The Nick Jones of the Flat Broke Puppet Co. has been lighting up the corner of 24th and Mission for a year now with his goofy breed of musical puppetry, much to the delight of children and adults alike. Recently, the Chronicle caught up with him to get his story:
Jones, 35, ran away to San Francisco as an “angry gay teen” when he was 17. He didn’t fit into the small fishing town in Rhode Island where he grew up, but when he arrived in San Francisco, it wasn’t the mecca of acceptance he had hoped for.
Like other teens who land in the city searching for answers to their complicated problems, Jones found a world of addiction and tough streets. Over the years he came and went from San Francisco, struggling to find a place where he could fit in.
Four years ago, he landed here again. This time, he found a community through his puppets.
Jones makes his own puppets with material donated by friends. Wolfie, a ratty faux-fur wolf with button eyes, was his first. The collection has grown to more than 20, but he still calls Wolfie his No. 1.
Wolfie comes to life with a touch of a rough-and-tumble East Coast accent that Jones says is inspired by his grandfather. Jones’ other creations include a cat, three dinosaurs, a shark, a witch, a 1960s wannabe diva kangaroo and Mary Jane Lane — a wide-lipped drag queen he calls his chanteuse.
Jeff Cleary and Andrew Lowder have been getting drunk and rambling in San Francisco bars for a long ass time. The two spent their salad days living in a rent-controlled apartment on 16th and Albion, drinking in the heart of the then-thriving 90s dive scene in the Mission District. But like most people, "life" took hold at some point, sending Andrew to a job in The Bronx and Jeff into the world of being a stand-up comedian.
Fortunately, Andrew came back to the Bay Area, and since every stand-up has to have a podcast these days, the two started recording their conversations in local bars.
The result in the San Francisco BarKast (also on iTunes), which in its short existence has become one of our favorite podcasts. It's much more than just casual conversation: they review the place they're drinking in (of course), tell stories and discuss histories, feature guests, and often bemoan/celebrate the ups and downs are various local sports teams.
Now that they've surpassed the 20 episode mark, we shot Jeff and Andrew over a few questions about what they've been up to, what they have in store, and what they were up to in the 90s:
Uptown Almanac: What inspired you guys to start the BarKast?
Andrew Lowder: They say do what you know. If there's anything we know better than sitting in a bar and talking a whole load of shit, we haven't come across it yet.
Jeff Cleary: Some people are gonna say SF BarKast is just a flimsy excuse for two old friends to drink and discover new bars, but those people are completely short-sighted and don't understand post-modern art. This just in... the Pacific Ocean is damp.
UA: Did Jeff being a comedian have anything to do with its creation?
JC: Comedy has a lot to do with it, but the conversational format of podcasting is something I love. I did stand-up for five years and was completely immersed in the Bay Area comedy scene, but podcasting is a completely different animal. Most comics are complete sweethearts, but every once in a while you hang out with someone who is constantly doing material and it's unbearable. Comics are naturally funny, but we want to bring that out in conversation, which is essential podcasting.
However, call me an idealist, but I think everyone has something interesting to say, so we don't want to limit the BarKasts to comics. I want to have an episode with just people who have lived in the city for a long time to talk about all the changes, I want to have one with a panel of completely sober guests, I want to have a panel of all single women to explain why it's so horrible to date in SF (so I've heard), a panel of young people who just got here, a panel of old people who've been here for a while, etc. All those future episodes will rely on our interviewing skills, but all those angles are interesting to me.
It is great, though, to draw upon amazing local comics, but we're all over the map. We talk about movies, music, current events, sports, science, sex, culture, whatever you want to bring (except Scientology, which is a fraud).
UA: So far, what's your favorite bars (or episodes) been? Any surprises?
AL: Discovering new places like The Broken Record & Hi Tops have been great, but old favorites like The Uptown and Lucky 13 bring out the best stories. The House of Shields was also a lot of fun since there's so much ridiculous speakeasy whores and hooch history there.
JC: Not to be a shameless self-promoter, but I have to say the last one we did, The Lucky Horseshoe in Bernal Heights with [Amnesia's Open Mic host] Rajeev Dhar, is one of our best. Also, I love that one because it was a come-back BarKast. The one before that, The Phone Booth, was woeful. Yeah, we're not gonna insist everything we've done is gold. The Phone Booth was brutal, even me to listen to, because I showed up hammered--not a good idea. One of the appeals of the SF BarKast formula is we progressively (or degressively) get more lubricated. That all goes out the window if you walk into the bar slurring. Fear not, we've made a hard rule to not do that again.
UA: What bars are you looking forward to doing?
