Tag Archives: City

City Surf

It was the coldest day of the year in San Francisco. A low pressure system off the coast sent frigid winds and dismal surfing conditions to the shores of Linda Mar beach in Pacifica, California.

In the parking lot, older surfers declare victory-at-sea from the confines of their cars. Many will retreat home with the heater dial turned all the way up.  The waves whimper in the stiff northwest breeze. “Hardly worth a paddle,” a local mutters to his friend.

A van pulls into the lot with surfboards stacked towards the heavens. It is the City Surf Project, a non-profit organization that teaches inner-city kids to surf, and they are paddling out regardless of the wild weather.

Today’s charges are from Mission High school and despite the cold, rough seas, they clamber into wetsuits. It is the day they have been waiting for. Offered as a 7th period P.E elective, the City Surf Project meets with the kids three times a week.

Mondays are for the classroom where they’ll learn more about the sport, culture, and etiquette.

Wednesday, they swim for conditioning and to get more comfortable in the water. Friday, they hit the beach with volunteer surf coaches who will help push them into waves so that they can learn the ancient Hawaiian past time.

 

 

For most of the students, this is the only opportunity they’ll have to access the beach. Before the City Surf Project, some had never seen the ocean before.

Surfing is a giant metaphor for life. It teaches perseverance and patience, as well as respect for nature and oneself. The lessons learned from the ocean are instilled into the City Surf Project by its founder, Johnny Irwin.

“The three pillars to the City Surf Projects Philosophy,” Irwin says to a circle of a diverse group of smiling faces, “are to respect nature and our fellow surfers, health, and personal growth.”

Irwin was inspired to start the City Surf Project by his father, late SF State Sociology Professor, John Keith Irwin.

Each beach outing begins the same. First, the students circle up in donated wetsuits and begin a series of stretches and exercises. Then, they go over safety precaution, with the more experienced students pointing out the rip currents and how to avoid them. Next, they talk about their goals, each student desires to progress.

Each student goes around and explains one example of each. Kevin Campos, a Mission High student who commutes from Oakland, California, suggests not eating McDonald’s and playing soccer, when asked how he was going to maintain a healthy life. In the parking lot, he goes over his soccer drills to warm himself before the plunge.

Irwin’s goal is to spread the gospel of surf to those who otherwise would never have the opportunity. His father surfed without the luxuries of wetsuits and leashes in what was called the Bonfire Era of Ocean Beach because surfers had to stoke a blaze on shore to fight off hypothermia. The City Surf Project is Irwin’s way of thanking his father for passing the love of surf onto him.

Many of the students say they joined the City Surf Project because their friends were enrolled and it sounded fun. The program is offered at Mission, Leadership, Independent, and Lowell High school. By the end of the semester, the students have the knowledge and experience to begin surfing on their own.

Not all of the volunteers are experienced surfers at the City Surf Project. SF State Brenda Gonzalez had never surfed a day in her life before signing up to intern.

“As an environmental science and sociology major, I wanted an internship that would encompass both,” Gonzalez said.

In the shorebreak, Gonzalez clutches onto a Gopro camera tightly. Today, her job is to get photos for the City Surf Projects Instagram. Hailing from Monterey Park in Los Angeles, Gonzalez has never been in water this cold before.

“Just like the kids, my parents didn’t go to the beach so I’d bus it to Venice and spend the day there,” says Gonzalez.

After her job is done, she gets a surf lesson of her own. With a bit of instruction, she’s surfing in no time. And just like the kids, she’s hooked on the free thrill of riding waves.

Reduce, Reuse, Restyle

Hair stylist Lexi Hernandez prepares model Kelsey Hernandez’s hair before the San Francisco Sustainable Fashion Week Green Glam Fashion Show in San Francisco Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. (Alex Kofman/ Xpress)

 

By Carlos Mendoza

[dropcap size=”50px”]A[/dropcap]s the room darkened, shades of florescent neon green and blue lights paved the way for a runway and the once loud grand ballroom at San Francisco’s Grand Hyatt fell silent as a woman stepped onto the catwalk. Eyes were fixed on the model’s ethereal rose pink dress which was made of wool with a simple silhouette and matching coat. The anticipation set in as the audience waited for the next look to emerge at the first show of the 2015 San Francisco Sustainable Fashion Week International.

The Green Glam Fashion Show was part of the sustainable fashion week and showcased work from local, national and international designers. This was not merely a fashion show, but rather a statement and supporting bid to a small-scale trend that is financed by a limited market.

Tracy Moreland, a sustainable fashion designer based in the South Bay, displayed her five-piece collection the night of the Green Glam Fashion Show.

“It was all really simple silhouettes and then I just patchworked all the fabrics together to make those dresses,” Moreland said.

The bohemian environmentalist said she uses disregarded materials, that some people may consider ugly, in an eco-friendly manner.

“I really do think that it’s important to use what we do have,” Moreland said. “Use that up and get that out of the landfill.”

Sustainable fashion doesn’t mean that customers have to sacrifice style and creativity according to Moreland. Creating a demand for eco-friendly garments is important for San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, she said.

Tuan Tran, a local sustainable fashion designer, works mainly out of his living room in Potrero Hill. He does not like to identify as a designer, but rather as an artist. Tran, who designs one-of-a-kind dresses in a John Galliano couturier essence, believes that everything he creates with recycled materials represents more of an “art wear” than typical attire.

Tran got his start when a friend challenged him to design a dress with telephone wire, which became the start of his first collection. Four more collections have followed since.

“There are so many beautiful things out there that we don’t really recognize unless we take it, deconstruct it and find beauty out of it,” Tran said.

Tran doesn’t believe in mass producing apparel and prefers to make unique pieces in order to prevent the disregarding of clothes.

“The more we buy, the more we throw away,” Tran said. “The less we consume the better.”

