Manny’s, coming to 16th and Valencia

May 17, 2018

Welcome To Manny’s
 

There’s a space at the corner of 16th and Valencia I walk past almost every day. For many years it was a sushi restaurant, which was eventually replaced by a different sushi restaurant and an ice cream bar.

Since the end of 2017 it’s been vacant with no signs of activity — until the other day, when a poster appeared in the window. I went to check it out, and it turned out to be a letter with a “Manny’s” logo stamped on it. The text of the letter appears almost verbatim on the website for Manny’s.

Reading the letter left me with more questions than answers; would this be an event space? A neighborhood bar? I wanted to know more. Thankfully the poster included an email address, so I reached out to Manny himself with a few questions on behalf of my little blogging operation.

Here’s full text of my email interview:
 

Eric: Tell us a little about yourself and what made you decide to focus on civic engagement in San Francisco?

Manny: I came to San Francisco after working on President Obama’s re-elect as an organizer in New Hampshire. San Francisco was the promised land for me – a California boy looking for a City with a thriving gay culture and healthy civic life. When I first arrived here I had no money, no place to live, and very few contacts but I had the most amazing first 6 months exploring the City, working as a temp, and meeting people who worked in SF politics. I fell in love with the City again. I had spent a summer here raising money for same-sex marriage as a street canvasser in 2010 and first fell in love with the City then. I found a job working with an immigration reform advocacy group right as comprehensive immigration reform was making it’s way through the U.S. Senate. Fast forward to after working on the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 I found myself kind of lost. The result of the election shocked and saddened me but also gave me a new sense of drive and purpose. What was I going to do?

I quickly realized that I was living in a once in a generation moment of civic purpose, with so many people, especially young people, feeling called to get involved. Taking part in the first Women’s March and seeing the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets around the world inspired me. The decision to focus on civic engagement in San Francisco came out of the problem that was being presented to me by friends and colleagues in the City who wanted to know where they could go to get more involved and informed. There are some amazing organizations in the City that put on excellent programming in great spaces for folks to become more civically active and have been doing so for decades but I thought the idea of taking that programming and adding in a more neutral social component would help bring in all of the people who might be intimidated at first or not really consider themselves “political”.

Around that time a good friend of mine died tragically. He was 32. After Nico’s death I promised myself that I would not let the fear of failing at something stop me from trying because he would never get a chance to try again. With that guiding me I decided to really research what would be involved in building my own space. That was around February/March of last year and here I am!
 

Eric: The description on your website is a little overwhelming. What’s your plan for the space on the average day?

Manny: Noted. The space is divided into 2 sections – the social space and the programming space with a small civil rights themed bookstand/newstand in between. The social space will have continuous operation from 6:30 AM – 10:00 PM with breakfast, lunch, and dinner served. It’ll be a coffee shop during the day and offer good beer and wine at night with dinner. That space will be connected to but separate from the programming space.

During the day the programming space will feel like a lounge where folks can eat/drink, watch the news (TVs with the news will be playing continuously) and potentially there will be some programming during the day for kids and young adults. For the evening the idea is that every weeknight there will be some offering that is civic in nature, where it’s a talk, documentary screening, open-mic, organizing action night, or discussion. Most of the programming will be put on by other organizations who need good space to do their work or have their speakers speak. About a quarter of the programming will be organized by my staff. There is meant to be wide variety in the programming, just like movie theaters play lots of different kinds of movies, sports bars will have a few different kinds of games on, gyms will have different kinds of classes and machines, I want to built a center of gravity around civic engagement that will have something for everyone. There will likely be themed nights around the different ways folks might want to engage where it’s direct action, learning from speakers, consuming media + art, etc…
 

Eric: The space you’re moving into has had a lot of turnover in the past few years; do you have a secret plan to thrive in that location?

Manny: I think one of the main reasons that the space has had a lot of turnover is that the commercial space has an unsuccessful relationship with the street. It’s hard to know where the entrance is and it’s dark inside. I will be opening up the windows, making the entrances a lot clearer, brightening up the interior, and more directly engaging with the street traffic to welcome people in.

