the Haight, starting with David Talbot‘s Season of the Witch, which I critiqued on my other blog. For other histories, and some primary sources, consider the Diggers Papers site, including the various links provided there. Since I’m not into pointing out which Haight-Ashbury Victorian was rented by what famous psychedelic band, or where Anton LaVey held his Satanic black masses, or when white power skinheads tried to take over the neighborhood, let’s get on with a few Haight-Ashbury points of interest.

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Goorin Brothers Hat Shop (1446 Haight Street) is a fabulous find and potential haberdashery, now that I’ve taken to wearing styling head gear. If you don’t want to visit the store in person, you can check out their website and shop for hats by shape, by lifestyle, and by what’s new. Goorin’s is not some Parisian boutique. It’s a chain, but it’s service is high quality and it’s inventory is impressive. Cool. The Pork Store Cafe (1451 Haight St) is a wonderful place to get a heavy duty, stick to your ribs breakfast or lunch (or dinner) up to 3:30-4:00 PM. The food here is rich and large-portioned, and the lines are always out the door and down the block. Don’t bother worrying about your diet or your cholesterol levels if you intend to dine here. And don’t look for four star Parisian cuisine. This is comfort food, diner food, piled high food. Heart attacks are extra.

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Cole Street Hardware (956 Cole Street) is in Cole Valley, up from the Haight. And while the whole Cole Hardware chain is great, this particular store goes the extra mile, with inventory, with service, with resources. Cole Street Hardware has a handyman/contractor/etc referral service that links people in surrounding neighborhoods with skilled workers and professionals. Cole Street Hardware is all American do-it-yourself, not available in Paris. A real find. Finally, there’s Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St) at the end of the block. New and used music; vinyl, CDs, DVDs; movies on DVD or blu-ray; posters, books, turntables, etc; there ain’t nothing you can’t find at Amoeba, understand? Nothing like Amoeba can be found in Paris. Nevertheless, Amoeba has to struggle in order to survive, now that music and movies are digital, downloadable and streamable. So patronize them, damnit!

Below are a couple of shots of the Golden Gate Panhandle, to the north of the Haight. Not grungy and encamped with gutter punks like the entrance to Golden Gate Park proper at the end of Haight Street, the Panhandle is a cool, shady, relaxing strip of parkland buffering the Haight from the rest of the City. These photos also buffer the above section of this post from the section below.
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I’m returning to Noe Valley for a few more entries. The Haight is not my favorite neighborhood. I’m much more at home in Noe Valley and the Castro. The Castro got a thorough treatment in part 4, so this should round out Noe Valley, started in part 1.

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I love libraries. I love hanging out in them, reading books and newspapers in them, writing in them (both long hand and on computers), researching in them, etc. I love the smell of books, the tactile feel of printed paper, the sounds of their mandatory silence. I have an SF Public Library card, and I frequent my local libraries often. Noe Valley Public Library (451 Jersey St) is architecturally classic, with renovated interiors that are quite comfortable. I never visited libraries in Paris, but I would say my love for libraries is world-wide. Given right-wing attempts to gut the public sector in the United States in general, and to defund public libraries in particular, your public library needs your support. Just down the block is Video Wave (1431 Castro St), a tiny store stacked from floor-to-ceiling with rentable CD, DVD, and blu-ray movies. They have the entire Criterion collection, and also sell movie related “concessions” such as popcorn, ice cream and candy. Video Wave, as well as a number of other Noe Valley and SF small businesses, have been harassed by an abusive lawyer taking advantage of provisions in the California and Federal ADA laws, hoping to make a quick buck suing mom-and-pop sized stores for lack of compliance for disability access. Never mind that these establishments can’t control such access because they are often owned by absentee landlords who don’t, or won’t comply. Video Wave has spearheaded efforts to amend the ADA laws and to compromise with this rapacious lawyer (and it’s just one). But they’re still under threat of bankruptcy and closure. Patronize them!

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Contigo (1320 Castro St) is a Spanish Basque restaurant offering small plates (tapas), Spanish wines, excellent service, and a congenial atmosphere. Their Spanish hams are imported directly from the Iberian peninsula, and the churros and hot chocolate for dessert is a marvel. I’m sure similar cuisine is available in Paris, though we never found anything comparable. In Paris, whenever I noticed the bright red and yellow Presse sign above a shop or kiosk, I knew I could look for my favorite newspapers. Those Presse signs were everywhere. Not so in the United States, where I guess most people don’t read. In Noe Valley, Good News newsstand (3920 24th St) has the most comprehensive selection of newspapers and magazines around. Its owner, Sam, a Palestinian originally, is a cheery, friendly, helpful man always willing to aid the customer in finding what they’re looking for, and if necessary to special order what they can’t find. This store is a neighborhood staple. Standing around and browsing the shelves, you can watch all the locals come in for their favorite publications, and their cigarettes as well. A really fine store.