[pullquote align=”right”]“There are so many beautiful things out there that we don’t really recognize unless we take it, deconstruct it and find beauty out of it,” Tran said.[/pullquote]

Working alone and producing elegant gowns can take weeks, sometimes even months. His custom dresses cost anywhere from $1,500 to $7,500 because of the materials and hours of production that go into their creation. Tran believes San Francisco is a leading sustainable city where consumers are looking for eco-friendly clothing.

Sustainable fashion is an emerging market, and according to Dr. Connie Ulasewicz, a professor at San Francisco State University who holds a doctorate in sustainable fashion, the industry is comprised of three domains: people, process and the environment.

The first domain, people, is composed of everyone from the designers to the consumers. Process is the growing, manufacturing and consumption of natural resources. The final domain of the cycle, environment, is the materials that are being used for both manufacturing and consuming.

“You can’t just look at one aspect of this, you have to look at the connection between them,” Ulasewicz said.

According to Ulasewicz, the city of San Francisco throws away 4,500 pounds of textiles every hour and a single person can throw away 65 pounds of textiles on average. All of this waste comes after using up to 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton t-shirt.

Using all of your sources to the very end, plus finding a way to reuse materials is a perfect method when practicing sustainability, according to Ulasewicz. Shopping at big retailers that do not practice sustainability with lower prices can be tempting to consumers, however, Ulasewicz believes it is up to the designers to provide the information.

For Russell Esmus, a local apparel specialist and advocate for sustainable fashion believes working with reusable materials is key. His latest project utilizes reused tablecloths and napkins from hotels to make tote-bags. The stained, misshapened tablecloths in his Mission District studio show what sustainability is all about.

The connection between eco-friendly food and sustainable clothing is apparent to Esmus, he sees the trends going in the same positive direction, with fashion at a slower pace.

“I think we are still 10 years out minimum from a strong consumer awareness,” Esmus said. “It takes people a really long time to understand.”

Esmus said a designer has to go above and beyond just using organic materials and labeling oneself sustainable. He believes that establishing a connection with consumers is a business practice that can help sustainability grow.

“By buying a brand that you feel like you can connect with, that you feel like is a better brand, you are more likely to keep it longer because you have more of a connection with it,” Esmus said.

Although the sustainable fashion industry is gaining traction, it still has a ways to go. The concept has yet to break into the minds of the mainstream consumers, but designers like Tran, Esmus, Moreland and others will continue to provide for the niche market in the Bay Area.

Soda Tax Goes Flat in SF

Illustration by Catherine Uy.
Illustration by Catherine Uy.

This midterm election asked voters to further define where the nanny state ends and the freedom to be reckless begins. What Americans can and cannot do often hangs in the balance between personal freedom and public safety, with arguments spanning every arena from gun ownership to mandatory health care.

The big threat to the California’s safety this November was soda, and voters on both sides of the Bay had to decide whether to raise taxes on sugary beverages through local propositions. While Berkeley passed Proposition D with an overwhelming 77 percent of the vote, a similar measure failed in San Francisco.

Supporters in both cities said the health risks, such as diabetes and obesity, that are linked to soda are undeniable. Opponents claimed increased taxes would create a black market along with other consequences that lawmakers did not consider.

At the heart of this issue is soda’s high demand in a society that constantly craves sugar. Supervisor Scott Wiener, the main source of support for the tax in San Francisco City Hall, says this measure would have targeted only the most harmful of sweet drinks.

“The measure would have applied to non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar where the beverage has at least twenty-five calories per twelve ounces,” Wiener says. “The tax did not apply to diet soda, natural juices, milk, infant formula, or medical drinks.”

San Francisco’s tax, known as Proposition E, received a simple majority of support at the polls – 56 percent of the vote. Lawmakers agreed, however, that using a ballot measure to influence a citywide diet would require at least a two-thirds majority, and for a good reason.

The appeal of soda goes deeper than one’s sweet tooth. For many, the low price of sugary drinks makes them an economical treat for the dining table.

These measures were more of a sharp nudge rather than a gentle push toward healthier habits. The argument that low-income residents have other options for beverages incorrectly suggests that these drinks will still remain optional and not become a financial imperative.

This tax sent a clear message to low-income families who buy cheap and sweet carbonated beverages to for every meal: Change your diets or the state of California will change them for you.

San Francisco offers numerous opportunities to its poorest citizens — through housing initiatives, subsidized healthcare, and even a program that pays the homeless to take care of dogs. For the poorer residents who value these freedoms, Proposition E’s financial burden would have effectively limited their options at the grocery store.

The two cent tax per ounce of soda would have resulted in a twenty-four cent increase on every can sold in the city. For a large portion of San Francisco, this extra money is already being spent on higher Muni fares, which increased by twenty-five cents this September.

“[The tax] won’t make people any healthier, but it does have an impact on businesses and consumers who are already struggling to make ends meet,” says Roger Salazar, spokesman for the organization Californians for Food and Beverage Choice.

While Proposition E may have failed in San Francisco because of its low-income opponents, this argument fizzles in the wake of Proposition D’s success in Berkeley. According to 2012 data from the U.S. Census, the percentage of those living in poverty in Berkeley is higher than in San Francisco. So was income really a factor here?

The answer is still yes. The tax in Berkeley was only half of the one proposed in San Francisco. And if the explanation is still not found in the lack of income among certain voters, then it can be found in the massive incomes of corporations such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi. A $7.7 million corporate effort to defeat Proposition E was successful in San Francisco, whereas smaller efforts in Berkeley did not receive the same infusion of cash.

 

Homeless Migration

xpresslogo2015

The number of people living on the streets of San Francisco has changed recently. Here is a look,

Life in San Francisco can be encapsulated by a single phrase: You get what you pay for. The cost of living has been steadily increasing as young professionals recognize the City by the Bay’s appeal — a thriving restaurant scene, energetic nightlife, and beautiful public parks around almost every corner.

