Like a cone of Rocky Road on a hot day, the San Francisco Museum of Ice Cream was always meant to be temporary and fleeting, but the Instagram-atorium in a former bank on Grant Avenue has extended its stay another three months, through May 29.
Having gone once when it opened and enjoyed myself a lot, the second go-round seems a little harder-edged in its approach to letting your inner child roam free. The aggressively cheerful docents’ scripts have been updated to include a few more don’ts and mustn’ts — don’t even think about touching the unicorn horns — and when you get ready to jump into the sprinkle pool, one of the stated rules is “Have fun.” That’s probably meant to sound akin to when the last step in a recipe is “Enjoy!” but it comes off as a little militant, as if the legal department took over.
Still, it is fun — and let’s not lose sight of the fact that while the marketing may be catnip for millennial selfies, it’s primarily for kids. The Gummy Garden (which has been there all along) still feels like a game of Candyland come to life, or like the scene in Willa Wonka where the kids are unleashed in the chocolate-maker’s edible garden. Although referring to them as “exhibits” feels a little disrespectful to the curatorial efforts of art historians who negotiate for a decade to fly a dozen priceless Caravaggios over for a retrospective, the MOIC has some new ones. There’s a wheel you can spin that’s adorned with ice cream-related aphorisms in the same room as a whipped-cream can ring toss. It’s pinker than ever, too: The soft-serve in Marye’s Diner is strawberry now. (And the puns on the 45s lining the walls really are A+. “Proud Dairy by Tina Churner” is spectacular.)
The unicorn that everyone loves so much now has a mate, and they’re named Gloria and Harvey (after Steinem and Milk, respectively). Hopefully, they come to life at night when the lights are off, so they can do their part to repopulate the species. At the end of the Mint Jungle is a mochi station, and that double-chocolate frozen treat was the best of all the tasty morsels, with the creamy mango popsicle coming in a close second.
You can also ride a pink elephant, which sounds like a Summer of Love-era euphemism for something illicit, but it’s cute. The 45-second carnival ride goes slow enough that there will be no toddler tears, and even the clumsiest fingers can easily facilitate your Instagram story.
People love to get cranky about the kids today taking their damn pictures in front of everything in lieu of quiet contemplation, but I say whatevs. While it might be frustrating to see people crowd around to photobomb The Birth of Venus, the aesthetic of the Museum of Ice Cream basically outdoes Jeff Koons in its devotion to surface. In other words, there is a direct throughline from the academy to here. But the most frustrating thing is that the lighting is so mediocre. It’s all fluorescents and drop ceilings. It’s hard to get a good angle in the Mint Jungle without something with all the subtlety of an emergency exit shining right at you.
Museum of Ice Cream, Wednesdays-Mondays, through May 29, 1 Grant Ave. $38; museumoficecream.com