Heart of the City Archives










A can't-miss Christmas by the bay
by Hank Donat

'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the town each creature was stirring and dashing around. With stockings of fishnet and thoughts devil-may-care, every Mr. and Ms. San Francisco had better beware.

Mercifully, that will be the extent of my so-called poetry to appear in this column. Though I am a shameless nostalgia peddler who misses the Herb Caen Christmas poem as much as the next person, the incongruity of San Franciscans singing about sleigh bells and snowmen prevents me from getting overly absorbed in the winter festival.

Still, for a place where the average temperature is 54 degrees, San Francisco holds its own as a holiday hot spot. Not long ago, Monique Verrier of the Mission District introduced me to the annual performance of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Ensemble at Slim's on Christmas Eve. It is now among my favorite holiday traditions.

Stu Smith's cabaret Hob Nob for Shanti is also a bourgeoning institution. Since 1974, Shanti volunteers and staff have helped people with cancer, AIDS, and other life threatening illnesses by providing daily emotional support and practical assistance.

Smith's benefit, now in its fifth year, was held last week at the Plush Room and featured performances by a raft of top local talent. Comedian Bob Sarlatte, violinist Dick Bright, vocalists Tim Hockenberry and Lisa Baney, and the fantastic bass player Daniel Fabricante all made it a cool yule along with visiting chanteuse Spider Saloff of Chicago. Bruce Bellingham of the Examiner and Al Hart of KGO radio were the emcees.

Offstage, Saloff bonded with man-about-town George Tobias, who appeared as an elegant Father Christmas. Like Saloff, this Santa has roots in Illinois - northern Illinois it is presumed. "I've played in Peoria many times," says Saloff, "Jack Benny and I are the only two that were ever asked back."

Hockenberry stole it with a performance of "Christmas by the Bay." With lyrics like, "The Golden Gate is glowing on this cool December night and the city's highest towers shine like presents wrapped in light," it's as wonderfully schmaltzy an anthem as "I Left my Heart in San Francisco." Clark Sterling and Nolan Gasser wrote Hockenberry's sentimental radio hit.

Caen's longtime assistant Carole Vernier, Chuck and Donna Huggins of See's Candies, and mediaman Lee Houskeeper are all among locals who wouldn't miss this event and didn't.

Here's a scooplet: Vernier, who's been living on the peninsula, is moving back to the city in the spring. Add Carole to this list of people who mistakenly thought that close to San Francisco was close enough.

With plenty of time remaining to plan for each, following are some of the other best-loved and unique holiday outings in the bay city.

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy is Lisa Geduldig's Jewish comedy night at the New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific Avenue. Geduldig is San Francisco's most enduring Jewish lesbian comedian. She says pork is kosher so long as it's in a wonton, so what better venue than New Asia? Judy Gold is on the bill this year. I watched Gold tape a television special at the Fillmore several years ago and caught her on cable recently. The new sets include very funny material on the plight of her kids they have two Jewish mothers! Proceeds benefit Gay-Straight Alliance Network. Dec. 24-27. www.koshercomedy.com

If you have to be in Union Square with kids, the Shelton Theater's "Celebration of Holiday Silliness," a comedy, magic and juggling show is bound to make everyone's day. 533 Sutter. 522-8900. Dec. 21 and 28 at 3 and 7pm.

San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker is always a great way to introduce children to classical ballet. It's also among the best of the few major Christmas events that run beyond Christmas Day. Through December 28 at the San Francisco Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue.

The Christmas Ballet presented at Yerba Buena Center by Smuin Ballet includes both classical ballet and modern dance and also run through December 28. www.smuinballets.com

Victorian Home Walks offers a Christmas-themed tour of Victorian homes daily through New Year's Eve. 252-9485.

I know a die-hard San Franciscan from the Excelsior who frequently visits Fisherman's Wharf without out-of-town relatives, but I won't blow his cover. Swallow your pride and catch the lights at Fisherman's Wharf through New Year's Eve.

In North Beach, Beach Blanket Babylon's Holiday Extravaganza runs through New Year's Eve at Club Fugazi, Green Street and Columbus Avenue. 421-4222.

Why not round out the year by catching the annual New Year's Eve fireworks display on the Embarcadero? You can watch from a window seat at the Top of the Mark or on a rooftop on a hill with a best friend in toasting distance. I think that's how I'll do it.

Happy holidays from Heart of the City.

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Copyright 2003 Hank Donat
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