But as more money pours into certain neighborhoods, more homeless people can be seen wandering those streets. This situation raises one question: is gentrification even working toward its own goal of polishing a community?

Every two years the city of San Francisco conducts a point-in-time survey to count its homeless population. This one-night event consists of participants traveling around the city and counting the number of people living on the streets. The last two surveys are from 2013 and 2011.

While the total number of homeless individuals barely wavered during those two years, a different trend emerged. The more gentrified neighborhoods of San Francisco saw an increase in homeless traffic despite their efforts to clean up the streets.

Nowhere was this more prevalent than in the Mission District, or District 9. This area saw a 64 percent increase in its homeless population — from three hundred and nine individuals in 2011 to five hundred and seven people in 2013.

The transformation of the Mission District’s shops into a collection of high-end boutiques and ritzy cafes has brought in a new crowd of homeless people who are simply following the money. The tech boom that is now flooding the city with young entrepreneurs means more chances for top-dollar handouts on the street.

The irony is not lost on Martha Ruiz de la Peña, a small business owner who has seen the Mission grow wealthier only to attract the most impoverished group in the entire city. Her health-food store, Five Markets, is one of the many establishments that make up the changing face of her community.

“The people are starting to be desperate. Even we got a homeless [person] that came in a wheelchair. He was starting to steal things and I faced him,” Ruiz de la Peña says. “He gave me everything back and he said, ‘Please just let me go. I will never come back here.’ And I said, ‘Sure.’”

What is going on indicates a frightening future — one where gentrification has stratified society so much that it marginalizes the middle class. Families that have lived in the Mission for generations are now forced to leave their homes as a younger and wealthier crowd seeks the excitement of living in a big city.

This reduces the gradient between the rich and poor to a stark black-and-white contrast. People are now living on the sidewalks in front of the multimillion-dollar houses they could once afford to rent.

“I mean, [Five Markets] has been here 18 months and so many people just came to say goodbye already because they cannot afford to continue living in San Francisco, or they’ve been kicked out of their houses,” Ruiz de la Peña says.

The homeless are trying to make their voices heard through outlets such as Street Sheet, the San Francisco-based newspaper that has been published by the city’s Coalition on Homelessness since 1989.

Standing in the Financial District, a man who goes by the name of “Little Mouse” hands out these papers in an attempt to spread awareness for his situation.

“Each paper costs only $1, which helps me get by out here on the street,” Little Mouse says.

One of the most staggering increases in the homeless population can be found in District 6, which covers SoMa and the Tenderloin communities. These areas have historically attracted homeless people in large numbers, which shot up by four hundred and twenty-seven individuals between 2011 and 2013. And the trend does not appear to be slowing down despite ongoing gentrification — just take a look at the many development projects for high-end homes along Market Street.

Gentrification offers the benefit of drastically improved living conditions in once-impoverished neighborhoods. But if the communities that are gentrifying the most — the Mission, SoMa, and the Tenderloin – are also the ones with the highest levels of homeless immigration, is this benefit still a reality? The data show a clear answer: no.

A new oasis for SF drag

Trannyshack has spent the past twenty years performing in various venues and touring around the world, but this New Year’s Eve, San Francisco’s longest-running drag show will find a permanent home in the SOMA district

Drag star Heklina and her investors are taking over the long-closed Oasis building running along the 11th street entertainment corridor, and she is anxious to tackle this new challenge head on.

Heklina, also known as Stefan Grygelko, created the drag show Trannyshack in 1996 at the STUD bar, where she had been working at the time. Given the usually dead Tuesday-night spot, she expected the show to last only a few months as so many others had. Little did she know that nearly two decades later, she would still be expanding her show as her life’s work, her presence being sought all over the city.

“Trannyshack took off,” says Heklina. “It was a platform for anyone to perform. It happened organically, I didn’t know it was fulfilling this need, but it did.”

A “stunning array of creative mavericks” performed on the outrageous and shocking Trannyshack stage and helped spiral the show into one of San Francisco’s greatest drag events. Held weekly at the STUD bar for twelve years and monthly at the DNA Lounge since 2008, it has won best drag show for numerous years in nearly every Bay Area magazine.

Heklina has also taken the performance party on the road – hosting in London, New York City, Reykjavik, Amsterdam, New York City, Waikiki, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Reno, and Fresno.

Having long solidified her role in the drag community, in recent years it dawned on the creator, promoter, and hostess that she had new goals to leap for.

“I felt like for the past four or five years my career was kind of at an impasse because for the past twenty years I have been doing shows at other peoples venues and it started to feel very limiting and I felt up against the wall,” says Heklina. “It got to be my dream to have my own venue where I could do my own stuff.”

In 2013, Heklina, along with fellow host and performer D’Arcy Dollinger and co-owners Geoff Benjamin, now the venue’s CEO, and Jason Beebout, the general manager, began looking into different venues. The group applied to lease a six thousand five hundred square foot venue just across the street from Oasis, at the still-vacant Paradise Lounge, but the owner decided to go with an alternate proposal.

“Places kept falling through and I started to give up hope that it would happen,” says Heklina.

Earlier this year, the business partners began discussions to buy the Oasis location. Their offer was accepted, but more issues came up. Last year, the city had adopted new rules into the Western SOMA Neighborhood Plan that prohibited the owners to obtain an entertainment license because it was within two hundred feet of a residential district, meaning they would only be able to function it as a bar and not a performance space.

In September, Supervisor Jane Kim’s proposed legislation passed which removed the prohibition and provided an exception for nighttime entertainment uses within two hundred feet of residential areas if a nightclub had legally operated at the location within the past five years, which applies to Oasis.

The six thousand square foot building was sold for $2,850,000, according to RealtTrac’s listings. Heklina and her troupe have work to get done before the grand opening on New Year’s Eve, including bringing the run-down building up to code, getting a fire inspection, fixing the stage, and painting among more.