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I’ve mentioned the French interest in tea, and the tea shops of Paris, which really can’t hold a candle to a good American tea shop. David’s Teas (3870 24th Street) is just such a place, where there are umpteen metal canisters lining the long back wall filled with white, green, oolong, black, pu-ehr, mate, rooibos and herbal selections, and most of these further differentiated into straight tea vs flavored tea. Further divisions into organic, chia, etc. can be had, depending on the type of tea. You buy in bulk or by the cup, sample ahead of time, and sit around drinking your purchase. They have a quarterly catalog and also sell tea-related accoutrements. Wonderful. Speaking of tea, Lovejoy’s Tea Room (1351 Church St) attempts to replicate the experience of an authentic British tea room, complete with scones and crumpets, finger sandwiches (without the crusts), jam and marmalade, Devon cream, and the like. There’s more, much more, including pub food, and many more types of tea than would normally be found in your average British establishment. You can decide on a particular service (sandwiches, salad, tea, pastry) or order a la carte. I say!

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Chloe’s Cafe (1399 Church St) is a favorite of ours for breakfast, albeit with a somewhat limited menu. You can get eggs, but only scrambled. The rest of the menu is pretty standard, homemade potatoes, and fabulous buckwheat pancakes. My wife and I would each order a different, separate dish and share them. It’s small indoors, but offers sidewalk seating in good weather (much like a neighborhood Parisian cafe), and there’s always a 15 to 30 minute waiting list. The last stop on this Noe Valley tour is Omnivore Books (3885 Cesar Chavez St). I can’t say enough about this place. Floor-to-ceiling books devoted entirely to cooking. You heard me, cookbooks! Cookbooks by cuisine, cookbooks by ingredients, cookbooks by chef, cookbooks by preparation, antiquarian cookbooks, cooking monographs, the science of cooking, damn, this place have everything. And if it isn’t here, they will order it for you. Oh yes, there’s also select cooking magazines. There are special events (author presentations, book signings, food tastings). They even sell fresh eggs from free range chickens! There is no place like this on the planet, let alone someplace like Paris, where food and cooking are a religion.

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Finally, this is not a place, but an institution, the Noe Valley Voice (P.O. Box 460249, San Francisco, CA 94146). This is a neighborhood newspaper that, yes, is heavy on the advertising, but also local news of note. If something happens in Noe Valley, you can frequently find it covered in the Voice. Plus, there are police blotters, rumors, classifieds, all you need to keep up with what’s happening in the neighborhood.

Posted in Bruce Roehrs, Chloe's Cafe, Cole Street Hardware, Contigo, David Talbot, David's Teas, Golden Gate Panhandle, Good News newsstand, Goorin Brothers, Haight-Ashbury, hippies, life, Lovejoy's Tea Room, Noe Valley, Noe Valley Public Library, Noe Valley Voice, Omnivore Books, Paris of the West, Pork Store Cafe, public libraries, San Francisco, Season of the Witch, series, The Diggers, Video Wave | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 4

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 23, 2013

Consider this an extension to part 3 of this series.

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Before I get to the subject matter proper, let me note something right off the bat about my comparisons between San Francisco and Paris. San Francisco is exactly 231.89 square miles and approximately 825,863 in population as of 2012. Paris is 40.7 square miles, with approximately 2,234,000 people as of 2013. The density of Paris is 54,899/square mile, as compared to 17,620/square mile for San Francisco. Both urban experiences are very different from one to another. Ambling about San Francisco neighborhoods with one, two, at most three story houses which, if Victorian and no matter how quaint, are rarely older than the beginning of the 20th century or mid-19th century earliest, is quite different from strolling comparable Parisian neighborhoods of consistently four, five or six story tall apartment blocks, ranging from the 1600s to the 1800s in age. It’s often said that both San Francisco and Paris are walking cities. Yet the sense to walking each is quite distinct.

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Now, The Castro. There’s no precise geographic definition of “The Castro” as such, given that the concentration of gay people around Castro Street from 19th Street to Market is the focus of a much larger gay community that extends up to Eureka Street, over to at 22nd Street, and down Market Street past Dolores to straddle Church Street. Some contend that the community goes past Guerrero Street into parts of the Mission, over to Noe Valley and Corona Heights, up to Twin Peaks, and across to the Haight-Ashbury, with incursions into the Duboce Triangle and Dolores Heights. With the rather nebulous geography to this designation, I’ll roughly spiral out from its iconic center, The Castro Theatre at 429 Castro Street. The Theatre has been in the neighborhood for over a century, with a Spanish Colonial Baroque façade and massive neon sign, and a luxurious and ornate single screen interior with subtly convex and concave art deco walls and ceiling, plus the dark, capacious balcony. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ rises from the orchestra pit and is played before films and events, as well as nightly just for fun. The Castro Theatre is host to various special events; singalongs, film festivals (most notably, Frameline and the Jewish Film Festival), actor and author speaking engagements and the like. In contrast to Paris, San Francisco is gradually losing its cinema culture. The Castro Theatre is helping to hold the line against this loss.