Also – commercial rents are at an all time high in San Francisco so staying alive is hard unless you drive up prices so high that only a certain class of people can participate in what you’re doing. I refuse to create a place like that. In addition to the revenue from the food and beverage my goal is to have a large community of individual sponsors from the City and beyond providing the grassroots funding needed to keep a space like this open and thriving. They will be sponsors and being a sponsor will come with a large set of benefits. I’ve been developing a community around the space for the past six months and will continue to do so for the next six months. I believe that this community will be the secret to the success of the space.
 

Eric: On your website you mention the need to move our discourse from the digital world to in person. Do you have any thoughts as to why personal interaction is important?

Manny: In my lifetime I have seen the move from in person to online civic discourse and I am in shock at how nasty people get online in ways I do not believe would occur in the course of an in person conversation. Because tone is not apparent in an online conversation sometime the worst or most accusatory tone is implied which can lead to defensive angry responses. We do not need the internet to have deep meaningful conversations with people who either agree or disagree with us.

When you interact with someone in person you are able to give many cues including body language and posture, eye contact, tone, speed and deliberateness of language, clear listening, deference, and respect. There are all very important in the course of a complex or even sensitive conversation and are all absent from a conversation online and so, more often than not, the conversation devolves.

This is sad because we desperately need these conversation to learn and grow. None of us has all the answers so we need to bounce questions and ideas of others to get closer to truth.

Stow Lake

May 14, 2018

Stow Lake
 

Despite living in San Francisco for nearly fifteen years, somehow I never got around to renting a boat at Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake… until now.

Yesterday I rented a rowboat with a friend and we took it for a ride around the lake. Peddle boats of various sizes are also available, depending on the boat rental fees are around $20 to $40. The sign at the boathouse said these were “hourly” fees, but in practice nobody seemed to be keeping track of time, let alone looking too closely at tickets. It’s a pretty low-key operation.

The lake itself forms a ring around Strawberry Hill with a couple bridges going over the lake to the hill. The Huntington Falls waterfall built into the side of the hill feeds into the lake. A number of birds including ducks, geese, and herons have made this part of the park their home.

If you want to find the lake, from the Music Concourse it’s just up the hill from the Japanese Tea Garden. While it’s unintuitive to go uphill to reach a lake, according to SF Recs and Park the lake was built in 1893 “…for leisure boating, as a promenade for horse-drawn carriages, and as a reservoir for park irrigation.” (Emphasis mine.) In other words the lake acts as a water tower for the plants in the park.

 
Stow Lake is associated with an infamous local ghost story. Here’s the haunted tale as I understand it.

In Stow Lake’s early years a mother brought her baby to the lake in a stroller. She met another woman and they chatted at a bench. At some point when the mother wasn’t looking the stroller slid into the lake, sinking with the baby. Horrified after realizing her baby was missing, the mother ran around the lake asking if anyone had seen her baby. Failing in her search the mother drowned herself in the lake.

To this day the mother is supposedly spotted in a white dress in the dark of night near the lake.
 

While I’ve never seen any ghosts in Golden Gate Park, it can definitely feel unsettling at night. Most of the park isn’t well lit and the canopy of trees and thick fog make it difficult to find your way around.

Regardless as to whether you believe Stow Lake is haunted or not, it’s a fun story to tell while you’re rowing or peddling your way around the lake.

There’s now a Bitcoin ATM at the Metreon, because of course there is

May 9, 2018

Bitcoin exchange machine
 

Recently a tipster informed me a Bitcoin ATM had appeared at the Metreon. Needless to say I had to check this out.

If you’re looking for the machine it’s near Cafe-X, the robot espresso machine, as well as a vending machine that somehow makes “gourmet” ramen. So in theory you could trade in your Bitcoin and use it to have a meal and coffee prepared entirely by robots!

