Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Farina neighbors really, really pissed off

Photo courtesy katerw on FlickrNeighbors of Mission District Italian place Farina are upset over how the restaurants' customers are double parking their cars and worried about the rooftop seating and the full liquor license.

They think the joint is going to become a haven for loudmouth drunktards who will scream from the rooftop and puke all over their streets and leave their cars in all kinds of illegal places.

Eighty of them complained to the restaurant owners before the place was even built -- parking was already out of control. Then they found out about the roof seating and full bar and got more pissed.

Then 50 wrote letters against the place to the Planning Commission. The commission approved the restaurant anyway and everyone got triple pissed.

The restaurant opened in June, approximately, which apparently pissed the neighbors off even more.

One neighbor got so pissed he was arrested for throwing paint on cars parked illegally outside the restaurant. The only witness was someone from the restaurant so the charges were dropped.

But just to give you a sense of how being pissed can change a man: the guy allegedly throwing paint is, by day, working as a criminal attorney.

Also, he told SF Magazine, on the record, as Matt Wilson, the following: "I just want everyone to know that this restaurant has fucked me."

Like I said: Piiiiissed.

SF Magazine, which wrote about the whole situation (offline, since it is now the year 1993), thinks Farina's owners need to learn to be more nice and friendly to the quadruple-pissed neighbors, because after all Delfina, Range and Bar Tartine have learned to do so.

Either that or just keep having them hauled off to jail for being so damned pissed all the time.

(Photo courtesy of katerw on Flickr via Creative Commons license.)

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Attention SF drunktards: An 80-proof shot is not good for your stomach, energy, emotions, walking or hangover!

Listen, new-money Web 2.0 Yelper yuppie dude, with your $15 fresh-fruit cocktails and your single-malt snobbery, throwing your Google stock option money across bars all over town: Jordan Mackay at 7X7 magazine has a message for you.

He knows you've read all about Italian bitters like Fernet Banca on the Web and maybe in a newspaper you accidentally read once, on a train or something.

It's cute you order a round of "amari" after dinner (small plates, probably), and before leaving the first bar, and before stumbling home.

But stop hoping it will brighten your mood, or give you energy, or digest your food, or make the evil hangover go away. Unlike your useless herbal supplements, which merely waste money, bitters contain alcohol and drinking more than one "is like taking the carpool lane to the Big Hurt," no matter what they tell you at R Bar.

Which, by the way, is kind of a retarded, Web 2.0 name for a bar, and needs an apostrophe. (OK, maybe Jordan didn't say that part.)

7X7: The Day After Amaro

(Photos courtesy thepartycow on Flickr and Adam j r on Flickr.)

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Beer ruined by male insecurity

Beer is so rarely served in properly-shaped glassware that places like Toronado, Magnolia Brewery and Alembic have made their names just by having the proper crystal in their cabinets, and Dean Biersch is touting proper glasses as part of his forthcoming tavern in Sonoma.

And the reason you can't get the proper glass for, say, your Trumer Pils at just any old neighborhood pub is that men are afraid of having smaller-than-average ... vessels of beer. Ya, that's it, that's what their insecure about the size of.

The owner of Magnolia and Alembic Dave McLean reveals all in a recent 7X7 blurb:
“You’d be very surprised at how sensitive some men get about being served a smaller glass than the others at their table,” he says. “Must be a masculinity thing.”

... We try it out. In a tulip glass, his exquisitely hoppy Proving Ground IPA smells powerfully like a stroll through a flowering mountain meadow. But in a pint glass, the aromas dissipate.
So even though Belgian ales and hoppy beers are best served in a tulip glass and pilsners in narrow cylinders, they usually aren't, because some whiny man might whine. 7X7:

European mean are apparently much more sophisticated about the whole thing. Typical.

7X7: Beer Genius

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Your nightlife does not impress Sean Penn or the lady who runs Tosca. Nor does your 'physical fitness.'