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Cliff’s Variety Store is right down the street, and has been there for 75 years. This is more than a hardware store. If you can’t find it at Cliff’s, good chance it doesn’t exist. In the Boy Scouts, Tenderfoots were sent out to other campfires to find “left-handed smoke turners,” as a prank. Good chance Cliff’s has those, too. There is nothing like Cliff’s, not even in Paris. This matrix along Castro Street from Market Street to 19th Street, and from Diamond Street to Noe Street, contains at least a dozen full-on bars, making these eight plus blocks one of the most intense party scenes in San Francisco. Which makes the existence of the Hartford Street Zen Center (57 Hartford St) all that more remarkable. Sister center to the San Francisco Zen Center, imagine attending the Friday night Hartford Street Zen Meditation & Recovery Meeting, based on Buddhist and AA principles, in the heart of the Castro, among throngs of alcohol-crazed revelers. A truly extraordinary experience. I mean, drinking is everywhere in Paris. People drink mostly wine and mostly with meals, and less often other types of alcohol at bars. Zen centers and AA groups can also be found in Paris, of course. But there is a frenzy to American alcohol use, and abuse, that is hard to find anywhere in French culture.

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Food is a big part of French culture, and its large on Castro Street as well. I’ll briefly mention my favorite places, the ones I frequent often. Frapez Spa (4092 18th St) is a fruit and vegetable smoothie bar that I hit three times a week, right after gym, for a healthy and filling 20 oz drink. The Anchor Oyster Bar (579 Castro St) has been in the neighborhood for 35+ years, offering fresh oysters, fish, crabs, shrimp, etc. The New England clam chowder and the chappino are particularly good. Buffalo Whole Food & Grain Co (598 Castro St) is a great little organic foods grocery with fresh vegetables inside, fresh fruit outside, and also a wall of supplements. Finally, there’s Spike’s Coffee and Teas (4117 19th St) where I regularly get my green tea. I can set up my laptop and work away (no wifi!) or read the NYT or just people watch. Plus, I have a card where I can pay in advance.

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What’s great about living in a neighborhood in San Francisco or Paris is that you’re in a village where you can meet most of your needs within easy walking distance. Case in point, Pioneer Renewer (4501 18th St), an old school shoe repair shop where I’ve had a half dozen of my shoes stretched to fit. The place is great, from the goofy decorations to the gruff old cobbler who takes care of my shoes. Then there’s Books & Bookshelves (99 Sanchez St) where you can find unfinished wood furniture and shelves of poetry books, perhaps the widest collection of poetry up to and including City Lights in North Beach!

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A couple additions to my “village” are the Immune Enhancement Project (3450 16th St) and Ike’s Place (3489 16th St). The former offers therapeutic massage and acupuncture (both of which I’ve extensively used) and the latter has a monster menu of over 50 sandwiches (many of which I’ve sampled), plus 4 additional locations. The therapies at IEP are common fare in Europe, whereas Ike’s cuisine is quite unique, as attested to by the lines around the block at lunch.

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Church Street is another main commercial drag in the Castro area. Aardvark Books (227 Church St) reminds me of the San Francisco Book Company in the 6th Arrondissement, a store crammed floor to ceiling with used books from cheap paperbacks to collectors editions. There’s also graphic novels, comics, magazines and new books. Like a lot of used bookstores in SF, this place is hanging on by a thread.

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We’re back on the food tip now, with references to Paris. Chow (215 Church St) is a decent enough local restaurant, unremarkable by San Francisco standards, let alone Parisian. It’s part of a San Francisco micro-chain. Thorough Bread and Pastry (248 Church St) rivals a good Paris patisserie/boulangerie, with its selection of sweet and savory baked goods, artisan breads and sandwiches. This place has tables but somewhat limited hours. Further up the street, there’s the completely unique Chile Pies (314 Church St), a sweet and savory pie shop that offers sit down and take out meals based on, what else, pie. There’s ice cream as well. It’s an offshoot of Green Chile Kitchen, so look for the big neon “PIE” sign. Further along still, there’s Samovar Tea Lounge (498 Sanchez Street). Lots of folks on the Eurasian continent love their tea, and as a consequence, make a ceremony out of drinking tea. The Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, British, and lastly, the French, are all keen for tea and ritual tea drinking. I found Parisian thé shops and cafes, while certainly more interesting than their British counterparts, just as limited, with a preference for perfumed teas. Samovar is no great shakes regarding the food it serves, which is small portioned and expensive. What is marvelous here are the teas. A half dozen each of green teas, white teas, black teas, oolongs, pu-ehr teas on a changing menu. Excellent.