“It makes me nervous even talking about it,” says Heklina.

She finally has a new home for her cabaret theatre and the resurgence of Trannyshack — although a rebranding of the name is under way because of recent outrage surrounding the offensiveness of the term “tranny” to the transgender community.

A recent campaign led by two board members of GLAAD, a non-governmental media monitoring entity advocating against defamation to the LGBT community, is aiming to make “tranny” a slur in all circumstances. There has been much debate surrounding the word, and Heklina finds changing the name a better alternative to making anyone feel excluded or hurt.

Still being publicized as Trannyshack, or “T-shack,” for now, the official rebranding will move forward in 2015 along with the club opening. The venue first opened up as club Oasis in 1982, and that name, along with its history of high energy and acceptance to all communities will be following Heklina into the building.

Come December 31st, the club will be an open space welcoming to both budding and time-honored drag stars and performers. Being just moments away from the DNA Lounge, Slims, BeatBox and Audio, it seems the perfect little corner for Heklina to set up home for a new era of her legendary show.

“A lot of this is riding on my reputation, I’m afraid of it being successful and I’m afraid of it not being successful,” says Heklina. “It’s do or die.”

Cheapskate’s Guide to Drinking in San Francisco

The famous Chinese Mai Tai is poured at Li Po Cocktail Lounge. (Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)
The famous Chinese Mai Tai is poured at Li Po Cocktail Lounge. (Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)

Living in a city that is home to over six hundred bars and restaurants as well as a ton of eccentric characters has its perks. But between attempting to afford San Francisco’s increasingly high rents, school supplies, and student loan interest to pay off, I can not afford to spend money on whatever high-priced drink is in fashion at any given moment. And quite frankly, I am sick of hearing people rant and rave about $12 mojitos and attending brewery tours. As a middle finger to the exclusive (and expensive) alcohol scene in San Francisco, I have provided four of the best spots in the city to get drinks while adhering to that strict budget you have placed yourself on.

Buckshot Bar & Grill

3848 Geary Boulevard, Inner Richmond

Located on 3rd Avenue and Geary Boulevard in the Richmond district, Buckshot is a hidden gem in a city with one bar for every ten people. The crowd that can be found there on any given night is comprised of people that live in the neighborhood and University of San Francisco students; if you are sound enough to observe how the two different demographics interact, hilarity often ensues. I have witnessed old men dancing in the middle of large groups of sorority girls and drunk, middle-aged women inquiring about where they could “get something good to eat,” despite Buckshot having an in-house kitchen and being located in between a pizza place and a Burger King.

There is no jukebox at Buckshot, but there is a DJ there every night of the week, and if you come on the third Thursday of any given month you will be treated to Brown Noise, a monthly party where early aughts, hip hop, and R&B are played exclusively. If that is not your style, check out Punk Rock Tuesdays.

A simple whiskey and coke here will run you around $4 and a sixteen ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon will cost you $3. Both of which you can enjoy while being stared at by the taxidermy bear, deer, and cougar heads mounted on the fluorescent orange walls or while you stare up at whatever torture-porn horror movie is playing on one of three television screens, displayed on those same walls. They have every arcade game you could ever want to play (which probably is not many if you are like me), shuffleboard, pool, darts, and skee-ball.

The cheapness of the drinks, dark lighting, and the presence of a dance floor makes Buckshot a great place to have fun with some friends or get drunk and make out with a stranger, if you are into that sort of thing.

(Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)
(Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)

 

Trad’r Sam’s
6150 Geary Boulevard, Outer Richmond

Planter’s punch: an alternative to the scorpion bowl. (Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)
Planter’s punch: an alternative to the scorpion bowl. (Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)

What better way for a cash-strapped college student to lower the price tag of a night out than splitting the cost of libations with friends? If you are looking to indulge in a punch-bowl filled with alcohol with a couple of friends—or alone, no one is judging you—then there is Trad’r Sams. Conveniently located across the street from the 29 bus stop on Geary and 25th Avenue, this means you could come here directly from school, Trad’r Sam’s is advertised as a tiki bar. But, because the only light in the place can be attributed to a digital jukebox and a massive television that sits directly behind the bar playing sports, the island-y decorations are easily lost in the darkness of the room. Bamboo is huge here; it covers the front of the bar, the armrests of the worn chairs and booth seats throughout the establishment, and was even used to build a hut-like structure that covers one of the booths. Aside from the liberal use of bamboo, pastel colors of the drinks and the little umbrellas used to garnish them, there is no other indication that this is supposed to be a tiki bar.

Despite its sort of silly theme, this bar is just as popular with older neighborhood residents as it is with young college students who are just figuring out the limits of their alcohol tolerance. While one would think the combination of locals and drunk college kids would make for many awkward encounters, the two demographics rarely interact—the older women and men mostly sit on bar stools and the college students are dispersed at tables around the bar, only acknowledging each other when space is needed to be made at the bar to order drinks.

Which comes to my last point: the scorpion bowl. The scorpion bowl is what makes Trad’r Sam’s Trad’r Sam’s. It is a huge punch bowl filled with alcohol and can be ordered in its original form or in a variety of flavors, including Passion Punch. I believe I saw the bartender pour both rum and beer into the blender, but I cannot say for sure what else is in it. One thing I can say for sure—the drink is strong. A scorpion bowl will cost you sixteen dollars and I recommend splitting it with at least three other people; it will hurt your stomach and your wallet less.

 

Randy’s Place
1101 Ocean Avenue, Ingleside

What you can get for $6 at Randy’s. (Martin Bustamante/Xpress Magazine)
What you can get for $6 at Randy’s. (Martin Bustamante/Xpress Magazine)

I used to hear stories of my friends hanging out at Randy’s Place because that was supposedly where all the cute people that work at the Whole Foods across the street went after work. I was always reluctant to go because it takes an hour to get there from the Richmond, where I live. However, it is really close to school, a fifteen minute bus ride, which is perfect if you are looking to wind down after a day of classes, but do not want to be subjected to someone playing covers of pop songs on the piano at the school’s pub. And who could pass up a bar where you can get a shot of well whiskey and a pint of Budweiser for the low, low, price of $6?

