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Things I’ve Learned About San Francisco: Part 1

San FranciscoSince I’ve been traveling about the City more I’ve gotten a more accurate view of what has been going on in San Francisco. Granted it has been biased by the fact that most of the people have the money and interest in using Sidecar, which I drive for, but it still seems to match up well with what other people are talking about.

Even though San Francisco is roughly 7×7 I’m going to have to break it up into sections defined by the people who live there so for today…Let’s start with the Marina/Pacific Heights/Western Addition/Nob Hill/Civic Center/Tenderloin/North Beach/Chinatown since people who live there tend to call this collection of areas Pac Heights or North Beach.

This is the lair of the bros. The fraternity types that apparently were never here before, unless you count the 80’s which no one remembers when they were called Preppies. You won’t find many festivals here because, well, I’m not sure why but every day is pretty much the same. It’s kind of like the GTL of the Jersey Shore, except here it’s more WBL or Work, Bar, Laundry, not necessarily in that order. People here tend to be going to or come from a bar. I have yet to hear about anyone talk about the restaurants, but the Blue Light and Brickyard bars come up regularly. If you get a chance to meet one they are curious in that every other word out of their mouth seems to be bro, hence their name. I once drove a bro out to the beach and in that half hour he called me bro more than once per minute. I actually lost count after about 40.

While I’m not sure it seems like the bros on Union Street don’t mix with the bros on Chestnut Street as I have yet to bar hop a group of people between the two. Union Street seems to be the more popular as thats where most of the people seem to gravitate to unless they actually live in the Marina then it’s Chestnut street. If they’re one of the people who love living in Pac Heights and they just walked out of a door next to garage meaning that they’re living in an add on room off the garage then it’s Union Street. Oh yes, beer is the drink of choice here. No focus on artisanal microbrews, but more a question of, will it get me drunk?

If you move down to the Western Addition it’s still a very nice place to live, but the real estate people like to call it lower Pac Heights so that they can charge more. It’s got a few sketchy parts as you get closer to Market Street, but for the most part it’s still got lots of bars and restaurants. Because there’s a chance that you might one day walk past someone who’s maybe hasn’t bathed in a few weeks or months and talks to themselves this area is considered edgy. If you want real edge you have to move over to the Civic Center/Tenderloin area which is alternatively called Lower Nob Hill or the Tender Nob. You can run across all types here, usually looking very under fed, but usually over meth’d in this area. People here take stop lights as a mere suggestion rather than a rule. If you moved to San Francisco and got a place here then someone wasn’t telling you the whole truth about the area. Sure, it’s close to Twitter and Square, but you might enjoy life a few blocks North a little more.

When you start to move East from the Pac Heights/Marina area you start to see a change. The bros have built up a tolerance for beer and have moved on to stronger cocktails or straight up booze. Nob Hill & North Beach are where the professional drinkers go. Friday’s and Saturday nights you’ll see people stumbling along from bar to bar and there are tons of them once you get to North Beach. You won’t find many bars with $2 beer signs in the window here, but if you need a good stiff drink and your liver thinks beer is for when the sun is out you move to North Beach.

The bros seem to occupy North Beach on the weekends mostly and many of the people I’ve met who actually live there are techies who like to walk to grab some food and a good stiff drink. These aren’t usually the techies everyone complains about in San Francisco who are raising the rents and pushing poor people out [poor people in North Beach?] These are the leftovers from the early days of the first dot com explosion who didn’t work for pets.com. The only bros and neo-techies you might find in this area are west of Columbus Avenue. That’s where you get into Chinatown, but they still call it North Beach. These are the new comers who everyone has a problem with. Some are true bros who have some money of their own. Lots have Daddy’s credit card to make a name for themselves in San Francisco. Seriously, I have been told that on numerous occasions. Most though are in their mid 30’s and a little older and wiser than those in the Marina & Pacific Heights, but the long time families of Pacific Heights tend to scowl at them so they move to Chinatown, er North Beach.

The only other thing I can say about this area is that Pac Heights for people with kids is the place to go on Halloween. It was just swarming with kids all over the place. People were even sitting out on their front steps meeting the kids to hand out candy. The whole area has a lot of people who’ve been in San Francisco for under a year even though there are still some families who have been here for a few generations, but they’re giving way to the newbs.