If paying a $500 table charge, $300 for bottle service and your human dignity for admission to the latest and greatest in San Francisco nightlife all makes you throw up in your mouth a little bit, you are in the good company of Sean Penn and Tosca Cafe proprietor Jeannette Etherdge.

Both sound off in an engaging article on Tosca by Burr Snider in the May issue of San Francisco magazine. (Not online, sadly, so no linky.)

And Jeanette, man, she has had it:
It's not Herb Caen's town anymore, that's for sure ... This city used to be a party every night. There were the Beats and the hippies and the jazz clubs -- Chet Baker at the Jazz Workshop, Thelonious Monk at the Blackhawk -- and everybody mixed it up. I mean, you'd see Saroyan and those guys and all the Pacific Heights people out in the clubs. They all jog now or go to the gym. Instead of a shot of Jack, it's a shot of wheat germ. Maybe there's a whole new life with this generation south of Market and other places, but I'm not a part of it. I'm definitely nostalgic.

... If I didn't have my own place, I'd probably live in Chicago.
Sean Penn has also apparently had it with the kids and their overpriced yuppie meat markets where everyone looks like they are posing for a slot in a reality TV show:
I can go in there (to Tosca) and not feel like a part of the generation that comes up behind me, and I'm talking about everything, from the floor to the ceiling to the cushions on the booths.
The article calls Etheredge a "sublime presence on the stool by the cappuccino machine at the far end of the bar."
"I've never been in a bar that so much reflected the personality of the person who ran it," [former Examiner editor David McCumber] said. "Jeanette's smart and wickedly funny, and she collects great people who love her madly. And of course she was shrewd enough to retain the amazing look of th place, the dim lighting, the jukebox that plays Caruso and Patsy Cline. I don't know how she does it, but to me the place just glows."
The list of Tosca celebrities in the article alone is staggeringly long. Consider that Robin Williams and Hunter S. Thompson not only drink/drank there but actually worked as employees, running the bar for a night each.

Other people tied to Tosca over the years, according to the story:
  • Francis Coppola
  • Peter Fonda
  • Juliette Binoche drinking with ...
  • Gerard Dépardieu
  • David Byrne
  • Winona Rider riding on the shoulders of ...
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  • Tom Cruise hanging with
  • Matt Dillon
  • Chuck Yeager and
  • Dennis Quaid
And then there's this interesting nugget about the Chronicle:
Just a couple of years ago, a nasty scuffle erupted during a party thrown by the San Francisco Chronicle to honor its Pulitzer-winning photohrapher Deanne Fitzmaurice. Apparently, one of the paper's top female editors got a little too unwound and leaped onto the pool table to dance. This didn't sit well with a very senior male executive who saw fit to yank the editor down by her hair. Much unseemly pushing and shoving ensued, and the incident caused quite the little scandal at the paper. For Etheredge, it was just another night's work, but she got a huge kick out of the profusion of flowers and gifts and abject notes of apology sent by the remorseful miscreants to get back in her favor.
I'm trying to think of a VERY senior Chronicle guy (emphasis in the original), maybe one with close ties to Hollywood and Sean Penn and thus inclined to gallantly defend Tosca's and thus his possible, coveted back-room access, and am coming up totally blank. Completely.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Copia opening in San Francisco

My colleague Sarah Duxbury has the scoop in today's Business Times on how Copia, a sort of food museum in Napa Valley, is opening a satellite office in San Francisco at Ghirardelli Square.

The SF Copia will share space with Cellar 360, a Healdsburg wine retailer than will offer tastings and small plates of food. Cellar 360 is a division of Australian spirits firm Foster's Group, which owns wine brands like Beringer and Stag's Leap, but the tastings will be run by people from Copia.

Copia will offer everything from a half-hour tasting course to a two-year certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, Sarah writes. Copia is the only entity on the West Coast to offer such certification.

