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Best of The Bay 2014: Fun
Edited by Ellen Cushing | Photo: Maren Caruso, Chris Rochelle, Eva Kolenko, Drew Altizer | June 27, 2014
The year's greatest diversions, from date nights, to roller coasters, to skate parties in a church.
Rolligious Experience (Best Skate Party)
Turning a decommissioned Catholic church into a gay- and burner-friendly roller disco was no easy feat, but they don’t call David Miles Jr. the Godfather of Skate for nothing. He strung up a disco ball, installed a new sound system, slapped a coat of glossy polyurethane on the floor, and rechristened the hallowed space, formerly Sacred Heart Church, the Church of 8 Wheels. A leader of the San Francisco skate scene since the ’70s, Miles preaches positivity through roller dancing and music. “We open up at 7 p.m., when the light’s still streaming through the stained glass,” he says. “You’re basically rolling in the eyes of the Lord.” The family-friendly Church hosts open skates ($10 admission, $5 skate rental) four days a week: Tuesday is Rainbow Night (aka Pride Skate), Wednesday is Rolligion Night (old-school funk, of course), Thursday is Guest DJ Night, Saturday afternoon is Kid Skate, and Saturday night is Black Rock Roller Disco. The Church is closed on Fridays, when Miles participates, as he has since 1989, in his own weekly sacrament—a 12-mile skate around the city.
554 Fillmore St. (near Oak St.), 415- 752-1967 —Lauren Murrow
Breather (Best Nightlife)
With its endlessly thrumming bass, frequent acrobatics shows, and expansive neon-lit dance floors, SoMa’s Monarch has never been known for peace and quiet. Which is exactly what makes the Emperor’s Drawing Room, the nine-month-old bar-within-a-bar hidden upstairs, such a welcome addition: With cloth-covered walls, plenty of seating, a refined drinks menu (think craft whiskey cocktails, not Red Bull and vodka), and a vibe that’s more laid-back lounging than sweat-soaked booty popping, it offers the perfect respite from—or better yet, warm-up to—the chaos of the rest of the club downstairs.
101 6th St. (at miSSion St.), 415-284-9774 —Ellen Cushing
Head Trip (Best Augmented Reality)
If the idea of paying a stranger to strap you into a creepy headpiece, lead you into a windowless Mission district room, and render you utterly disoriented sounds less like a fun weekend activity than a particularly sick installment of the Saw series, clearly you’ve never experienced the seductively brain-melting weirdness that is Outerbody Labs. The augmented-reality startup traffics in what it calls “technologically induced out-of-body experiences”—that is, multi- and single-person mazes, puzzles, and games, all enhanced (or encumbered) by the fact that their players are wearing headsets that replace normal vision with a live video feed pumped in from ceiling-mounted cameras. It looks and feels as though you’re playing a third-person video game—except that you’re the hero, and it’s a lot harder than it looks. Outerbody’s arcade currently offers dodgeball, oversize Connect Four, a maze, and a puzzle game. It’s open to groups as well as the occasional walk- in; this summer, the company will also be taking some of its games on the road for various street fairs and festivals.
66 Balmy St. (near 25th St.), 415-562-8309 —E.C.
Twenties Throwback (Best Theme Bar)
The quaintest li’l island in the bay is about to get a little less Mayberry and a lot more mobster—in a very, very good way. With more than 7,000 square feet of period-perfect decor (think an art deco–style bar and lots of red velvet in a building dating back to 1888) and a zoot suit– and flapper dress–clad waitstaff, Capone’s Speakeasy, opening this month in downtown Alameda after a million-dollar renovation, isn’t just a themed bar—it’s a veritable ’20s LARP-fest for the island’s (and the Bay Area’s) most ardent Gatsby devotees. For best results, order a plate of deviled eggs and an extra-stiff gin rickey—and for god’s sake, turn off your smart-phone.