JC: I was told to check out 21 Club in the TL because it's "the toughest bar in SF." I rode my bike down there to check it out and the whole story is retold in the Uptown episode. Spoiler alert: it involves bleeding in the middle of the street.
UA: You guys have a segment on the show about old, out of business bars. Since you both used to live together above The Albion before it was Delirium, do you have any good stories about that place (or other Gone But Bot Forgotten bars in the neighborhood)?
AL: Doctor Bombays is probably my favorite former bar in the Mission. To me, the 90s in the Mission meant hanging out in a phony Egyptian dive listening to Smashing Pumpkins and The Pixies on the jukebox...
JC: I think I told both these stories on the BarKast, but my 16th & Valencia "Gone But Not Forgotten" would be Mop Tops, which was (if I'm not mistaken, was where We Be Sushi is [on Valencia]). It was a fish & chips joint owned by a Korean junkie obsessed with the Beatles. The food was okay, but every weekend, his band would play Beatles songs just a little slower than usual before he nodded off.
As for the Albion/Delirium I have a story about that first week in SF where smoking in bars became illegal. I was sitting in the old Albion with a friend, he looked around and lit up a cigarette. Suddenly, the bartender points at him and screams, "YOU, GET THE FUCK OUT!!!" Totally fine. We got out post haste. Once on the street, my friend says, "You did see why I did that, right?" No. "The people at the table right next to us were blowing lines of coke. So, yeah, we're the problem?" Goodnight, sweet Albion.
You can listen to SF BarKast on iTunes and Stitcher and follow them on Twitter and Tumblr. (Also, you're humble and horrible editor was a featured guest on The Broken Record episode, should you want to hear my thoughts on mac 'n cheese.)
Update: This story has been partially retracted.
Following on the heels of the hostile eviction of Adobe Books on 16th Street comes news that the tenants of the 17 Reasons Building is facing a very similar fate.
According to a flyer being circulated anonymously by occupants, the building housing Thrift Town and many other businesses and non-profits at the corner of 17th and Mission has been purchased by Asher Insights--a company whose owners have a track record for razing buildings and constructing high-priced condos in their place.
The flyer alleges a bunch of foul behavior on the part of the new owners, including a "hostile an aggressive visit" from Asher Insights' managing partner Rick Holman (a former Bank of America executive), changing the building's locks without notice, and shutting down Thrift Town's loading dock for a site assessment:
Tenants we spoke to would only do so on condition of anonymity, fearing further harassment for the landlords. However, one occupant described the "aggressive visit" by Holman as "scary," noting he paraded around, yelling out leaseholder's names in an attempt to locate them, and rattling off concerns with the building's integrity.
Following Holman's "hostile" visit, he allegedly then fired the property's maintenance staff and changed the locks to the building's gates, causing employees for the businesses inside the premises to not be able to go to work. We're told he still hasn't provided tenants with new sets of keys.
And to make matters worse, at least one business received a notice earlier this week that Asher Insights filed paperwork to have them evicted.
In The Works, an art and activist collective in the building (which also happens to be responsible for the "Google Bus Pinata" Anti-Gentrification Block Party), described the situation in a mass email:
On Monday, April 8th, Rick Holman paid a hostile visit to ITW, demanding to meet with the lease-holding collective members and an inspection of the premises. Rick Holman and his architect wife Toby Levy play a part of the gentry leading the gentrification of the Mission District by pushing out low-income families and community-oriented people. Rick Holman is currently collecting soil samples from 60 feet under the building, indicating that he is interested in building a parking garage for a new condo development.
One occupant stressed how important the building is to the local economy, "there are dozens of [Mission] jobs at risk here. There's two textile manufacturing shops, art studios, Thrift Town, the fabric store... Headline Shirts... we cannot afford to lose this place."
The Homeless Children's Network also maintain's their offices in the building. Perhaps ironically, they too might lose their home in the Mission.
Previously on Uptown Almanac
Look, we here still love Dolores Park. Its views are unparalleled (even when we opt to sit at lower elevations), the grass is alive enough, it's the cheapest bar we know, and it's the Mall of America of people watching. Sure, the bathrooms are crap and the fights are unfortunate and the drum circles are the worst ever, but we continue to enjoy it. However, it's hard to ignore the ever-mounting mockery and general sneer thrown in its direction.
The brush-off stems from the bubbly herds of artisan thunderheads toting wooden six pack carriers that flock to the park with increasing frequency (which, sure), creating a distinctive "not the Mission" vibe. And as more non-residents enjoy the park, it has become ever so critical to one's Mission identity to pile onto the park, declaring its otherness and all-around shittiness. (As one critic recently pointed out, "Dolores Park is to Mission residents as the Strip is to people who live in Vegas.")