The 6,000-square foot facility is joined in Ghirardelli Square by Fairmont's fractional ownership hotel, set to open in thee fall.

Sarah's Copia story is not online; this may change on Monday but I wanted to post something today because I see the press release is going out.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Early returns on District: Horrible service, bad design, painful acoustics, rude overcharging, mixed food. But otherwise, uh, 'very good.'

Fatemeh at Gastronomie realizes District has only been open two weeks, and realizes that it's more of a bar than a restaurant. Nevertheless, she is pissed off.

I'm not sure what the trouble is.

Sure, her eardrums nearly exploded from the "acoustic nightmare."

Yes, the cramped design left her "bumped" every two minutes or so (paging Michael Bauer ...).

Oh, and maybe the bartender forgot her three-item order. Twice.

Granted, her Carpaccio was "swimming" in what appeared to be bottled Caesar-salad dressing.

But is this really such a big deal?

After all, to make up for all its mistakes, the bar-staurant generously berated her date for underpaying for a bottle wine, before grumpily admitting the humiliating incident had been their fault due to a misreading of the menu.

Such sweethearts!

Fatemeh worries:
Is it fair to judge a restaurant a mere two weeks after opening and post a negative review on a public blog? Probably not.
Actually, given that we're all adults and understand that the place may well improve in time, and given that it's open for business and accepting money, it's totally fair.

And given Fatemeh's review, it's totally awesome.

(I haven't found any other early reviews, except for a few written before District's opening. Including this one from the 7x7 blog that recommends District because it is owned by "these tall good-looking guys who could have stepped straight out of the cast of Melrose Place." Great. That really speaks to me!)

Full review:

Gastronomie: District Wine Bar. Just Another Pretty Face?

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Gordon Biersch founder ditches SF for new restaurant

Gordon Biersch co-founder Dean Biersch initially wanted to put his new beer restaurant in San Francisco, but says he has decided to put it in the city of Sonoma due to spiraling costs in SF.

Biersch's tavern is to be called Hopmonk. The place is optimized for serving beer -- each beer is to be carefully selected, served in traditional glassware appropriate to that particular brew, and paired carefully with food.

The beers will be imported from Europe and selected from regional craft brewers in the U.S. Biersch will also brew a house pilsner of his own design, under contract to a brewer (likely Gordon Biersch).

The idea is to have a constantly-changing lineup of beers by category, for example during a winter month Hopmunk might feature bocks and dunkelweizens.

The food and decor is to be locally-inspired, with a Northern California flavor, rather than an imitation of the sort of pub and pub food one might find in Europe. Though it will use local ingredients, Biersch is not aiming for a high-end "gastropub" type menu as at, for example, Salt House, but more of the traditional bar foods -- sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads.

I have the full story in the Business Times:

Biersch taps out in S.F. (free link)

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sanctimonious Scotch snobs moving to bourbon; Maker's and Coke to cost $19

From the "If you read it in a glossy magazine it must be true" department: Bourbon whiskey is taking the last of the rich guys who used to spend their money driving up the price of single-malt scotch. And you thought they had all moved on to premium rum, organic vodka or high-grade cocaine!

According to always-honest San Francisco magazine -- well, at least they're ostensibly plugged in among the big spenders -- "small batch whiskey looks to be the next big thing in San Francisco. Young drinkers have been educating themselves with the selection of fine new American bourbons, ryes and single malts now on the market."

A new bar in the Haight called Alembic is all over this trend, with a bourbon-soaked cocktail list (PDF) and what has to be one of the most obnoxious websites in the city, and that's saying a lot considering how Flashfully awful the typical restaurant Web presence is.

Whiskey Thieves on Geary and Hyde claims 70 American whiskeys behind the bar, albeit in divey surroundings accentuated by legal smoking (typical Yelp review: " This place BLEEDS brawlin ...").

