Best of 2019: Arts & Entertainment

BEST NEW MUSIC VENUE

August Hall

420 Mason St., augusthallsf.com

Opening a new music venue in San Francisco is quite the perilous task. In addition to competing with storied spots like the Fillmore and the Independent for bookings, August Hall was also tasked with shaping its identity as the new resident occupying the former location of nightclub Ruby Skye. The team at August Hall have risen to the challenge, welcoming intimate performances from Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and Australian rocker Courtney Barnett. Despite its location near Union Square, August Hall boasts excellent acoustics, tasty cocktails, and a three-lane bowling alley downstairs at Fifth Arrow.  Overall, it’s been an impressive debut for a space with a capacity of between 750 and 1,000, which rocked its first birthday with an outstanding Hot Chip show two weeks ago.

BEST DRAG MAJESTY

Mama Dora

twitter.com/mamadorasf

“Drag Majesty” is now an official royal honorary title at Carnaval, thanks to a new, non-binary crown added to the parade’s traditional King and Queen winners. This year’s Drag Majesty is Mama Dora, the big-bearded drag queen who hosts Mama Dora’s DollHouse at El Rio and Club Love at the Stud. You can check out Mama Dora on her Carnaval float — which has toilet seats for windows — or elsewhere around town bringing LGBTQ culture deeper into the Latinx community.

BEST DJ WHO WILL LOVINGLY HANDCRAFT NEW AND DISTINCT THEME MIXES FOR EVERY PARTY

DJ FACT.50

djfact50.com

A resident DJ at Bondage-a-Go-Go, the Edwardian Ball, and many other beloved S.F. events, DJ FACT.50 will spend all week putting together a carefully curated mix for that night’s particular party theme. Whether it’s forgotten hits from American Top 40 when you were in fourth grade,

recent tracks from the Billboard latin charts, or soundtrack tunes from John Hughes movies, DJ FACT.50 will find the perfect collection of tracks that specifically cater to that night’s themed proceedings. DJ FACT.50 doesn’t just hit the Enter key and expect the crowd to go nuts. He carefully constructs a mix intended to match the je nai se quoi of the party.

BEST REASON TO RISK A VISIT TO THE OLD MINT

Terror Vault

intothedarksf.com

Before it became something of a white elephant, the Mint Building on Fifth Street handled a sizable percentage of all the gold and silver mined in the West during the 19th century. But in another timeline, it was a notorious prison where people went crazy, an alternate history that last October’s Terror Vault exploited to the hilt. A project by Into the Dark, event-management company Non Plus Ultra, and drag superstar Peaches Christ, Terror Vault was a thrilling and occasionally disgusting Halloween experience with a well-cast menagerie of ghoulies who made excellent use of the crypt-like lower level. SF Weekly endeavors  to abide by a no-spoilers rule at all times, but damn, that clown room with the strobe.

BEST POLITICAL PUBLIC ART

ResistanceSF’s Projections

bayresistance.org

“Lock Him Up,” “Climate Change Is Real,” and “Shithole President” are just some of the slides that ResistanceSF has beamed onto the Federal Building on Seventh Street just south of Market over the last year-and-a-half, and somehow it never gets old. Having expanded the targets of its salty ire to include tech HQ’s — “@jack Is Complicit” being a good example — the activists who respond to particularly egregious news stories with timely, give-’em-hell responses have earned our respect for their sheer tenacity. Still — is this legal? “Occasionally we get questions from security or law enforcement, but no real issues in the Bay,” one activist told SF Weekly last year. The First Amendment is a wonderful thing.

BEST APOLITICAL PUBLIC ART

Flower Piano

sfbg.org/flowerpiano

Public art can all too often devolve into gigantic monuments to an artist’s ego, from the three-ton abstract metal sculpture-oids that adorn many a windswept corporate plaza to vaingloriously silly selfie bait like Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Cupid’s Span on the Embarcadero. The best public art hinges on engagement, and Flower Piano does it perfectly. Over 12 days in summer, the San Francisco Botanical Garden becomes home to 12 themed pianos among its trees, with amateur pianists and the occasional professional invited to play and sing along by day. Some evenings, illuminated pathways guide people to specific programs. If filling a well-maintained forest with music sounds like enchantment, Flower Piano returns for its fifth year this July.

BEST THING TO MAKE YOU FALL BACK IN LOVE WITH S.F.

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City reboot

“When I first got off the bus years ago, I had the strangest feeling that I’d come home,” Laura Linney’s Mary Ann Singleton says in the trailer for Netflix’s continuation of Armistead Maupin’s serialized column (and its subsequent PBS miniseries). It doesn’t air in full until June 7, but the new Tales made its debut in April at the SFFILM Festival — and if you haven’t yet teared up at the trailer, you will. Michael Tolliver, Anna Madrigal, and all the other surviving characters associated with 28 Barbary Lane have cameos in a Taylor Mac-esque “radical faerie realness ritual.” Having begun in 1976, Tales led to nine books and now three television adaptations, indelibly etching itself into the culture of a city where people come to reinvent themselves and figure life out, even today. Maupin has moved away — twice — and undoubtedly so have many of your friends. San Francisco is in the grip of a series of closures that would break anyone’s heart.