Sounds like the usual contempt that comes with the "I was into ____ before it was cool" line of criticism? Well, of course. But the shift in attitudes towards Dolores has been particularly pronounced lately.
Take this damning piece of Dolores Park fan fic from SATAN'S WEINER (no relation to Scott Weiner):
Saturday. A beautiful day. Sun shining, no clouds, birds chirping. I woke up around 10 and had my daily protein shake. Hit the gym with Rich. After working out, Rich and I decided it was time to really enjoy our Saturday and start our weekend off right. At least better than Friday. All we did Friday was go to Matrix, drink shitty tequila, and bang out a couple of dumb sluts. We both wanted today to mean a little bit more, or at least be able to work on our tans. “Should we go to Marina Green?” Rich asked. “Nah man, we already played out the bitches there. I want something different. And by different I’m not talking about Fort Mason, that’s the same shit. I say we get a twelver and go to Dolores Park.” Rich, my lucky wingman, really had no other option than to comply. Without me, Rich wasn’t shit. I showed him how to isolate his triceps, how to drink all the beer you want and keep that six pack, and most importantly I got Rich laid. Sure, he’s my wingman, but by that I mean he really didn’t do anything besides make me look even better. In turn he’d get with the chick’s ugly friends. No harm, no foul. Though in recent days I could sense Rich’s jealousy and thirst for his own fame take hold.
Rich whined, “Dolores?!?!… But there’s just a bunch of lame hipsters and dumb potheads there. Not to mention the dumb ass drum circles that go down there.. Let’s just stay here in the Marina, the bitches are finer anyway.” I assured him, “Yeah, but dude, there will definitely be some fine girls there. Have you even been there before? Plus, dude, half of the bitches there are used to fucking with lame ass skinny hipster fags. They will hop on the first chance they get to be with a real fucking man like me. And you, I guess.” I could see Rich didn’t like that last part, but he really wasn’t as yolked as me and, whatever, it was the truth. So we walked to Fillmore and Chestnut and hopped on the 22, ready to mack on some dumb hipster bitches. I saw some dirty, cracked out homeless women puking in front of KFC. I simply laughed and cracked my first tall can, “Dude, today’s gonna be epic bro!” Rich just put on his shades, cracked his own tallboy and nodded his head.
Ah yes, Dolores Park is poised to become San Francisco's most hated destination next to Burning Man.
Remember when Medjool had a roof deck that we all hung out on top of on warm summer night? Me neither. But the folks at Lolinda hope to revitalize the roof, bringing us a most buzzable spot to squander away our evenings. SF Magazine has the details:
Everyone would probably be relaxing in a rooftop restaurant on this glorious Monday, so let’s talk about Lolinda. Since Adriano Paganini opened the restaurant in August, customers have constantly asked when the notorious roof deck will swing back into action. No one has been up there since Medjool closed in early 2012, but we’ve known for a while that Paganini had something special in store. Late last week, he revealed that the roof will be called El Techo de Lolinda, offering a new menu of Latin street food and classic Latin cocktails like mojitos. El Techo will be open for dinner every night of the week, and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The whole space has gotten a major overhaul—apparently with some rather fancy and amazing Australian heat lamps.
Previously on Uptown Almanac
On Transit is Alia Salim's borderline perfect record of eavesdropped conversations and other such overheards on BART. While her topics typically involve love, PA systems, and sloppy style, yesterday she captured the plans of a "gently scruffy twenty-something" who recently quit his job, conveniently rattled-off between West Oakland and 19th Street stations for everyone within earshot:
- Start going to yoga (again)
- Start brewing beer (again)
- Start playing guitar (again)
- Build up a touring bike
- Finish the design for his tattoo
- Visit friends in Brooklyn
- Get a one-month internship (up to three months if it were “more of an apprenticeship in something, like, artisan”)
- Travel for a little bit, probably South America
- Learn Spanish (prior to traveling, “obviously; it’s not really worth going if you can’t understand any of the culture”)
- Plant herbs (definitely) and vegetables (with landlord’s permission)
“I’m so proud of you for doing this,” says the girlfriend, Pattagucci and hiking boots. She adjusts her head on his shoulder to better accommodate one of two whimsical pigtails. “It’s so great that you’ve got, like, specific ideas for what you’re going to do.” Then, incredibly, “How did you even come up with all that stuff?”
Admittedly, that sounds like a pretty killer summer. (But where's "exploring new microhoods" and "taking latte art classes"?)