Living The Techy Life

Mug for the camera. Microsoft wants to see where their money went...I went to a mixer last night which is sort of like an all you can eat buffet for techies and in talking with a few people I started to understand how people with a tech background survive in the City.

First off you have to get invited to lots of mixers or meet ups. They’re free, offer food and lots of free booze. They run from 4pm to around midnight depending upon the day of the week. The food and booze is sponsored by large tech companies or at least partially underwritten to make it less expensive to the attendees. So let’s see what I got last night.

I walked in and was handed two free drink tickets. These were pretty much good for anything from a coke to a long island ice tea. I’ve just saved potentially $20. After walking in the door and before I could get a drink the food servers got me. I was offered [not in order of appearance] crab cakes, mushroom duxelles on toast, smoked salmon on toast, kobe beef styled sliders with grilled onions, grilled polenta dusted with parmesan, sweet potato fries with a habanero aioli to name what I can remember. I stayed a little over an hour and I have to say I left overly stuffed. When I got home I could barely keep my eyes open from the food coma I was in and had one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in a long time. Getting seconds and thirds of the food wasn’t uncalled for, but expected that evening and I probably got an extra 2000 calories to add to my diet that day. Total cost for the evening? $2 muni fare round trip because I was able to transfer back home in under the hour and a half time frame.

As I was walking down Montgomery street to the location I noticed something about downtown that I hadn’t in awhile because I don’t go there very often. Most of the people were in a severely dressed down state. I could count the number of button down shirts on one had and most of those were worn by the doormen at the various clubs along the way. Most of the people looked like they bought their clothes at a Goodwill and aimed for the lower end stuff. Passing by 111 Minna there were an large number of hipsters all with bike messenger bags yet there wasn’t a single bike to be found. 111 Minna has a low entry fee and cheap beer so if you’ve got a few extra bucks it’s a good place to end an evening or start one if you’re not hungry.

Now let’s relate this to the techy life. San Francisco we all know is an expensive town to live in. If you work here it’s almost as if no matter how much they pay you, it’s never enough. The ways you make ends meet is by attending the meet ups and mixers. They have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner so if you swing it right you never need to have food in your house. You can supplement those with the perks your business offers you such as chips and cookies before you run home to your your apartment that other people would call a closet. While I’m not as into the tech field as many other people I could still eat out on someone else’s dime for about three nights a week.

To get the techy look you have to buy used clothing or just have not bought clothes since Web 1.0. You very rarely need a button down shirt so you only need to own one that you can keep in your closet and pull it out once a year when you have to dress up or attend a funeral. The bike messenger bag is for carrying all your laptop/tablet and to stuff swag that you get at the meet ups, or stuff food into for a late night snack.

I never had to live this lifestyle since before I got my house the rent was way cheaper and I wasn’t spending upwards of $40k/year just on rent. While I can’t fully relate to it, I do have to say that I admire the way they get by. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go pull the kobe beef sliders and smoked salmon out of my jacket from last night.

Happy Independence Day!

Welcome to the 4th of July were the U.S.A. celebrates it’s independence from the tyranny of the United Kingdom with a Chinese tradition — fireworks. It’s also the one day of the year where you can have an open beer in your hand before noon and no one looks at you funny. Many of you will be going down to Crissy Field or Fisherman’s Wharf with the thousands of others to be crowded together to watch the fun. I will not.

I did the Crissy Field thing once and while it was fun there were too many people drinking too much to get in a portapotty to give back the beer and afterwards the drive out was so slow that I have to say I have never seen so many people jumping out of their cars and running off to the side of the road to pee. Nope, I’m not going to drive through a river of hot urine just watch some fireworks. There’s plenty of other places to see them minus the urine and drunkards.

The first thing is you need to get high. No I’m not talking about smoking pot, but get as high up in the air as you can. Twin Peaks is a good place as you can see Crissy Field as well as Oakland and Union City’s shows. This place does get a little crowded though so get there early. Oddly enough on a warmish day like today when you go up there at night the heat of the day rises so be prepared to have shorts and tank top handy as San Francisco radiates back all the heat of the day.

