Heart of the City Archives

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It's wax fruit season, but not in Orangeland
by Hank Donat

Lightning, rarer than a liberal talk radio host, has been a surprising spectacle around the bay this summer.

Call it Boston weather if you like, I call it the wax fruit season. We are the fruit, every one of us melting, melting in some kind of invisible steam.

When Mona Ramsey slept in front of an open window on Russian Hill in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, some San Franciscans snickered, “Yeah, right.” But the wax fruit season proves it’s possible to slumber el fresco in San Francisco.

Common sense would tell you not to call a gentleman like Armistead, “Army,” but I’ve seen Maupin addressed that way quite a few times in local papers recently.

Maupin raised a flag in his most recent novel, the intriguing The Night Listener. The main character in the novel is a writer named Gabriel who recognizes phonies because they call him Gabe.

The Night Listener is being made into a movie, which is just desserts for any Maupin novel. Lucky us.

More ladies and gentlemen: I certainly never, ever thought I’d be having dinner next to Willie Brown at a strip club. But when I heard that the Penthouse Grille at Broadway Showgirls was reopening with chef Thomas Hogan, I had to appear.

Hogan recently left the vegan restaurant Roxanne’s in Larkspur.

A host of sports guys and djs turned out for the opening including the non-Clear Channel John London, Lamont & Tonelli, and Tim Jeffreys. The presence of Ruth Dewson, the Mayor of Fillmore Street, helped keep the affair medium rare.

Economic impact: One of the Showgirls dancers told me she was a paralegal until she got “laid off in the bust.” After I observed that a lot of people have been forced to retrain, the young woman said she could make a g-string out of my tie. Help me, Mrs. D!

Showgirls and other Broadway clubs are looking for a charity to benefit from an October golf tournament but many organizations refuse to accept funds from an adult entertainment company.

Cheesy! Lynn Sagardahl, formerly of the Western Addition, was in town from Sacramento to take in the Hanson concert at Slim’s. Lynn is a 35 year-old mother of three and a big Hanson fan. Once over the bridge, she made a beeline to the cheese steak shop at 1716 Divisadero.

Lynn moved to Sacramento ten years ago. She never comes back to San Francisco without her frequent fryer card for bonus cheese steak.

It’s sad to see the corner of Stockton and Vallejo, formerly the Florence Deli and Ravioli Factory, reopened as the May Shun 99-Cent store. The Florence Deli closed this past spring after 67 years in North Beach.

“We’re a little less special all the time,” says deli fan Lynne Newton better than I can. Coit Tower looms over the neighborhood, reminding us there’s a still a lot that’s special around here.

Coit Tower is the city’s pinky finger, extended daintily. As long as it’s there San Francisco will always be a lady.

I’m not knocking 99-Cent stores. My favorite, at 2558 Mission Street, sells a doll that bears a truly uncanny likeness to Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom. The last time I passed through the Mission there were still a handful of the 13” dolls known as “Beautiful Lady,” available for $3.99 each.

Mine made an excellent centerpiece for a breakfast buffet on the morning of the gay parade in June.

Not far from the Florence Deli is another Farewell Favorite, the Orangeland market at the corner of Stockton and Jackson. There’s a new and improved market on the corner, but Chinatown seems off kilter without Orangeland to bookend with nearby Appleland.

Betcha didn’t know. Friends tell me Matt Gonzalez is a killer fussball player.

Katie Broder, who’s quickly becoming my favorite wag in the Mission, attended the San Francisco Women’s Political Caucus mayoral debate at the Koret Auditorium in the Main Library.

Katie had this to say about Susan Leal: “The last thing she said was, ‘More than anything, I want to leave you tonight with these two words.’ No matter how hard I try I can’t remember what those two words were but they weren’t ‘stage’ or ‘presence.’”

Leal is not without charisma. I’ve seen it, honest.

Even in wax fruit season San Francisco is a great place to run into familiar faces, a favorite activity that makes the big town a little city.

An afternoon on foot reveals Alex Fagan Sr. chatting with friends in front of Tiffany’s on Post Street; Ann Caen looking luminous, leaving Mr. Lee’s on Bush Street with a white silk scarf protecting a fresh ‘do; Stanlee Gatti on the run at Polk and California; lensman Marc Geller chowing down at the aforementioned cheese steak shop, Divisadero and Sutter.

An old favorite, Original Joe’s on Taylor Street, is invigorated by its new music room. The restaurant presents live jazz every other Monday and a cabaret open mike on the last Thursday of each month.

Bay Area jazz greats Kim Nalley and Jules Broussard appeared in August. Broussard says jazz touches feelings with “an economy of words.”

SF legend Carol Doda has been known to show her vocal chops at the Thursday show.

Proprietor Marie Duggan hasn’t named the performance space yet but I recommend it to friends as The Comfort Room, a moniker that goes with all the great unvegan comfort food on the menu at O.J.’s. Surely Burt Bacharach meant to say, “What the world needs now is ox tails.”

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Copyright 2003 Hank Donat
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