Well okay, the above scenario isn’t entirely true since the Bitcoin ATM only converts Bitcoin to and from cash, which isn’t accepted by Cafe-X.

I thought I’d give the machine a spin but was immediately turned off by it. To identify yourself you need to insert a state ID or driver’s license, so this isn’t anonymous at all. What’s the point of buying a stolen yacht on the dark web if the transaction can be easily traced back to me?

But when I got home and looked at the ATM company’s website I found a second reason not to use it: transaction fees. To quote from the very last item on their help page:

We charge a 10% service fee for both buying and selling Bitcoin at our Kiosks.

In comparison online Bitcoin trading platforms only charge around 2%, so that’s a steep markup. Think about it: depositing $200 means you’re losing $20 — almost enough for a movie ticket in the Metreon’s IMAX theater.

On “Mayochup”

April 14, 2018


 

Today I spotted a funny Washington Post article titled Heinz promotes its new ‘mayochup’ and sparks an international controversy. The gist is this: Heinz sells a condiment that’s a mix of ketchup and mayonnaise in other parts of the world and is gauging interest in bringing it to the US. There’s a few things about this so-called controversy that seem, well… ridiculous.

First, the “international” part of this controversy is mostly within the United States. Heinz and its parent company Kraft Heinz are both based in the US, and at least in the article much of the outrage comes from US citizens (including Puerto Ricans.) Many claim to have invented this unique condiment, but let’s be honest — anyone who’s ever thought to put mayonnaise and ketchup on a hamburger bun basically had the same idea.

Second, if you add relish to this mix you have Thousand Island dressing. I don’t know for certain the ratio would be ideal if you made it with Mayochup, but it goes to show that again, mixing mayo and ketchup is hardly a new idea, let alone bottling and selling it to Americans.

Third, the very concept of putting two condiments in the same jar is silly enough to have made one of the most memorable fake advertisements in the criminally underrated 90′s sketch comedy series Mr. Show. In the sketch two companies compete to combine mustard and mayonnaise with the brands Mayostard and Mustardayonnaise, which only escalates to an absurd yet somehow logical conclusion. Here’s the clip below:


 

The best part? Unlike Heinz, Mr. Show’s sketch repeatedly points out the problems with this idea. Not only is the amount of time it saves negligible, but mayonnaise expires quickly. In other words, the real controversy shouldn’t be who came up with the idea first, but whether the true motivation of Heinz is to sell a product with very little purpose but to go bad before you’ve finished using it, forcing you to purchase more.

So argue all you like over this manufactured outrage, but please excuse the rest of us for rightfully laughing it off.

Mixt coming to the Mission is old news and here’s why

March 21, 2018


 

Today Eater SF “revealed” that salad focused mini-chain Mixt (formerly Mixt Greens) is opening a new location in the Mission at the former location of La Rondalla at 901 Valencia. Surprised? Don’t be; this has been public for a couple months if you knew where to look.

For those who genuinely don’t know how to locate this information let me backtrack and explain.

La Rondalla was a Mission institution far longer than I’ve been alive, which Mission Local explains here in the article about their closure. In summary the family owned restaurant spanned three generations but ultimately failed for various reasons.

Fast forward to a couple months ago when construction began at the former restaurant. But what was going on? This isn’t always a simple question to answer by looking at public records but in this case it was trivial to find out.

First, building permits are typically required for any type of construction. San Francisco takes this a step further by putting some details online. So head on over to SF Planning’s San Francisco Property Information Map and enter the address, then click search. Once it locates the property, click the Building Permits tab at the top. Now scroll through the permit applications until you find something that looks related to the work going on.

Permit #201711093626 involves altering “FOOD/BEVERAGE HNDLNG” and is described as “TENANT IMPROVEMENT OF AN EXISTING GROUND FLOOR AND BASEMENT FLOOR RESTAURAND [sic] SPACE TO A NEW RESTAURANT.” It dates back to January of 2018.