Grandview Park is another good place in the Inner Sunset and you only have to walk partly up the steps to see it. This was our usual place, but tonight I think I’m going to try the Northwest corner of the Sunset Reservoir. I’ve heard lots of people recommend it and it’s closer to my house. The parking in all these other places is much easier to get in and out of and they’re also nice if you have kids that are scared by the loud banging.

Fisherman’s Wharf I did one year which is a good place if you want to get closer without being boxed in at Crissy Field. You can even hop on the Metro and enjoy the fireworks from the Embarcadero and if you’re quick you can hop back on to before the rest of the crowd does.

If you want an alternative fireworks festival go down to Ocean Beach. The outer Sunset and Richmond district seem to have a number of pyrophiliacs and while not as big as the Crissy field show there are still some pretty big rockets going up in the air out here. I do remember one year there was an older Chinese man with his granddaughter set up at the school yard of A. P. Gianinni Junior High that was sending up some definitely not safe and sane stuff that was pretty impressive. He was there for over an hour. Local schoolyards seem to be a hit or miss attraction for people. The police generally leave you alone there unless you’re tossing M-80’s around because there isn’t too much to burn on the asphalt play areas. The good old days of driving to Daly City to buy your own fireworks are pretty much gone. I’m not sure if Pacifica is still selling the old Red Devil fireworks of my youth, but at least I’ve given you a few ways to see something tonight while you’re eating your burgers and slugging down too many beers.

Sigmund Stern Grove

Since my daughter’s off from school now we have to find things to entertain her so we took her for a trip to Sigmund Stern Grove the other day. It’s really come a long way from when I was a kid and it’s a definitely good place to take a walk.

It was purchased by Rosalie Meyer Stern after the original owner George Greene who Trocadero Inn that’s still there, but closed it in 1916 with the oncoming of prohibition he was afraid that that bootleggers would make their way to his hidden hideaway. Rosalie donated the area she named after her late husband to the City of San Francisco in 1931. She was the President of the city’s Playground Commission which would now be SF Parks and Recreation.

When I was a kid it was the place to go on the weekends to drink beer. During the day on the weekends they might have a concert or two. Not the type they have today, but mostly local rock bands nothing as big as they get today. It was always a place for music and in 2005 got a major overhaul by Lawrence Halprin giving it a new stage better natural seating with a sort of bleachers being made out of grass and rock.

The east end where the Trocadero Inn is [I don’t know what it’s called today, but I’m sure it’s had a few renovations and is available for rental for events I still believe] is a heavily wooded area with picnic spots and grills. If you’re lucky and are having a big party you’ll want to get the double bricked in grills up in the northeast end. There’s a pond in the midst of the trees that used to have koi in it, but I didn’t see any this time. It was a great place to have a picnic when I was a kid and we always loved running around the trees.

In the middle is the concert area that’s pretty massive.The stage now has a hangar of lights and there’s lots of lights around the seating area as well for night time concerts. I didn’t get close enough, but there did look like there was a concession stand for those who forgot to bring some food during the concerts. Be careful when you walk around the place because since there’s grass there’s gopher holes. Not as many as in other places and I’ll have to find out what they do to keep it that way.

On the west end you’ll find dogs. Lots of dogs. It’s become an open dog run area and it’s huge so you’ll see lots of big dogs that need the exercise out there. At the far west end is Laguna Puerca [literally pig lake]. It’s one of the few natural lakes in San Francisco and you can tell by all the pond scum and duckweed floating around. I would not suggest you go for a swim there on a warm day. the water is pretty nasty. There’s also a building where they hold the Pine Lake summer camp. Oh, by the way they changed the name from Pig Lake to Pine Lake. Image is everything needless to say.

Up and around the north end there are lots of trails for hikers so there really is something for everyone here. There’s not a whole lot of parking here, but there is an east and west lot that the only connection is a service road that’s not available to the public. I prefer to enter through the west entrance off of Crestlake Avenue as it’s much wider than the road in from 19th Avenue. My daughter enjoyed the trip especially being around all the dogs. The owners will warn you if their dogs aren’t good around kids, but we didn’t find that to be the case. Enjoy the pictures.