In addition to Alembic and Whiskey Thieves, which seem to be reasonably legit exemplars of the Bourbon trend, SF Mag threw in as examples Nihon and Jardiniere. ???! . Still, an interesting new way to spend a lot of money on booze.

Schnapps, by the way, remains pretty much the last liquor type without a ridiculously overpriced, "ultrapremium" brand extension. It's holed up with Boones Farm in the Liquor Alamo.

Correction: My headline originally said 'Jack and Coke,' but Jack is not bourbon. Thanks to Echa in the comments for setting me straight.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Farmer Brown wants to reap new place

Farmer Brown chef-owner Jay Foster wants to take over the Plush Room in the York Hotel, the hotel's new owner told me.

Personality Hotels is buying the York from CTwo hotels, plus the Maxwell Hotel from Joie de Vivre Hospitality, bringing its total stable of Union Square hotels to seven.

Personality is already landlord to Farmer Brown: the neo-soul food restaurant is located in the company's Metropolis hotel.

I learned all this at a party for the Diva hotel, which was recently renovated with the help of a bunch of up-and-coming artists. Personality Hotels founder Yvonne Lembi-Detert was excited about the new hotels, but gave no indication on how likely she is to let Farmer Brown run the Plush Room.

Prior to writing my story, I confirmed the hotel sales with CTwo and Joie de Vivre. But after we went to press, someone from Personality called to tell me that the loans for the acquisitions are not fully nailed down yet, so these are not quite done deals at the moment.

The Plush Room, aka Empire Plush Room, is now run by Razz Productions.

This all comes from a story I wrote on Personality Hotels (free link) in Friday's Business Times.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Vessel charging $500 per table; new age of excess

I almost forgot to post my front page story from Friday's Business Times:

A spate of new bars are riding the second dot-com wave, targeting conspicuous consumers with new fees and rules.

My lead example is Vessel, already open many nights as part of its "soft opening" and set to formally open Feb. 22. Vessel is on Campton Place, across from the hotel and next door to Alfred's steakhouse.

The bar cost $1 million - $5 million to build but is hoping to swiftly recoup that from consumers, charging nighttime rates of $500 for a full, 12-person table and $250 for a half table. That's just to sit down, not including bottle service or other drinks.

I also mention the Ambassador, opened in January and reserving booths for people spending hundreds of dollars on bottle service, and of course Bourbon and Branch, where you need a reservation in advance and have a time limit on your visit.

Finally, there's "Mister," a forthcoming Financial District barbershop-and-bar, which targets affluent young financial services types and offers memberships at the "player," "hitter" and "mogul" level.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Fake wine bars make Alder Yarrow want to spit

An actual wine barAlder Yarrow has a fun rant on an experience that is becoming all too common:
You wander into a newly opened "Bistro and Wine Bar" in a favorite neighborhood only to find it is actually just a restaurant -- sometimes even lacking the very piece of furniture that "bar" generally refers to -- that serves wine by the (often over-full and impossible to swirl) glass?
Real wine bars have actual, um, bars, along with wine by the taste and an extensive list that changes, according to Alder. Ideally, they have knowledgeable servers and nice stemware. Sounds reasonable.

Fake wine bars meanwhile, tend to be restaurants with the words "and Wine Bar" tacked on to the end of their name. Or wine shops with a tasting area.

Worth a read.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Uncork your waitstaff -- teach 'em to drink!

Alder Yarrow at Vinography, who recently won a "best drinks blog" award, registers a strong if artful complaint about how terrible waiters are with wine:
I continually run across waitstaff who are seriously clueless about wine ... I mean so clueless that, when the Pinot Noir poured by the glass is sold out, they suggest a Zinfandel because "it's similar." I mean so clueless as to not know how to pour wine into a decanter (hint: turning the bottle upside down vertically and sticking it into the neck of the decanter is NOT the right way). I mean so clueless that they've never even tasted any of the wines on the by-the-glass list.
Alder says that you, restaurateur, should get your waitstaff drunk -- or, "train" them, whatever -- because the more they know, the more money they can make you.