Next click on the permit number to head to SFGov’s website, then click Show Authorized Agents, which takes you here. This step is where things get tricky. Not every permit will list a tenant, or “LESSEE” in the Roles column, but this one does. Sometimes there’s multiple permits for the same project and you have to find the right one.

The tenant won’t always have a name you can easily match to a business, like “Bob Smith” or whatever. But more often than not these days it will be a legally established corporation or LLC. And this time we’re in luck, because the applicant is MG RESTAURANTS INC. Gee, who could that be?

Let’s play dumb for a moment and assume we have no idea what this company is. At the time of this writing, a Google search for the company name comes up with many unhelpful results, but a few down the list is a link to their entry in Corporation Wiki. Among other data is this diagram:


 

While this may look like something a conspiracy theorist drew on a chalkboard, the gist is pretty clear — the only restaurant this could be is Mixt.

Now it’s worth pointing out that Mixt’s sister restaurant group Split Bread falls somewhere here under the same Good Food Guys umbrella, but it’s not part of MG Restaurants Inc. as far as I can tell. Besides, who’d open yet another sandwich spot in the Mission? And as Eater SF mentions, Mixt isn’t quite big enough yet to fall under the city’s formula retail restrictions. Split Bread is pretty far away from nudging up to that restriction so there’s no urgency.

I, for one, welcome our new salad overlords. But if you miss La Rondalla there’s always Puerto Alegre for deliciously greasy Mexican food with stiff margaritas.

A curious discovery about my laundry service

March 12, 2018

Recently I received an informal text message survey from Rinse, a laundry service I’ve been using for a few years. The survey only had two questions, but I found their response unexpected to say the least.

If you’re not familiar with Rinse, it’s pretty simple — put your clothes to wash in a bag, your dry cleaning in a different bag, and schedule a courier to come to your home and pick it all up. They clean and return your clothes in a couple days.

As for what made the survey’s response so unusual, see a screenshot of the interaction below:


 

Yes, my laundry service just admitted they hate doing laundry. I guess that’s one thing we have in common.

Still, now I feel a little guilty every time they come over to pick up my dirty clothes.
 

Spam: If you’ve never used Rinse before (and don’t mind using a laundry service that hates doing laundry) click here to get $25 off your first order. Full disclosure: I’ll get a discount if you use that link to sign up and place an order.

Paris of the Pacific tour

February 26, 2018


Photo of ships in San Francisco’s harbor circa 1850 from Wikipedia. Used under public domain.
 

Yesterday afternoon I took a San Francisco City Guides tour I’d never heard of before titled 1850′s San Francisco: Paris of the Pacific. This relatively new tour meets at the same place as the Gold Rush City tour, and compliments it in an unexpected way. Like all City Guides tours it’s 100% free and led by volunteer guides.

Whereas the Gold Rush City tour largely focuses on the crowd of Americans coming west in search of gold, the Paris of the Pacific tour highlights a parallel story. When a French spy in Monterey got wind of the discovery of gold in California he tipped off folks in his home country.

Why was there a French spy in Monterey? Turns out New Spain/Mexico’s weak grip on California was an open secret, and France had an interest in colonizing the territory. While French troops never invaded, French citizens invaded with the most American pastime of them all: business.

Thanks to the tenuous political situation in France at the time with Napoleon III as well as food shortages all over Europe, a number of wealthy French aristocrats and savvy business types chartered a ship and sailed to San Francisco. Unlike their peers from the US, the French immigrants to California weren’t interested in seeking out gold directly. Instead they operated businesses catering to gold seekers including bars, casinos, and brothels.

If you’d arrived via ship in San Francisco in the 1850′s you probably would have disembarked at or near the Commercial Street pier, which led directly to San Francisco’s French Quarter, meeting French-speaking people and their businesses in the area.

While little remains of the French Quarter, the direct French influence in San Francisco continues to this day. Isidore Boudin started his Boudin Bakery during the Gold Rush. The Notre Dame Des Victoires church near Chinatown began shortly after the Gold Rush as well.