Joseph Ciotten in Shadow of a Doubt (Film Noir Foundation)  

MOST NOTABLE NEW PHOTO-OP

Hamilton Wall

1192 Market St., shnsf.com

With the advent of “selfie palaces” like the Museum of Ice Cream and the usual offerings of iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, there have never been more options to commit the visage of the cityscape to digital pixels. However, thanks to the ongoing run of the smash hit Hamilton — with performances scheduled through January 2020 — a new contender for most coveted photo background has emerged. Whether it’s young girls recreating the silhouettes of the Schuyler Sisters or enterprising theatergoers of all ages doing their best finger in the sky approximation of the show’s logo, posing with the Hamilton graphics lining the Orpheum Theatre now feels like a mandatory — and mostly endearing — stop for show-goers and passers-by. “Ain’t gonna miss my shot” has a new meaning.

BEST REASON TO WEAR A FEDORA

Noir City Film Festival – Castro Theatre

429 Castro St., noircity.com

Watching classic films in the grandeur of the Castro Theatre is a quintessential San Francisco experience. With several iconic noir films set in the city — The Maltese Falcon, Dark Passage, and Vertigo among them — devoting a festival to the genre is only fitting. Every January as it has for 18 years, Eddie Muller — Noir City’s impeccably charismatic founder and emcee — welcomes audiences to enjoy beloved classics and deep cuts from the film noir vaults. (This year’s theme was the 1950s, with the murder-filled Pickup on South Street from 1953 being the standout.) Seeing audience members dressed to the nines to take in a double-feature never fails to entertain, with some fans going above and beyond to outshine the competition both at the theater and the occasional after-party at tiki bar Last Rites. Throw in the city’s best popcorn and there’s no topping Noir City — especially if you need to lose a tail.

Courtesy image 

BEST PLACE TO GET (LEGALLY) NAKED

Kabuki Springs & Spa

1750 Geary Blvd., kabukisprings.com

The springs at Kabuki Springs & Spa are as peaceful a place as any in San Francisco. Insulated from the noise of honking cars and the ceaseless stimulation of smartphone notifications, bathers are instead invited to unwind and unplug. With Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays reserved for men and Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays for women (plus all-gender Tuesdays with bathing suits required), learning to be comfortable with your bare body is all the easier with a hot pool, cold pool, dry sauna, and steam room steps away. Add in an aura of authentic grace and mediation that permeates the space, and this Japantown oasis is tough to beat.

BEST IMMERSIVE THEATER

Epic Immersive

epicimmersive.com

Have you ever wanted to explore the surreal underbelly of Alice’s Wonderland or spend an unknowable period of time with the poet Dante? Thanks to the team at Epic Immersive, such opportunities are now available to any who wish to take their appreciation of theater to the next level. As strong supporters of local artists, Epic Immersive has spawned an internationally renowned conference on immersive design as well as a recently launched incubator program aimed at ensuring diversity and opportunity for creators of all kinds. Beyond their uncanny ability to find physical performance spaces in a historically expensive city, Epic Immersive puts everything they’ve got into the shows they offer.

BEST HOME DECOR

Gregangelo Museum

225 San Leandro Way, velocityartssf.com

Have you experienced the 27 realms? From the outside, Gregangelo Herrera’s Gregangelo Museum in Balboa Terrace not far from Stonestown offers few hints to the wonders contained within. Conceived of as an art project that’s been going on for 30 years, Herrera’s home features rooms dedicated to Egyptian and Middle Eastern artifacts and aesthetics. Available to book for private tours, the Gregangelo Museum is an ideal alternative to visiting friends and families who have tired of Coit Tower, Alcatraz, and Boudin bread bowls. Best appreciated as a work in progress rather than a definitive statement, the Gregangelo Museum is a cosmic voyage into the outer realms of décor and curation.

BEST LIVE-ACTION PODCAST THEATER

BetaBrand Podcast Theater

780 Valencia St., betabrand.com

Yes, BetaBrand is an apparel shop and the “Home of Dress Pant Yoga Pants,” but every Thursday night it transforms into a live podcast theater with the most popular pod personalities spit game before a rowdy and ridonkulous audience. Betabrand Podcast Theater is the new live home to favorites like Muni Diaries Live!, I Don’t Even Own a Television, and the esteemed Noise Pop Podcast, along with up-and-coming new pods that cover politics and culture or debate the merits of Hollywood sci-fi franchises. Some of these events might sound better suited to a bar, but when Betabrand sets up microphones and theater-style arrangements, the place looks even finer than a hot ass in yoga pants.

BEST K-POP DANCE PARTY

Seoul Train at Oasis

298 11th St., sfoasis.com

Few forms of international music are as relentlessly adorable as the technicolor Korean genre known as K-pop, and the Oasis pops that bubblegum the second Friday of every month. Nationally known K-pop idols Chester Lockhart and Soju bring the Blackpink, BTS, and Bolbbalgan4 to the dance floor to boombayah the beats, and the wardrobe and makeup bar will be set as high as it is in these tracks’ garish videos. You may not understand a single lyric you hear at this LGBTQ K-pop party, but you can’t resist the infectious enthusiasm of a devoted crowd that will be sporting at least 12 hair colors that do not exist on the natural human-hair spectrum.

BEST GLIMPSE INTO YOUR HOUSE’S PAST

Assessor-Recorder’s New Archive

sfpl.org

How much has your house changed since the 1940s? Was it a completely different building at one point? Those are the questions that San Franciscans — or simply the curious — may be able to answer for themselves, thanks to a new archive of more than 94,000 historic photos. The Assessor-Recorder’s Office and the San Francisco Public Library separated old photos taken to appraise properties over the years, bringing a glimpse into regular homes and old-time businesses that no longer exist from the 1940s to the early 2000s. It takes a little effort to find it online, plus a trip to the library to view it in person, but the thought is tempting.

BEST EMERGING LOCAL PODCAST

KQED’s The Bay

kqed.org

The New York Times has The Daily for the world, and KQED has The Bay for, well, the Bay Area. The show may be just a little over a year old, but it’s fast becoming one of the easiest, and best, ways to get up to speed on local news three times a week. Its team boils down major developments like the proposed closure of San Francisco’s juvenile hall, but also highlights lesser-known stories like the fate of hyphy music legend Keak Da Sneak heading to prison while disabled. Where The Bay really shines is through honest conversations around race, from host Devin Katayama recognizing his ability to pass as white to Filipina representation in media.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

BEST FICTION BY A LOCAL AUTHOR

Fruit of the Drunken Tree, by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

It’s rare when a first novel propels an author into the realm of such greats as Sandra Cisneros, Isabelle Allende, or Julia Alvarez, but KQED book columnist Ingrid Rojas Contreras has managed to do it. Drawing from her own childhood, Rojas Contreras tells the tale of a young girl growing up in Colombia during the reign of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The violent, terrifying events of the time are paired beautifully with a world seen through a child’s eyes, and the result is a colorful tale that will keep you up way past bedtime.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD STREET FAIR

20th Street Block Party

20thstreetblockparty.com

Noise Pop throws a multiday, multi-venue music festival in late February and early March, and we love the chance to go out every night for a week and see some unusual and at-times incredibly intimate performances. But the Saturday afternoon street fair they stage every August on the streets immediately outside their headquarters wins our hearts. The 20th Street Block Party combines food, two stages, and a bit of philanthropy into one easy package that even crowd-averse types can have fun at. And while you can buy a VIP experience, it’s otherwise free. Last year’s headliner, Empress Of, put on a hell of a show, and we’re full of anticipation to see who’s on this year’s bill.

BEST REASON TO GO TO CHURCH

Holcombe Waller’s Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite

In 2019, not a lot of people in the Bay Area regularly attend Christian services, and this goes double if you happen to be a member of the LGBTQ community. But Nob Hill’s Grace Cathedral, the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of California, has made some nobly ecumenical outreach efforts. Last year, they partnered with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Glide Memorial, and composer Holcombe Waller to stage Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite, a liturgical reconceptualization of a funeral mass that’s meant to heal people who’ve had brutal encounters with organized religion. Via a homily, a reclamation of poorly translated Biblical passages, and a recitation of the Beatitudes, Waller’s work capitalizes on the ceremonial elements that a Gothic Revival house of worship provides. It’s theater as therapy, in a way.

BEST ELECTRONIC MUSICIAN MADE GOOD

Luttrell

His days in S.F. band The M Machine behind him, Eric Luttrell has become a powerhouse of atmospheric electronic music less than four years after his first solo set at Burning Man in 2015. Having released his latest album, Into Clouds, in February, the mustachioed DJ has kept busy remixing tracks by the likes of Moby and Lane 8 (who, as it turns out, followed Luttrell at Lightning in a Bottle last weekend, each of them playing a two-hour set on the Woogie stage). He’s a bit of a sucker for throwing some ’80s pop hits into the mix, too. When we ran into him after his performance at CRSSD in San Diego in early March, Luttrell told us he was particularly excited to have sold out The Independent because he lives nearby. Keep it up, man!

 

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