He points to a Cornell study that found a restaurant grew wine sales 39 percent over its nearby chain-sibling by recommending to customers five specific wines.

This reminded me of my recent coverage of Bay Area-based Bacchus Restaurant Group (free link), which runs Village Pub in Woodside and Pizza Antica in Santana Row, Lafayette and Mill Valley, and which is opening two new restaurants in SF.

The company invests heavily in training staff in wine:

He requires managers at all four Bacchus-operated restaurants to obtain a first-level certification from the British Court of Master Sommeliers, and pays for waiters to do the same. The costs run to close to $2,000 per employee, but the expertise translates into lower staff turnover and higher wine sales.

For example, roughly 40 percent of wine sales at Bacchus' three Pizza Antica restaurants come in the form of bottles rather than glasses, versus perhaps 1 percent at most pizza parlors, Stannard estimates.

Bottom line is you have to be willing to make an investment in staff to get the payoff in wine sales, according to this thinking. So if Bacchus is anything to go by, Alder is on to something.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Loose lounge = loose wallet

The most notable thing in the December issue of San Francisco magazine is a spread on "the new restaurant lounges," which asks the question "who needs dining rooms?"

The short article focuses on Poleng Lounge in Western Addition. Loungey Poleng is designed to evoke a Southeast Asian beach hut, and at 10 o'clock becomes a dance club, complete with $20 cover charge.

The article also claims Spanish Fly and the lounges at Coi and Myth as other examples of the trend.

I would add just about every new high-end restaurant of the past year, which almost always seem to include some kind of secondary space (other than a bar) where people can get away with jeans while still ordering off the main menu.

I am thinking particularly of the raw bar at Ame, the lounge at Straits in the old Emporium (soon to spill out under the rotunda), the windowside tables at Perbacco and even the massive lounge at T-Rex in Berkeley. But the list goes on and on and on.

My theory is that the casual vibe lubricates spending better than the stuffiness of the main dining room, and not just because the alcohol is flowing more freely. If you can tolerate the noise of these places, they tend to amplify your energy rather than muffle it up.

This reminds me of a story I heard from a friend who worked at Fifth Floor. He told the story of a guy who came in one day with his kids, wearing jeans, no reservation. He was very polite and understood completely that they could only accommodate him in the lounge, due at least partly to his attire.

The guy starts asking some very detailed questions about the wine list, and eventually the sommelier comes out. He ends up dropping thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars on wine alone, and leaves an extremely generous tip.

Shortly thereafter Kimpton spent some serious bucks refurbishing and relaunching the Fifth Floor's lounge.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Selling booze: two approaches.

So you want to sell some booze. By the glass, that is, rather than by the case.

There are two theories on how best to do this.

The first, epitomized by Bourbon and Branch, is to make your place first hard to find, with no signage in a nasty part of town, and second hard to get into, with a locked door and reservations-only policy. There is a time limit governing how long you may stay.

There are two ways to interpret this approach. The less charitable one is to say such a joint actually won't make much selling alcohol because of sometimes apathetic service, arbitrary ordering restrictions and a holier-than-thou attitude. Maybe the real intent is to appeal to masochistic diners who derive more pleasure from the illusion of exclusivity and popularity than from actual hospitality -- or who mistake one for the other.

The more charitable way to interpret this approach is as a very savvy way to provide top service only to people who spend lots of money on fancy bourbons, scotches, rums and tequilas, the kind of folks who frequent cigar bars and steak houses. These people get attentive service and can stay as long as they want despite the written policies. They can backsass the bartender. And, just maybe, they'll eventually fill up enough of your bar to make it quite profitable.

I remain wholly unconvinced this is what is intended at B&B, or if it is intended that it will work as a business venture.