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Our final destination is Mission Dolores Park. Unlike the managed and controlled French and British gardens/parks, in which man’s mastery over nature is evident, American gardens and parks are studies in “nature,” with a pretense to “wildness.” Grass is omnipresent, and meant to be walked on, sat on, picnicked on, etc. There are official tennis courts, a basketball court, a soccer area, and an extensive modern playground for the kiddies. There’s also an old clubhouse with restrooms. The unofficial areas of the park include gay beach (for sun bathing), hipster hill (millions of dead hipsters, please!), dog hill (watch out for dog shit), etc. The park’s microclimate is usually sunny and warm, perfect for the regular SF Mime Troupe performances by day, the Symphony performances, and the big screen Opera rebroadcasts in the evening. This is a magnificent resource for not just the neighborhood, but the entire city of San Francisco.

Posted in Aardvark Books, Anchor Oyster Bar, Bay Area, Books & Bookshelves, Buffalo Whole Food & Grain, Castro Street, Castro Theatre, Chile Pies, Chow Restaurant, City of Light, Cliff's Variety Store, Eureka Valley, Frameline, France, Frapez Spa, gay, Hartford Street Zen Center, Ike's Place, Immune Enhancement Project, independent bookstores, Jewish Film Festival, LGBT, life, Mission Dolores Park, Paris, Paris of the West, Parisian cafes, Pioneer Renewer, Samovar Tea Lounge, San Francisco, San Francisco Book Company, San Francisco Mime Troupe, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Zen Center, series, Spike's Coffee and Teas, The Castro, Thorough Bread and Pastry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 1

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 13, 2013

I live in San Francisco, when I’m not visiting Paris. SF is a much smaller city than Paris, but both are comprised of distinct neighborhoods that are easily walkable, and that offer its residents a myriad of interesting non-corporate experiences. My intention here is to describe the area where I live in SF and compare it to Paris. To reiterate, my three rules are simple:

1) What I experience must be in the context of a neighborhood. My neighborhood.
2) My experience should be comparable to Paris, good or bad.
3) My experience should not be corporate in nature. No fucking Whole Foods or Starbucks, please!

I live at the intersection of two SF neighborhoods; Noe Valley to the south and Eureka Valley to the north. The Haight-Ashbury is just over the hill. First, let’s start with Noe Valley, and let’s begin by talking about food, something omnipresent in Paris.

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24th Street Cheese Co. This is the equivalent of a Parisian fromagerie, with the variety of cheeses from around the world as well as the necessary accoutrements such as crackers, breads, olives, etc. The smells here are wonderful, and you can sample what you wish to buy. There’s a chalk board high up on the wall where what’s in and available is listed. An excellent little shop that has managed to withstand the competition from nearby Whole Foods.

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Drewes Meats. A boucherie in the Parisian sense, but one that hasn’t done well in competition with places like Whole Foods. This neighborhood establishment is barely holding on, and deserves to be patronized. Wonderful meats, sausages, fish, marrow bones, etc. cut and prepared to order. You can order your Thanksgiving/holiday turkey or ham here.

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Noe Valley Bakery. Okay, there’s nothing like a real Parisian baguette, but this bakery comes pretty damned close to a Parisian boulangerie. Lots of fresh baked breads, baguettes, croissants, scones, eclairs, tarts, etc. When La Boulange moved into the neighborhood, everyone thought Noe Valley Bakery was doomed. Not so. Now La Boulange has sold out to Starbucks, and this place is still rocking.

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Chocolate Covered. This dude is world famous. No, he’s not a chocolatier, in the Parisian sense, since he doesn’t make his own chocolates. But he does find gourmet chocolates from around the planet and sell them at his shop. All that’s missing here is a constantly swirling dispenser of chocolat chaud. Then there’s his walls of tins featuring prints of SF street signs and famous city landmarks.

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Pasta Gina. A deli like this properly belongs in NYC, although Paris did have the occasional Italian food shop, by no means as extensive as this one. This one isn’t quite as stocked as a Lucca or UltraLucca, nor nearly as cheap, but most of the prepared food here is homemade and wonderful. Homemade pastas, meatballs to die for, even black-and-white cookies. Yum.

Next, neighborhood bookstores.

Posted in 24th Street Cheese Company, Chocolate Covered, Drewes Brothers Meats, life, Noe Valley, Noe Valley Bakery, Paris, Paris of the West, Pasta Gina, San Francisco, series | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »