Everybody’s favorite phantasma-torium, the destination for trilobites and mounted butterfly specimens and fox penis bones — and bat skeletons that look like they’re going, “Who? Me?” — is a quarter-century old, and the macabre entomologists who run it want to party with you.
On Friday, Dec. 1, Paxton Gate will celebrate its 25th birthday with cocktails from Dogpatch bar The Third Rail, along with nibbles, live entertainment, prizes, and discounts on the merch. Get ready to shake your tailfeathers among succulents and crystals in what might be the most delightfully morbid holiday party ever. Instead of snowmen and holly, it’s taxidermied ungulates and carnivorous plants, plus a fossilized ancestor of the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come.
Named after the 19th-century English scientist and gardener Sir Joseph Paxton, who built London’s famed (and long-gone) Crystal Palace and helped cultivate the Cavendish banana that we eat today, Paxton Gate originally opened in 1992 as a slightly off-kilter gardening store on Stevenson Street. Owner Sean Quigley — who’d been a bartender in and around the Mission — moved to Valencia Street on the eve of the millennium, where the shop became a retail version of Atlas Obscura, with jewelry, books, and oddities from around the natural world. A second shop, Paxton Gate Curiosities for Kids, eventually opened up the street, and there’s a Portland location as well.
“There is all kinds of foot traffic,” Quigley said in the announcement, “but it’s hard not to notice that it is becoming less about shopping and more about eating and drinking. So it’s imperative to keep one’s identity, and give people a reason to step inside. In that way, we’re more of a destination — though of course, we do maintain a fully equipped web portal to shop as well.”
Valencia may have changed, but this sure beats your office party. Hopefully, there will also be a Krampus preserved in ice from the last glacial maximum and sentient mistletoe with devious intentions.
Paxton Gate’s 25th Anniversary, Friday, Dec. 1, 7-10 p.m., 824 Valencia St., paxtongatesf.com