But the influence of those early French settlers in San Francisco goes deeper. Importers bought in goods from France including clothing and alcohol, and the first restaurants in the area were operated by French chefs. To this day if you want to dine out lavishly in San Francisco there’s a good chance you’ll visit a French restaurant, if not a French-inspired one.

Department stores selling imported French goods lasted from the mid 19th century up until the mid to late 20th century in San Francisco. Some relics of these stores still exist if you know where to look. And where would those be? You’ll have to take the tour yourself to find out.

What we’ll all miss about Virgin America

February 22, 2018

On my flight home from LAX on Virgin America, one passenger seemed to panic when an aircraft sporting Alaska Airlines livery pulled up to the gate. I’m sure he knew the deal — Virgin America was acquired by Alaska Airlines and the former’s brand will be retired this April.

The woman working the gate overcame the passenger’s objection (and repeated this almost verbatim to several other passengers a few minutes later) by saying “don’t worry, the outside of the plane has been repainted but everything inside is still the same with the mood lighting and we’ll still play the video.” You know something’s wrong when a company’s own employees are effectively saying “no, it doesn’t suck — yet” to temporarily reassure their customers.

The video she referred to is the pre-flight safety video Virgin America has been showing for many years, which you can watch here:


 

It’s an effective video because it serves two purposes — to educate passengers about what they’re required to know in a memorable way, and to project Virgin America’s fun image. To think passengers may complain if they don’t show the video tells you something about the strength of Virgin America’s brand.

What do people even think about Alaska Airlines, aside from the Eskimo guy on the tail? Apparently not much. On the other hand, everyone seems to know that Virgin America safety video. When it first premiered Ellen had the original dancers perform a short version on her show. The employees seem to like it, especially this flight attendant working himself into a sweat dancing along.

Video game streamers know it too, just watch this clip of a couple guys playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time while singing it. One viewer of their channel went so far as to take their vocals and re-dub them over the original video to hilarious effect.

Virgin America doesn’t fly outside the US and Mexico, but that didn’t stop a group of students in Taiwan from making their own version of the video. Or a dance school in Australia from making theirs as well.

None of which is to say the video was the sole reason Virgin America is a great brand, it’s just an easy example of fandom that would otherwise be difficult to measure. When you take Virgin America’s mood lighting, friendly service, reasonable prices, timeliness, cleanliness, excellent entertainment options, surprisingly decent food, and add that all together… well it’s clearly greater than the sum of its parts. Their impeccable safety record doesn’t hurt either.

I guess my point is I don’t see why Virgin America’s fans would stick around — and there seem to be many of us — unless Alaska Airlines learns to “live it all up in the sky.”

View from Griffith Observatory

February 21, 2018

Griffith Observatory
 

Before leaving Los Angeles last night I figured I had to take one last look at the city. Although Griffith Observatory was technically closed, the area around it was as open as ever.

According to everyone I spoke with the main attraction is not the observatory itself, but rather the view from the area on the hill around it. So it didn’t bother me that the observatory was closed, but the DASH bus service up to it was concerning. Not only did it run infrequently but I’d barely heard of DASH before. As it turns out my concerns were unwarranted — DASH service runs in weird spots, costs very little, and they accept LA Metro’s TAP card as payment. Not knowing this I paid far more for a Lyft ride up to the top of the hill.

Griffith Observatory
 

From the hill on Griffith Observatory one can easily spot many landmarks. The Hollywood sign is in the distance, as is downtown Los Angeles. On the way up the hill I began to worry about the views — the city had become engulfed in clouds. Yet from such a high vantage point, those clouds only served to frame the city down below as an contrast to the weather patterns above.

As a T-Mobile subscriber I’m used to the occasional odd spot where there’s no coverage. Griffith Observatory proved to be one of such spots; at first I wondered if it would be best to wait for the DASH bus down the hill, but eventually I discovered that even while closed, Griffith Observatory provides a free wifi hotspot. Using this I requested a Lyft from there to LAX. It’s a long ride but my driver was cool about it. Better for him than those short, cheap rides anyway.