Aside from the decorations on the wall that appear to have been remnants of a birthday party that occurred long ago, the bar is as stereotypical of a bar as you can get; there are three televisions, a pool table, a jukebox, and nine draft beers on tap.

Randy’s Place has been around since 1969, and is one of the few bars that remains on a stretch of Ocean Avenue where there used to be eight, according to the bartender, a woman named Susan. Though she has only been tending bar at Randy’s for the past five years, my suspicions tell me that Susan is one of the reasons Randy’s Place has been able to stay in business. She is super sweet and seemed to be on a first name basis with everyone at the bar – they gave her hugs, she offered them candy, apparently functioning as both bartender and surrogate mom.

In addition to Susan’s sweetness, Randy’s is great because it is located by two major bus lines–the K/T light rail line, the 29 bus stop—and sits between a McDonalds with a twenty-four hour drive-thru and another hidden San Francisco gem, Beep’s Burgers.

Li-Po

916 Grant Avenue, Chinatown

I have been to Chinatown maybe three times in my life. Once, to watch a Chinese New Year parade while I was in elementary school. Once because I got off of the bus at the wrong stop. And again during this cheap drink tour, at the suggestion of my photographer that we hit up Li – Po, a seventy-seven year old bar famous for a drink called the Chinese Mai Tai.

The gates to Chinatown are an eight minute walk from the Montgomery Street MUNI station, and Li-Po is about nine blocks past these gates. I timed it, and you will spend about fifteen minutes walking from the underground to Li-Po – a little less if you run half a block after seeing a roach (like I did).

Li-Po is easy to spot—it will likely be the only place open on Grant Street at 11 p.m—and when you walk in the door to the narrow entryway, you will be greeted not by a bouncer, but by a bright yellow poster board with a photo of Anthony Bourdain and a man I am assuming is the bar’s owner glued to it. The poster proudly states “Anthony Bourdain came here on layover in 2012.”

At $9, the Chinese Mai Tai is a little more expensive than the other drinks consumed on this journey, but it comes in a goblet, and just one will get you a pretty nice buzz. It is also really good, which is shocking because I cannot think of any other time mixing five different alcohols in one drink was even in the realm of goodness.

The bar itself was dingy and sparsely decorated with some haphazardly arranged lanterns, a huge altar for Buddha right behind the bar, and two televisions. There was music, but I could not see where it was coming from and did not know who was in charge of it, but I would like to thank them for playing some of my middle school favorites: “Goodies” by Ciara and “Magic Stick” by 50 Cent.

If you cannot make it to Chinatown, the bartender tipped us off on the ingredients necessary for making a Chinese Mai Tai: Whaler’s Dark Rum, Castillo’s Light Rum, Bacardi 151 Rum, Chinese rice wine, Dole pineapple juice, and Chinese rice whiskey. Feel free to make it at home, just do not call it a Chinese Mai Tai—Li-Po’s owner had that name trademarked last year.

(Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)
(Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)

 

Chicago Review: All that jazz

A line of sultry female dancers in thin black tights and skimpy costumes sing and dance in wooden chairs for the “Cell Block Tango” a song that narrates how these murderesses finish in jail. The performance is one of the twenty-two performances of Chicago the musical that closed its U.S. tour at Orpheum Theater in San Francisco.

Perfectly toned singers and talented musicians bring to life the musical that takes place in Chicago during the 1920s. Terra C. MacLeod portrays Velma Kelly, a cabaret dancer who killed her husband when she found out he cheated on her. Bianca Marroquin portrays Roxie Hart a chorus girl who killed her lover. Hart like Kelly envision fame and fortune. Now that they are in jail together sentenced to death row for murder, they compete of who would be the most popular on the papers.

Marroquin sings with a powerful voice and acts with natural charisma. Her dialogues include jokes that keep the audience engage in the development of the story.

In this version, sets are minimal and lighting is used to create different scenarios. The jazz band plays on the stage during the entire performance.

The grand finale is Kelly and Hart’s moment of fame. After they got out of jail and became old news, they choreographed an act together for their big return. In this last part of the play, you would imagine them wearing glamours costumes. Instead, they wear black dresses with a black cardigan, silver shoes, hat, and cane. They look elegant, but their costumes do not look like they are from the 1920s.

When you hear Chicago the Broadway Musical, you imagine a big production with cabaret lights, shiny costumes, and a variety of sets. It may also bring to mind the Academy Award winning film with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, and Richard Gere. In the last scene of the movie, Jones and Zellweger wear stunning silver costumes classic of the 1920s.

Producers may want to differentiate the movie from the play by focusing more on the story and music, but a little bit of visual spark would create a more attractive performance.

Shania Winston, SF State student, who has seen the movie many times, said she would like to see more dancing in the play.

“I don’t feel they chose singers and dancers, they just chose singers,” Shania said, referring to the producers of the musical. “I think is great to have a good voice, but the whole point of this play is to have dancers because that’s everything they want to do they want to be a star, they want to be dancers.”

Kosher, that’s how they roll

Kosher1

The air is somewhat cold and there is an intoxicating scent of fish and salt water. Inside the South San Francisco warehouse is a beehive of activity: people answer phones, work on their computers, some with hairnets carry large coolers. There is a fresh catch in from Hawaii, a shipment of kampachi or Hawaiian yellowtail, a fish similar to the popular tuna.

On the second floor a neatly dressed man in a blue button-down and yamaka sits in his office and checks the latest invoices to order. There is a box of bamboo sushi rolling mats on the floor. Photo strips of family and friends adorn the wall along with receipts and a calendar whiteboard. It is just another day at work for Rabbi Alex Shandrovsky, the owner of L’Chaim Sushi, a kosher and sustainable catering service.

