Heart of the City Archives

Mark Bittner's Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill make a field trip to Cow Hollow. Detail
Dot Dot Dot (.com)
by Hank Donat

Memo to two tourists who were taking the late afternoon sun from the bench in front of Carol Doda's Lingerie & Lace Boutique on Union Street: The lady who ventured out of the shop to tell you it was closing time and could you hit the road, the one who answered, "No, I'm just helping her out," when you asked, "Are you Carol Doda?" was, in fact, Carol Doda, San Francisco's favorite 44-DD attraction. Memo to Carol Doda: You can hunch but you can't hide...

Jeff Halpern lives in Cow Hollow where his friends call him Halpo. After the recent Stevie Nick's concert for KFOG's children's charity, Halpo and I dashed out of the Masonic Auditorium and into Gabe Ets-Hokin's cab. Gabe is a board member of the Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club when he's not behind the wheel or making music. 

With a cell phone hanging on his ear, Gabe tells us, "I go on this radio show. They talk to me from the cab." Halpo and I check our seat belts then check them again. A few seconds later, we're hurtling down Franklin Street and passing the phone around the car for a chat on KCSM with none other than Mal Sharpe. Mal, a Berkeley resident who loves San Francisco, is as much fun as ever. He couldn't find the recording of Sweet Basil Blues that we love so much but was happy to talk about my web site, MisterSF.com, which celebrates its first birthday February 1. With his broadcast originating from San Mateo County, Mal suggests a site for Mister San Mateo. MisterSM? Mal is welcome to the suggestive title, though he'll always be remembered as San Francisco's man-on-the-street interviewer, and now as the City's man-over-the-street interviewer thanks to frequent guest calls from cabby Gabe...

Another one bites the dust jacket. It's a pity to lose another independent bookstore, 9th Avenue Books in the Sunset. I'm holding out hope that the City's dailies will spend less time celebrating Amazon, the super retailer of the Internet, and instead give more ink to the mom and pops. Anyone who needs more proof that it's more important now than ever to keep our dollars in our neighborhoods need look no further than the rash of shop closures on Union, Fillmore, and elsewhere.

Sure it's fun to point and click at books, or is it? What could be better than a visit to Great Expectations Bookstore on Haight Street? Known by some locals as the book Nazi, an appellation inspired by Seinfeld's soup Nazi, the small, well-stocked Great Expectations greets visitors at the door with a collection of hand-written signs that seemingly bark the shop's rules. If you come here you'd better be prepared to check even your bag, and don't loiter, take photos, remove books from top shelves without assistance, or ask any questions about the signs. Also, no roller skates, bicycles, stollers, bare feet, or guitars. You'll probably leave with the title you're looking for, but you'll certainly leave with an only-in-San Francisco experience. Any questions? I didn't think so.

As for the rise of Amazon and the fall of just about every other dot com, a phenomenon that now looks like Mesozoic history viewed through the terror war paradigm, Michael Jennings has something positive to say. His company, Small Potatoes Catering (tinyspuds.com) produced nearly a hundred large and small parties for the Industry Standard during the high tech journal's reign at Pacific and Battery. Of the much maligned dot commers, Jennings says, "I found the overwhelming majority of these folks to be gracious, well-mannered, adventurous and vibrant. They drank like fish, smoked like chimneys, and appreciated good food when they ate it." And remember, Jennings saw these folks at their worst, drunk and hungry...

Today's column marks the first anniversary of MisterSF.com. In the past year it has been my real pleasure to point people in the direction of the character of the People and City of San Francisco. When I started, I never dreamed I'd see the two million hits that the site logged in its first year. This humbles me and I'm proud to play second fiddle to the site's true attraction, our City by the Bay.

I am also proud to announce that the San Francisco Independent has picked up "Heart of the City" beginning February 12. Today's column was a dry run for myself and the Independent's production staff, to whom I'm happy to prove that I submit my copy neither on the backs of Snickers wrappers nor in Polish. I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

February 1 is also the anniversary of the death of Herb Caen, who passed away in 1997. I ran into Caen's widow, Ann Moller Caen, on Fillmore Street within a few hours of cementing my agreement with the Independent, which will run the column every-other Tuesday. Ann looks like a million dollars, before taxes, while the rest of us only depreciate. I salute you on this day, Ann, and I remember your husband, who meant so much to all of us. It's often said, but Michael Fraser, the former Perry's and Washbag bartender, said it to me best and most recently. "When Herb died the City lost its best friend. We're still getting back on our feet." All too true.

Welcome to MisterSF.com. Please visit the site often to keep in touch with San Francisco, for your own amusement, and to use the Local Joints section as a portal for independent businesses. Keep your money in the neighborhoods... Watch this space for observations, interviews and more from around town. All other sections of MisterSF.com are also updated continually, so come back and watch us grow!

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