Last week, the rapper Game got kicked out of a Hillstone restaurant in Santa Monica and claimed it was because of racism, while restaurant employees claimed he violated the dress code.
According to TMZ, Hillstone won't seat men in tank tops, but will seat women in sleeveless outfits. That may not be racist, but it most definitely is sexist, especially in California.
I thought I'd see if Game was right, so earlier this week I wandered into Hillstone in a sleeveless shirt. I asked for a table, and was seated. After a bit, I got up, wandered outside to grab an SF Weekly (our offices are right across the street), came back in, and asked to sit at the bar. Again, no problem. And I'm white. So was Game onto something?
Well, no, it turns out. This is San Francisco; it was chilly. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, but I had a fleece jacket on top of it, and it turns out that what really offends Hillstone's owners is not sartorial choices, but men's shoulders. I took it off when I sat at the table, but maybe nobody noticed. Not realizing the fleece was the key, I left it draped around my provocative shoulders at the bar.
Thinking I had a hot story, I called Hillstone later to confirm my experience and the manager on the phone said, "Generally gentlemen are not allowed to wear tank tops. They should have their shoulders covered. But if you have a jacket or a shirt over it, that's fine."
That's still sexist -- who says my shoulders are unsightly when, say, Nancy Pelosi's are beautiful? And what if I were transgendered: could I bare only one shoulder? How about men in drag? Interesting questions, but not quite as exciting as Game's claims.
Now that that's settled, how was the food?
I had a hickory burger ($15) with chopped cheddar, Canadian bacon, and hickory sauce. The chopped cheddar is a great touch; it's added at the end, so it doesn't completely melt, giving the burger some texture, albeit also making it sloppy. I also loved the smoky, slightly spicy, slightly sweet hickory sauce. And the sesame seed bun was fresh. So all the elements of a great burger are there, although the beef itself -- though ground in-house every morning -- could have been a tad more flavorful.
Still, it's a good burger, and the bartender cheerfully allowed me to substitute a small, well-executed Caesar salad for the fries, and let me try three red wines before settling on a glass of Miner Family Sangiovese. So I had a fine time that, initially, I chalked up to my paleness. It turns out it's just because I kept my unbearably sexy shoulders hidden.