LA’s Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and Koreatown

Los Angeles has three Asian neighborhoods you’ll find on the map, and I decided to give them all a visit. For starters I booked a tour of Chinatown and Little Tokyo from Downtown LA Walking Tours (same company that runs the Haunted Tales tour.)

New Chinatown, LA
New Chinatown, LA New Chinatown, LA
 

The tour started in Chinatown, where the central plaza was covered in confetti from the previous night’s celebration of Chinese New Year. A group of janitors were out trying to clean it up and fish it out of the fountains, but the wind wasn’t being terribly cooperative. It was pretty dead in the area as it was not only Monday morning but also President’s Day.

This is technically New Chinatown, as the original Chinatown was located where Union Station is today. For a variety of reasons it had fallen into decline, and was moved to the previous site of Little Italy after most of the Italian community had migrated away to the suburbs. To say ethnic minorities weren’t treated well in America back in the day would be a huge understatement. Although significantly smaller than San Francisco’s Chinatown, both were given a stereotypical Chinese-ish theme that looks like something you’d find at Epcot in Disney World.

Various movies have been filmed there including Chinatown (well, duh) and more recently Rush Hour.

Going back to the theme, a new modern looking housing development nearby had some elements of theming including hanging lanterns and a color scheme dominated by the color red. Sure it’s whimsical but it felt like a tasteful departure from the older parts of Chinatown.

New Chinatown, LA
 

One last thing before moving on — Bruce Lee fans will appreciate the statue in his honor located in Chinatown.

The tour then boarded a Gold Line train on LA’s Metro. We only went two stops so you could probably do this on foot without much trouble. Then again, Metro tickets are relatively cheap.

Little Tokyo
Little Tokyo Little Tokyo
 

Little Tokyo seemed more varied than Chinatown, with a museum, a Buddhist temple, a couple of shopping centers, and various public art including the “Friendship Knot” of two metal poles tied together. That said my tour guide’s wife was Japanese and he clearly knew more about Japan’s culture as a result — perhaps we skipped some obscure but interesting parts of Chinatown.

One interesting takeaway from the tour is Los Angeles is the birthplace of mochi ice cream. These balls of ice cream wrapped in a rice-based dough are now sold in grocery stores across the country, but were once an unusual fusion cuisine you’d only find in LA.

Little Tokyo
 

A model of a Space Shuttle isn’t something I would have expected to see in Little Tokyo, but it’s not just any Space Shuttle — it’s the Challenger, which exploded seconds after launching, killing everyone on board. Among the seven dead was Ellison Onizuka, an Air Force test pilot who became the very first Japanese-American astronaut.

I realize that’s a depressing note to end the tour on, but I can’t go into detail on the final stop because it’s a secret location. Sorry about that — you’ll have to go on the tour yourself to find out, but trust me it’s a tranquil and unexpected place you’re extraordinarily unlikely to find on your own.

Koreatown
Koreatown Koreatown
 

I asked the tour guide about Koreatown. He suggested taking a bus or car ride as it’s pretty far from Little Tokyo. His advice was completely on the mark; I took the Metro’s Red Line subway and it still involved a fair amount of walking to get to the heart of Koreatown.

Unlike Chinatown and Little Tokyo there’s virtual no theming to Koreatown. It’s a typical LA neighborhood near downtown with a weird mix of large and small buildings. You know you’re in the right place when you find people speaking Korean, see Korean writing on various buildings, the occasional Korean flag, and of course many Korean restaurants. Unfortunately being a holiday and a Monday not much of this was open.

Koreatown’s architectural styles vary wildly and large churches/temples fill the area more than anywhere else I found in Los Angeles. It was early in the afternoon by this point and I needed a coffee — which wasn’t hard to come by at all. There was also a lot of construction going on.

As I wandered eastward out of Koreatown I wound up in MacArthur Park. The west half of the park seemed fine with kids playing soccer and such. But heading to the east side there were some sketchy dealings going down. I requested a Lyft out of there and it couldn’t have come soon enough.