Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

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

March 21st, 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.

Paris of the Pacific tour

February 26th, 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.

Salesforce Tower’s hat lights tested

February 13th, 2018

Salesforce Tower hat testing
 

Today for the first time I noticed the LED grid in the “hat” on Salesforce Tower was being tested. If you’re unaware, the top of the tower isn’t offices, but rather a light-based public art display. Visible throughout much of the city, this will be a big change to the skyline — weather permitting.

Now, it should be noted that San Francisco has a mixed reputation when it comes to permanent light-based art installations. While the Bay Lights have been successfully lighting up the Bay Bridge, the Promenade Ribbon along the Embarcadero didn’t last very long due to water damage. I mean, who could have foreseen water damage as a problem along the edge of the bay?

For that matter, the black rectangle that used to sit on the side of Moscone West was intended to be a light show of sorts, but didn’t work well and was eventually removed.

So let’s hope Salesforce Tower’s light artist Jim Campbell knows a thing or two about fog-proofing his designs or this new installation may flicker out as well.

Honey bear invasion

January 30th, 2018

Tony the Tiger honey bear Honey Bowie bear Flava honey bear
 

On the way to work this morning I noticed SOMA had been invaded by honey bears. Anyone familiar with local street art — or regular readers of this blog — would immediately recognize this as the work of fnnch. But what was up with all the bears appearing at once? And why were they strapped to the utility poles instead of painted on?

I didn’t have to wait long to find out, because pretty much every local news outlet covered the project.

To sum up an already short story, fnnch got a bunch of friends together to raise awareness of a petition to decriminalize certain types of street art. But to learn more in fnnch’s own words, check out this post on Medium about the project.

New water feature installed on Second Street

January 5th, 2018

Fire hydrant vs. truck
 

With the fountains at the 303 Second Street plaza and the muddy rocks thing at the c|net CBS Interactive building, one would think Second Street has enough decorative outdoor fountains already.

But a certain truck driver decided to create his own temporary water feature installation this evening at Second and Stevenson, located between the KPMG building and Uno Dos Tacos.

It was dazzling many passers by on their evening commutes, many of which stopped to take photos and videos. Even a crew of fire fighters showed up to enjoy the spectacle!

One has to wonder if this artist could secretly be Banksy in his most audacious display of guerrilla art yet? We may never know.

Murder at the Conservatory

October 29th, 2017

Conservatory of Flowers light show
 

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Murder at the Conservatory, a game that takes place monthly at the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. It’s a benefit for the conservatory and as such the tickets are a little pricey. You must be 21 or older and have a valid ID to enter.

This post does NOT include spoilers, but if you want to go in completely fresh stop reading here.
 

The story itself will be familiar to anyone who’s read Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, countless other murder mystery authors, or even played the game Clue for that matter. One of several characters has committed a murder, and a detective has to figure out who did it.

This event differs from other murder mysteries in a number of ways. While you’re free to dress up if you wish you’re only asked to work as a detective, not play as a character in the mystery. All characters in the story are played by actors, giving the production an immersive theater vibe. You’re free to interact with them and ask anything you want as part of your investigation.

As is typical for the genre, the setting for the story — at least the current story — is the conservatory itself in the Victorian era. This makes the 1870′s location a perfect fit. Amusingly, the characters were confused by the audience’s modern technology (mobile phones, etc.) One audience member asked a character about DNA evidence only to get a rather silly, confused reaction.

All clues are all held by or in the immediate vicinity of the characters, who stay in one place throughout the night and interact with audience members who stop by. I’d estimate the audience consists of up to about 80 people.

It’s a little weird at the moment because a nightly light show is projection-mapped onto the conservatory building for the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Though nowhere near as ambitious as the City Hall 100th anniversary celebration it’s a quirky exhibit which can be noticed during the murder mystery. It’s all a mishmash of celebrating both Victorian and late 1960′s time periods in the same place (see photo above.) That said I didn’t find the light show particularly distracting.

The trick to solving the mystery is finding out what happened and when, what was the murder weapon, who knows what, and the relations between the characters. Fortunately you’re provided a notebook with the backstory and plenty of space for taking notes. A map is included which shows where to find each character.

A light dinner and beer or wine is included in the price of the ticket. The food was mostly vegetarian-friendly when I went, though your mileage may vary. Most of it was not vegan. Drinks can be consumed throughout most of the Conservatory with the exception of the butterfly exhibit. The first drink is free but additional drinks are expensive, though credit cards are accepted.