“I’m a rabbi, I’m not a caterer, I’m not a sushi expert, I teach wisdom,” says Shandrovsky, laughing. Why is a rabbi working in a catering business?

The twenty-seven year old educator started business last year in January with Royal Hawaiian, a sustainable seafood supplier, with whom he shares his space, after realizing there were no kosher sushi options in the Bay Area. A year ago, they mainly served families, those in the Jewish community, and students in Shandrovsky’s classes. Now they serve over 2000 people a month with dozens of Bay Area tech companies, one of their clients being Google.

A spiritual awakening

Originally from the former Soviet Union in Kishinev, Moldova, Shandrovsky moved to the San Francisco when he was nine years old because his mother needed a liver transplant. Despite his Jewish background, Shandrovsky’s parents did not raise him on the kosher diet.

His eyes light up when he talks about being a sushi-addicted sixteen year old, frequently taking a Muni bus with his family to Japantown to sample various sushi restaurants. One particular visit to a sushi boat restaurant, where plates float through a rotating conveyor belt, greatly impacted him. He remembers the day vividly, recalling that the conveyor “moved like the ocean.”

According to him, everything was beautiful, the lighting was perfect, and the sushi looked amazing. What happens next, he says, is something similar to the headache one gets from a hangover–he overeats. While watching plates of the sushi-go-round and round the conveyor belt, Shandrovsky starts reflecting on his life. He had everything, he was popular, had good grades, and a good family, but he felt like something was missing. “I was looking for this deeper sense of purpose. I felt like I was part of a script, not part of me,” he says.

When he was eighteen, he received a full-ride scholarship to Williams College in Massachusetts. He was one of three thousand applicants awarded with the QuestBridge scholarship, but turned it down. His parents thought he was crazy. He moved to Israel to explore his spirituality instead because he wanted to get in touch with his Jewish roots.

Shandrovsky enrolled in a rabbinic ordination program and became ordained at Aish Htorah in Jerusalem. He later organized personal development seminars through a project called SelfDiscovery and taught Jewish wisdom to international students through Taglit-Birthright Israel, a Jewish campus organization.

He moved back to San Francisco in 2012 and joined Congregation Adath Israel, an orthodox synagogue in the Sunset District. For a year he worked as the Jewish Study Network’s Director of Special Projects, teaching Jewish literacy classes. But returning to the Bay Area was a bit difficult for Shandrovsky: while San Francisco was full of such diverse foods, there were no kosher sushi restaurants. And he missed eating his beloved unagi (eel) roll, which a kosher diet prohibits.

So with the support of the ROI Community, an organization that promotes Jewish engagement, and Rabbi Joel Landau of Congregation Adath Israel, Shandrovsky set out to start L’Chaim Sushi. It started as a once-a-month pop up restaurant at Congregation Adath Israel and occasionally, Oakland Kosher. Now, the business resides inside Royal Hawaiian Seafood’s warehouse packing up hundreds of orders a day.

The process is simple, customers can call or go online to order rolls or platters of the sushi they desire. They can either pick it up or get it delivered, though delivery comes with a $120 minimum.The price, of course, if you want kosher and sustainable sushi.

Adhering to Jewish law

Kosher is a Jewish diet known for its selectiveness, and according to biblically based laws, only fish with easily removable fins and scales may be eaten. Shandrovsky says it is all about ensuring transparency and mindfulness in the preparation process. Popular shellfish like shrimp, crabs, mussels, and lobsters are strictly forbidden.

L’Chaim sources a wide variety of fish, for example, tuna, yellowtail, arctic char, and seabass. To make up for the no-shellfish rule, they have taken a “non-kosher” fish and transformed it into a kosher substitute with a similar taste. Instead of using actual crab meat, they use surimi, which is an Alaskan pollock, a type of cod fish.

“Most people have a lot of misconceptions about kosher,” says Shandrovsky. “It’s blessed by a rabbi, or the fish has a beard, people like that one, or it has to be served on a bagel.” But the kosher aspect comes into play based on the food’s strict preparation.

A plate of some of L'Chaim's top-selling sushi rolls. (Martin Bustamante/Xpress Magazine)
A plate of some of L’Chaim’s top-selling sushi rolls. (Martin Bustamante/Xpress Magazine)

In a small red-tiled kitchen is a shelf that holds a bottle of soy ginger marinade dip, Mid East sesame tahini, and black pepper, all of which display the Star of David. Dressed in a white chef’s jacket with grey joggers and black Converse shoes, L’Chaim’s only chef, Jagun Ney, lays a piece of kampachi on a large cutting board in preparation for a catering event.

Using a broad bladed knife, he makes a small, precise incision inside the backbone. In one swift, sawlike motion, he delicately pushes the knife along the backbone while firmly holding down a towel to pull out the scales. He must be extremely careful, if the flesh comes off with the scales, the fish cannot be used. For a fish to be kosher, the scales must be easily removable. Each time the flesh comes off with the scales, the knife must thoroughly cleaned again.

After removing the scales, Ney examines the fish and slices off uneven flesh. He holds a sharp knife at roughly a forty-five degree angle, and gently cuts through the fish to separate it into equal fillets to make a kampachi roll. Inside the small cooking station is a video camera laying on top of a shelf where an observer from Sunrise Kosher, a kosher certifying agency, may be watching to ensure that all sushi is prepared according to Jewish law. Occasionally, someone from the certification staff visits, sometimes Shandrovsky watches.

“It’s kind of weird,” says Ney about the tedious process he goes through just to make the sushi. He must use only kosher certified ingredients and tools. The nori, the seaweed wrappers used for sushi, are not necessarily kosher as they may contain bugs. Ney must carefully examine each wrapper with a light to remove any insects.