But there is a counter-trend, or at least a Second Way. Let's use Perbacco as an example, since they just opened and I just drank there.

Perbacco is located in an accessible, safe part of town -- the financial district, next door to Aqua and Tadich Grill -- that also happens to be populated by lots of people with money to spend. There is a sign on the door and good windows. To ensure good service, they have been hiring
staff away from other places, including the lead sommelier from Aqua.

If you want to visit, you just open the big, glass door under the big, fat sign, and walk right up to the bar. People have found this system so appealing that there are regularly huge crowds filling up Perbacco's bar most weeknights. I see them on my way home from work.

The coolest part, though, is the wine menu. Check it out in PDF. Not only do there seem to be many wines by the glass, and of a high quality, you can get everything in a quarter or half bottle.

There's not a lot to interpret in this approach. It straightforward, transparent and hospitable.

(A publicist tried to convince me this is a trend at restaurants around the city. I'm not so sure -- seems to me half bottles and wines by-the-glass have been gaining traction for many years. Do put your thoughts on this in the comments.)

(For the record, I paid my own way at Perbacco, as always.)

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

If you could please buy many more overpriced cocktails, much more often, that would be greeaat ...

So 7X7 Magazine assembles six nightclub owners to talk business and, whaddya know, they immediately start railing on how San Franciscans don't go out enough, don't spend enough money, things are soo much better in New York and Las Vegas, yadda yadda.

Call it part deux of The Eternal Wait for Big Expense Accounts, in which everyone from pension fund managers to the lowliest general manager awaits a massive litter of business fatcats to justify excessive investment in some niche of the hospitality sector.

Some choice quotes:
There's a lot of money in San Francisco. but people don't go out and spend it as much ... In NYC you don't even need a great concept. You could open anything and people will come in.
--Todd Palmerton, co-owner, Mamacita and Doubledutch
LA, New York and Miami have the entertainment business driving a lot of the nightlife, especially on the weekdays when you have movie premiers. You get the fashion house
that wants to show off some new line, an agency that just signed a bunch of new actors or models. We don't have that here.
--Hugo Gamboa, co-owner, Suite One8One, Impala, Marina Sports, Mas Sake Freestyle, Glo
This is a very expensive city to live in. Unless you have a high-paying job, it's very expensive to live here, never mind go out.
--Sunwoo Hwang, owner, Vessel
And, inevitably:
During the dot-com era there was a much greater cross section of people in SF [with money --ed.], so many more people went out every night ... I definitely think we have not rebounded from that.
--Gina Milano, founder, Bambuddha

As much as I like to be snarky lately, there are actually some good insights there.

Read the story for the full roundtable, including more on the dangers of hip-hop, an owner cheating on his wife in his club and the resurgence of cocaine in SF.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Oakland: the knives are for more than stabbing

There's a fascinating restaurant boom under way in Oakland.

Specifically, in the Uptown district of downtown Oakland, which is stealing some thunder from Rockridge, the upscale Oakland neighborhood that long ago earned its foodie stamp with Oliveto.

I report in today's Business Times that Belgian-themed bar and restaurant Luka's Taproom is planning to open a wine bar right across Broadway from its existing location. This comes directly from the owner of Luka's, Rick Mitchell.

In the days since I wrote that article, I have heard that three San Francisco restaurants are looking at making the leap into Uptown. I can't think of this ever happening before with restaurants of this caliber -- two are three Chronicle stars, one is two-and-a-half, and all are A-list in terms of street buzz.

It's worth noting that when San Francisco magazine in August named the top 10 new restaurants of the past year, two were in Oakland (Tamarindo in Old Oakland and Pizzaiola in Temescal) and one was in Berkeley (Sea Salt).

Existing East Bay stars are clamoring to get into Uptown, including (as previously reported ad nauseum) the team behind Dona Tomas and Tacubaya and, allegedly, a three-star Oakland restaurant who I am not naming yet.

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