Before you ask… no, I didn’t correctly guess the guilty party. Like any good mystery there were multiple motives and misdirections. There’s no penalty for blaming the wrong character, but only those who figure out the right answer are entered into a drawing for prizes at the end.

Getting to the Conservatory of Flowers is relatively straightforward. Follow the Google Maps directions, and from there you’ll find clear signage directing you to the event. That said, I took the N-Judah and while it’s a more or less straightforward path from the UCSF stop through the park, getting back in full darkness and fog proved challenging. Turns out Golden Gate Park is tough to navigate in near darkness.

The current season of Murder at the Conservatory runs through January. In February they’ll be back for a new season with a new mystery to solve. Meanwhile, there are still tickets available at upcoming shows.

Tips:

  • Although the event is two hours long, the first half hour is just for reading the story and grabbing a drink and some food. If you’re running a little late you might not get a seat in the bar room but you won’t miss anything.
  • Pay attention to what the characters say; if they give you insight into another character, take note and be sure to ask the other character for more details.
  • For that matter, remember who is who! Many of the audience members seemed to get the characters mixed up. Perhaps they’d imbibed one drink too many.
  • Bring your own pencil or pen, the provided pencils are cheap crap.
  • Enjoy your surroundings! Going inside the conservatory after dark is a truly unique experience.

Just some parrots chilling on 16th Street

August 26th, 2017

Parrots on 16th Street
 

While heading down 16th Street earlier this evening I spotted some parrots; not the wild variety you find on Telegraph Hill but rather the domestic variety. A man eating at Pakwan on 16th Street brought along a few pet parrots. While two of them sat on a tree branch attached to a bicycle (pictured) a third sat with the owner, attempting to open a glass Coke bottle with its beak.

All of this was, of course, surrounded by amused folks taking photos of the colorful birds with their phones — myself included.

A robot served ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery

July 30th, 2017


 

Yesterday just before 7 PM I got an unexpected series of texts from a friend:

I got ice cream from a robot
I’m at 18th and Dolores.
 

There’s a robot here
Bi-Rite Creamery

Intrigued, I texted back letting her know I was on the way; what sort of maniac could say no to watching a robot serve ice cream? I raced over from BART, practically running down 18th Street.

The “robot” as it turned out was a pair of robot arms attached to a mannequin torso, sitting on a table under a tent on the sidewalk outside Bi-Rite Creamery. A guy waving around a pair of HTC Vive controllers caused the two arms to scoop up ice cream and sprinkles — for free — to robot and/or ice cream fans passing by the creamery on 18th Street.

Not wanting to spoil my appetite for dinner, I declined the ice cream, but happily watched as others partook. My friend said the ice cream was oddly flavored with a mix of blueberry and anise, but is the taste really the point? Much like robot arm serving coffee in Cafe-X in the Metreon, sometimes it’s the mechanized process that’s the star, not the resulting food products.

The robot did seem to have a camera in its “head,” and I noticed there was an unused Vive virtual reality headset sitting on the table. The desktop PC controlling everything had a high-end GeForce GTX graphics card glowing from under the case’s grill which seemed capable of driving the headset. When I asked the operator if the VR headset worked with this contraption he confirmed that it does, though he said it’s difficult to see what he’s doing while wearing the headset.

Perhaps in the future this might be addressed. At that point it’s only a matter of time before a remote operator could use this device to serve ice cream, then a few years down the line the contraption could be fully automated with artificial intelligence to remove the need for a human operator at all, thus putting hard-working ice cream scoopers out of a job.

For now though this device not only requires a human operator, but also requires the recipient of the dessert to carefully move their bowl as the ice cream drops out of the serving spoon.

 
Watch my video above to see this somewhat chaotic process in action, and check out some photos in the gallery below.

Ice cream robot at Bi-Rite Creamery Ice cream robot at Bi-Rite Creamery Ice cream robot at Bi-Rite Creamery Ice cream robot at Bi-Rite Creamery

Visiting the top of Coit Tower

June 11th, 2017

Coit Tower
 

Despite living in San Francisco for (checks watch) almost 14 years now — and the Bay Area my entire life — somehow I’d never bothered to take the elevator to the top of Coit Tower… until yesterday.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve climbed up Telegraph Hill more times than I can remember. I’ve walked up and down the staircases of both the Greenwich Steps and the Filbert Steps, as well as semi-staircase sidewalk along Filbert Street from Washington Square on the western side of the hill.

But Coit Tower itself? Sure I’ve gone in and looked at the murals, but as for the trip up to the top I was always turned off by the price and the long lines.