When they first started ordering, Google wanted to know more about the company’s kosher aspect, and more importantly, their sourcing before ordering anything. Shandrovsky laughs, and remembers thinking it was funny that Google asked what his business did. “They should know that already, like why do you do that? You have all my information,” he says. But on a more serious note, as an educator, Shandrovsky saw L’Chaim as an opportunity to teach others an important lesson.

“We’re trying to be responsible so that we can source the high products without destroying the environment,” says Shandrovsky. Every fish that Royal Hawaiian Seafood provides is ranked and approvd by the Seafood Watch Program at Monterey Bay Aquarium. For Shandrovsky, the sushi business was not about the money, it was all about the values. He was on a mission to advocate mindful eating through kosher and sustainability was just another lesson to add. So he contacted Casson Trenor, a sustainable activist, and founder of San Francisco’s first sustainable sushi restaurant, Tataki, and asked for his guidance. Trenor and Shandrovsky teamed up to create L’Chaim’s sustainable, kosher menu.

As it turns out, eating kosher was actually sustainable since the diet ruled out popular fish like shrimp, lobsters, eel, and crab, which are unsustainable due to overfishing. With the help of Trenor, L’Chaim was moved into Royal Hawaiian Seafood’s warehouse.

Shandrovsky grabs an arctic char roll with his wooden chopsticks and dips it into some soy sauce. As he sits in his office enjoying a brief lunch break, there is a blissful look on his face. He moves his head side to side, it looks like he is dancing in his seat. After finishing the roll, he smiles and says, “we’re really able to have this high quality cuisine, without compromising our values. I think that’s one of the reasons, I think people feel like being mission driven.”

Half of Dolores Park to close for renovations

Dolores Park

A place where drugs and alcohol are as commonly seen as puppies and babies. Where hippies, drug dealers, musicians, and families can all be found sharing the same sixteen-acre space with each other. A place known as Dolores Park. Located in the heart of the sunny Mission District, Mission Dolores Park is a hot spot for both the people of the Mission community and visitors to the area. The park has been around since the early nineteenth century, and since then, it has undergone major changes. It is currently undergoing its biggest transformation yet.

In 2008, over 71 percent of San Francisco voters approved the Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond, a $185 million general obligation bond that included $13.2 million to improve Dolores Park. The project started in March of 2014, with the plan to divide the project in two phases, shutting down only half of the park at a time. On March 13th, the northern end of the park was shut down for construction to commence. The original plan was to finish construction in an estimated six months time, meaning it would have re-opened in the September of 2014. However, more than six months have passed and the northern section of the park is still under construction.

“Due to unforeseen challenges, the first phase of the construction taking place on the North side of the park is now going to be delayed by as much as four months, and is expected to be completed by early 2015,” explained Amy Moore of San Francisco Recreation and Parks. “Shortly after, the second phase of the construction will take place on the south side of the Park.”

Dolo

Some of the improvements to the park will include new restroom facilities, renovated tennis and basketball courts, improved designated off-leash dog areas, new bike racks and pathways, improved irrigation, and ADA (Americans with Disabilities) access.

“Dolores Park will be even more beautiful, comfortable and functional when the project is complete,” says San Francisco Recreation and Park’s, project manager, Jake Gilchrist.

Although construction is causing half of the park to remain closed, this has not stopped park-goers from spending sunny afternoons snuggled up a little closer to each other at the what is left open at Dolores Park.  According to San Francisco Recreation and Parks, if all goes as planned, the entire project should be finished by September of 2015.

 

 

 

 

Faded Finds: a mobile fashion boutique

San Francisco residents invade Dolores Park every weekend to soak up the sun (when it is around) and visit with friends. Vendors sell jewelry, soap and crafts from small booths or vehicles lining the park.

On a recent Sunday, a large Dodge van was parked alongside the grass at Dolores—and inside was something radder than hand-made necklaces and rosemary soap.

Faded Finds is a mobile vintage clothing store, owned by two young entrepreneurs, Dayna Carter and Dennis Long. Vintage T-shirts, dress shirts, coats, pants, and shoes filled the seats and back of their van. Outside, an awning shaded the variety of handpicked clothes. The apparel ranged from casual muscle tanks and baggy windbreakers, to collared dress shirts.

And the trendy threads got attention—many walking through Dolores stopped at the stand to peruse the racks.

Carter, twenty-four, and Long, twenty-three, launched the mobile business because they wanted change.

They were tired of menial part-time jobs. So about a month ago, the fashion enthusiasts bought a Dodge Van and started something they were not sure would work.

Long, twenty-three, is from Napa, while Carter, twenty-four, hails from Riverside. The two met years ago at and decided that life was too short to not reach for something they wanted.

Instead of waiting for careers to pan out, the two took to the road, visiting vintage stores everywhere they could find them.  Currently, they sell mostly men’s clothing, but hope to expand it to all genders soon. The pair has done two mobile tours since purchasing the Dodge, and  is experimenting with social media to grow clientele.

They plan to be in the Bay Area quite often when they have the time, to keep up the mobile shop and purchase new clothing from bigger vintage stores. Long and Carter are not sure if the business will be a gold-mine, but they are excited to see where it goes.

Starting a business, however small, can be extremely daunting. Watch the video below to hear what advice these young adults have for anyone afraid to take a chance.

 

 

Two Sisters Bar and Books – a place for couples and not books

A look at the Two Sisters Bar & Books in Hayes Valley.
A look at the Two Sisters Bar & Books in Hayes Valley.

Soft jazz, low lighting, yellow wallpaper with Japanese families dressed in kimonos, and the amount of couples are the first things that one notices when they enter Two Sisters Bar and Books.

The self-proclaimed reading bar is tucked away in Hayes Valley and was opened in 2011 by sisters Mikha and Mary Diaz with the aspiration to create a relaxed atmosphere where reading and conversing over a cocktail or a cup of coffee was the norm.