Anchor Steam Beer

In my misspent youth I had a hobby of brewing beer. The ingredients were legal to buy and it was cheap to make and seeing as there was a home brewing shop three blocks away from me just made it easier. This got me thinking about a little talked about San Francisco tradition, Anchor Steam Beer.

I’ve drank a lot of Anchor Steam beer over the years, but I have yet to tour their brewery which I think I’ll have to do sometime in the near future. What always caught my ear was the fact that the word steam was included in the name. What exactly is steam beer? Now when I brewed beer you boiled the grains and hops on the stove [know by brewers as the wort] for a certain length of time that did produce steam and made the whole house smell like a telephone booth on a hot day [I’m dating myself here, but some of you well know what I mean.] You then strained this into your primary fermenter added water to cool it down and added the yeast.

When I first started brewing beer I used ale yeast because I was told it was easier to deal with. It turns out that steam beer uses a lager yeast that ferments on the bottom and you don’t get the foamy top on your batch. Steam beer using lager yeast is fermented at a cooler temperature more indicative of San Francicisco. As to why the term steam beer is used has a lot of debate. Some say it was because the Anchor Brewery lacking ice to cool the wort would pump the hot wort up to holding tanks at the roof of the building where the cool Pacific air would cool it down causing steam to rise off the building. Other’s have said that it produced a lot of carbon dioxide and it was necessary to let off the steam during the fermentation process. This I can believe because the first time I actually brewed a lager and bottled it up I stored the bottles in my garage and found that my Dad who used to spend his evenings working in the garage would have a few WWII flashbacks when a bottle or two would explode from too much pressure.

Steam beer was started here in San Francisco in 1849 a year before California became a part of the US and the start of the California gold rush when a German named Gottlieb Brekle decided to start a business to help the working man unwind. Steam beer [also known as California common beer] was not the best stuff around at the time. It was cheap to make, cheap to purchase and didn’t taste that great, but got you drunk. It’s a far cry from what the Anchor Brewery makes today. Anchor Steam is still their best known, but they make a much larger selection including ales and barley wines.

Anchor has evolved over the years to become probably one of the first micro-brews commercially available. I’ve had friends who have taken the tours and they’ve said that they’re a lot of fun. Apparently so much fun that you have to book the tour six month in advance now because of the popularity. You also get a taste of the beer at the end of the tour so I’d say give them a call now and book a trip. They only take reservations by phone though so if you’re planning on making the trip call them at 415-863-8350 now. Don’t forget to press extension 0 when you call.

Baghdad By The Bay Meetup in the works

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile and I finally broached the topic on Twitter yesterday and was surprised by the response. I’m getting a large amount of people in San Francisco and beyond who read this website and I’ve finally decided to get out of the house and meet up with some of my “foreign corespondents” in San Francisco. That is the other bloggers, citizens, fans, readers and even the haters of this website.

Since I’m a Sunset redneck, it only made sense that I have the meet up in a suitable Sunset establishment. Also since I want to give some of the people from out of town a chance to prepare I’m going to not try a flash mob type of thing with a meet up tonight @ Uncle Fucker’s Chuckle Hut! but actually give you a few months warning. I like to plan ahead and I want to find a place that can handle the people who will come. Judging from last night’s twitter replies of over thirty people I suspect I will get a good amount of people to show up so I’ll actually have to approach a place and tell them what I’m doing. First stop will be the Blackthorn Tavern @ 9th and Irving because not only do they serve Boddington’s beer, Magner’s Cider, and have a DJ, but on Sunday’s they also have a BBQ going.

I’m thinking sometime during the San Francisco summer which falls right after the rest of the world’s summer meaning September. We should have good weather then and that’s the month of my birthday so what better excuse to stage a party. So I’ll be visiting the venerable Blackthorn Tavern in the next few days to discuss with them having a meet up there and see what they say. I want to see all the local blogger’s, politicians, scoutmobbers, miscreants and hipsters from all over the city to come to this event so make sure to mark your calendars for sometime in September for this get together.

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