Well, it turns out you can take the elevator ride to the top either for free, or without waiting in line — but not both. How? Let me explain.

If you’re not interested in paying, all you have to do is sign up for a library card at any SF Public Library location. Once you’ve done that (or renewed your card if it’s expired) visit the Discover & Go website and log in with your library card and PIN. From there you can get free access to various local museums, pools, etc. Select the Coit Tower option, which includes “Free admission for up to two adults accompanied by up to four children under 18.”

Or if like me, you’re more turned off by the lines than the price, book a reservation with a skip the line ticket at least one day in advance. In addition to a $2 advance booking fee fee, adults pay $9.00 but residents of SF with a valid ID only pay $6.50. Seniors and children get a discount as well regardless of residence status. (All prices are as of this writing in 2017.)

In my case the employees seemed a little confused by the skip the line ticket, but accommodated me nonetheless. If there’s a line at the front door, just present the printed pass and they’ll wave you through to the gift shop. From there, the cashier took my pass, gave me a hand stamp and a receipt, then told me to go back to the elevator and wait for the next group.

Once the elevator operator has taken you to 15 or so stories up you’re actually not at the top — you’re at a lower observation platform for people with disabilities. Assuming you’re able there’s still two flights of stairs to climb.

 
Coit Tower
 

The top of the tower looks pretty much like what you’d expect from the ground — it’s an open air viewing area with sets of three windows on each side. That said, to my surprise, many of the windows were open. Visitors were sticking their cameras out of them to take photos. I wonder how many people have accidentally dropped their cameras?

From these windows, weather permitting there’s an amazing view of North Beach, the bay, and downtown. Click the photos in the gallery below for a full view.

 
Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower Coit Tower
 

Despite being an iconic tourist attraction, I was surprised by how non-touristy it felt at the top. The atmosphere was relaxed, the elevator operator was very chill, and the only crowd was the line in the lobby.

I should point out there is a second activity at Coit Tower that isn’t as well advertised, and I have yet to try it myself: in addition to the Depression era murals in the lobby, there’s a small second floor above it with more murals. This second floor was closed to the public up until 2014 and still isn’t as open as the lobby. You can book paid mural tours either in the ticket window at the lobby, or through the skip the line website (see above.) Or if you’d rather not pay anything, SF City Guides has a free tour of the murals on a regular basis. Both include access to the second floor area.

Are there other floors in the tower? I’ve long heard about how the tower’s original caretaker lived in a small apartment located within the tower, but always assumed the tale was apocryphal. Yet according to SF Gate the apartment was real:

If you are up there at the right time, you can see staff coming out a door, beneath Ben Cunningham’s “Outdoor Life.” This is something else as unknown as the second-floor murals: the long-rumored Coit Tower caretaker’s apartment, now converted to an office.

What were they thinking?! With a location like that, even a cramped apartment could have easily fetched a steep rent — especially if it included unlimited roof access. I’d certainly consider moving in.

Visiting the new Venus sculpture at Trinity Place

June 1st, 2017

Trinity Place sculpture garden
 

Trinity Place, the aggressively rectangular apartment buildings in mid market are still under construction. But the main plaza and much reported on Venus sculpture by artist Lawrence Argent have already been installed and are ready for their close ups.

So, how can you go see it?

From Mission Street between 7th and 8th Streets, the Venus sculpture is clearly visible from a fence. One might think the sculpture is accessible from there — not so. The gates in the fence are locked (presumably residents have a key.)

But if you walk around to the 8th Street side of Trinity Place between Mission and Market, there’s an alley without a gate. And that’s where things get interesting.

Walking down the alley, I noticed something unexpected: a sculpture seemingly trapped in a blue/green ringed glass container. This was at one end of a small hallway leading to the plaza where the Venus sculpture rests. At the other end of the hallway, what do you know — a second trapped sculpture. Both seemed reminiscent of the main attraction in that they all exhibit eerily modern looking distortion applied to what otherwise seem to be classic Greek or Roman-like works.

 
Trinity Place sculpture garden Trinity Place sculpture garden
 

It turns out that the Venus sculpture is the largest part of a a series of art installations called C’era Una Volta, which includes the aforementioned sculptures, the plaza itself, and a number of intricate rock carvings.

Without C’era Una Volta, Trinity Place would look like a bland, generic apartment complex; with it, I could almost forget the buildings even existed. The modern, whimsical sculpture garden was easily captivating enough to distract me from the otherwise uninspired surrounding architecture.

 
Trinity Place sculpture garden Trinity Place sculpture garden