I visited Two Sisters on a Thursday night from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., and the place was filled with couples, age group ranging from late twenties to early thirties.

With the proximity to fit three-fourths of a Muni bus, all seven of the small circle tables big enough to sit three lined up against a wall were occupied by the classic “boy-girl” scenario. A built-in table on the parallel wall was long enough to fit twelve seats and was filled with more people on dates. The table rested on top of a bookshelf whose books were untouched and hidden behind peoples dangling feet.

The bar, settled in the heart of room and able to seat six, was almost full with only two extra stools available.

Two bartenders were on staff, a man in his late twenties, casually dressed in a green T-shirt and black jeans, with blonde, scruffy hair and a five o’ clock shadow, and woman, also in her late twenties, with shoulder-length jet-black hair, full lips painted with red lipstick, a black T-shirt, and fitted blue jeans.

Both of them had a standoff-ish attitude, only talking to people when taking drink orders.

The drink menu consisted of gin, whiskey, and bitters. I ordered the house special, “The Two Sisters,” made with rye, Punt es Mes, and bitters. The flavor was smoky with a tinge of sweet, and smooth, but not worth $10. All of the drinks on the menu ranged from $10 to $13. Besides cocktails, the bar also had a selection of local beers on tap and a selection of wine.

After ordering my drink, I walked over to a bench big enough for two, near the entrance of the room, framed by pulled back maroon, velvet curtains. A mound of books surrounded the perimeter of the bench. The genre of books ranged from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” to “Anna Karenina.”

Yet with a plethora of books readily available to be cracked open and devoured, no one in the room was reading. People were more interested in their conversations with their partner.

The bar was set up for intimacy, with dim lighting, small tables, big enough to seat two, with lit candles in the center, and soft jazz playing in the background.

Dates were taking place all over the bar, and I was the only single and alone person in the room, but at least I had my cocktail and Harry Potter to keep me company.

After noticing all of the “googley eyes” and seeds of love beginning to sprout all over the room, I realized that The Two Sisters, while trying to be a place of literary adventure, is, in reality, a place for lovers.

If you are looking for a quiet, cozy place to sit down, sip on a drink, and dive into a Stephen Chbosky or Sylvia Plath, this probably is not the place for you. You will most likely be distracted from the cheesy pick-up lines, high pitched giggles, and the spotlight of being the only single person in the proximity.

 

SF voters asked whether to raise minimum wage to $15

An initiative to raise the San Francisco minimum wage to fifteen dollars per hour by 2018 and eventually make it dependent on inflation will be put to city voters during the November 4th election.

The measure, which appears on the ballot as Proposition J, asks voters: “Shall the City gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by July 1, 2018 with further increases based on inflation?” If it passes, the city’s minimum wage would go to twelve dollars and twenty-five cents an hour beginning May 1 next year and thirteen dollars starting July 1, 2016 before reaching $15 as of July 1, 2018. It would be tied to inflation starting in 2016. San Francisco’s hourly minimum wage stands at $10.74 and is set to rise to $11.03 next year if the measure does not pass.

The initiative, which was introduced by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee last month, came on the heels of another proposal to lift the city’s minimum wage to $15. The Minimum Wage Act of 2014 was crafted by a contingent of labor unions and community activists known collectively as the Campaign for a Fair Economy. It would have accelerated the minimum wage more quickly, hiking it to $13 an hour in 2015 and raising it one dollar per hour each year for the following two years. Businesses with more than 100 employees would have been required to pay at least $13 per hour by the end of this calendar year and $15 an hour by 2016.

The Service Employees International Union, San Francisco Rising and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment were among those who supported the act, but it was negatively received by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Lee attempted to work with groups that represent workers’ rights and business interests to draw up a proposal that would appease both sides, resulting in the initiative that will be on the ballot.

“We consider it a great victory that through our bold initiative and unified coalition of groups representing working class San Franciscans and allies, we were able convince the Mayor, all members of the Board of Supervisors, business groups and other employers to support a consensus measure based on the original CFE proposal that will be the strongest minimum wage measure in the nation,” says the June 12th Fight for $15! update from the campaign.

The SEIU worked with Lee to try to get the minimum wage boosted to help give local workers a “better quality of life economically,” says union member Gregory Richardson. He does not think the proposal goes far enough. “$15 an hour in San Francisco doesn’t really cut the cake,” says Richardson. He does believe it would “help [people] have a better financial situation” and be able to stay in San Francisco.

Speculation swirled that there could be two minimum wage increase proposals placed before voters in the same election, but the Minimum Wage Act was removed from consideration after the mayor introduced the second initiative.

Students may be disproportionately affected by any minimum wage laws. People under the age of twenty-five make up about one-fifth of workers paid by the hour but account for almost half of the workforce that receives the federal minimum wage or less, according to “Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers, 2013,” a report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in March. Students who want to benefit from San Francisco’s higher minimum wage should not work on campus as SF State is a state institution and, thus, only required to pay the California hourly minimum wage, which hit nine dollars July and will climb to ten dollars by the start of 2016.

Some believe concentrating on the minimum wage is somewhat misguided because that approach fails to look at the underlying problems. Progressives tend to focus on wages but need to examine inequality of power, said Jamie Way of Make Change at Walmart at the Beyond Livable Wage panel at Netroots Nation in Detroit this month. “The wages are a symptom of a huge imbalance,” said panel moderator Brian Young. Erica Smiley of Jobs with Justice thinks raising the minimum wage is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. “Just passing a living wage … good, but it doesn’t give workers power,” she said at the panel. Smiley added that the goal should be to “not just increase wages in the short-term but to build worker power in the long-term.”

Not everyone on the panel felt highlighting wages is problematic. “I think focusing our movement on wages” puts it on track, says Saket Soni of the National Guestworkers Alliance. He also called San Francisco’s proposed minimum wage initiative and retail worker bill of rights a “great model” for workers’ rights across the nation.