1400 Park St. (near Central ave.), 510-522-2391 —Sean Pyles
Nightcap (Best Happy Hour)
When Holy Water opened last fall in Bernal Heights, it was greeted with, well, religious fervor—and that was before the understated watering hole, operated by the folks behind Churchill and Bloodhound, began offering hands down the city’s best new happy hour. That’s owing in large part to the late-ish time slot—the promotion, aptly dubbed the 11th Hour, starts at 11 p.m. nightly, making it a favorite of both neighborhood nightcappers and parents who’ve managed to snag a late-night babysitter. But make no mistake, this isn’t just your standard drink-discounts-and-bar-food affair, merely shifted a few hours later: 11th Hour provides a rotating list of special promotions, each with its own theme and draw. Flight Night, for example, offers the opportunity to sample barrel-aged cocktails from the owners’ other bars in a more laid-back setting, while during Full Disclosure, bartenders experiment with exotic ingredients and new recipes (with the welcome caveat that customers aren’t obligated to pay for anything that’s too out there). Holy, indeed.
309 Cortland Ave. (near Bocana St.) —E.C.
Outdoor Boozing (Best Beer Garden)
Oakland has tons of space, sunny climes, and a thriving beer industry, so it should come as no surprise that it also has the Bay Area’s best new combination thereof in Lost & Found Beer Garden. L & F’s pleasures are many, but chief among them are a Ping- Pong table (!), a dog-friendly policy, an impressive beer and food menu (get the curry popcorn and one of many IPAs)— and enough space to actually enjoy them all without having to dodge strangers’ elbows.
2040 Telegraph Ave. (at 21st St.), Oakland, 510-763-2040 —E.C.
Thrill Ride (Best Coaster)
The newest, tallest, and fastest roller coaster in Northern California turns men into boys and legs into jelly. Recently opened at California’s Great America, the 108-foot-tall Gold Striker offers a 103-foot drop (the longest of any wooden coaster in the country), a top speed of 54 miles an hour, a series of gut-twisting bends, and a basic beams-and-bolts construction that looks and sounds alarmingly like it could come crashing down at any minute. Elsewhere in the park, FireFall destroys appetites and unsecured iPhones, a water park entertains the coaster-averse, and the Game Time Sports Bar takes the edge off. You’ll need it.
4701 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara —Ben Paviour
Tinder Alternative (Best Singles’ Night)
Sure, dating is funny—just not always intentionally so. Enter the semiregular stand-up night Flirting with Laughter at the Punchline Comedy Club (444 Battery Street), where single comics meet single audiences who also, hopefully, meet each other. “The quickest connection between two people is laughter,” says Rachman Blake, who founded the event after a particularly brutal breakup. “If that doesn’t work, then the alcohol usually kicks in.” Flirting with Laughter aims to act as a low-key alternative to traditional singles’ nights, largely by getting the audience in on the gags during the pre-show meet-and-greet. Blake stands near the door and hands out cards with humorous icebreakers like “Stick your tongue out at a cutie and then blame this card.” And it’s an ironclad rule that even the comedians must be single. “I’m kind of a psycho about enforcing it,” says producer Emily Van Dyke. “I send uncomfortable emails to comics asking just ‘Are you single?’ If they say no, I say, ‘When you are, I’ll book you.’”
—Adam L. Brinklow
Sober Date (Best Mocktails)
Whether you’re still a little shaky from the night before or headed for the Celestial Kingdom with the Latter-day Saints, sometimes you don’t want an alcoholic cocktail. But does that mean you should have to settle for a sparkling water or—perish the thought—a Shirley Temple? Not at Michael Chiarello’s waterfront Spanish restaurant, Coqueta, where you can sip soft drinks like the J&T, a booze-free take on the gin and tonic made from juniper syrup, lime, and Fever Tree tonic water, or the Limonada, a fizzy, fruity riot of sparkling lemonade, rosemary, and seasonal fruit. These are sophisticated and sexy drinks that will make you forget all about the existence of the slur “mocktail,” while leaving your head clear for flirting.
Pier 5, The Embarcadero, 415-704-8866 —Scott Lucas
Bar Resurrection (Best Close Call)
This spring, when rumors began to spread that the 92-year-old North Oakland bait shop turned dive bar the Kingfish Pub and Cafe would be razed to make room for condos, the outcry was expectedly huge. But so, mercifully, was the collective sigh of relief when the bar’s owners announced that reports of the ’Fish’s death had been greatly exaggerated. The place is moving, true, but it will remain very much the same—like, almost exactly the same. Later this year, construction crews will carefully split the rickety, low-ceilinged, forest-green shack into three huge pieces, move them across Telegraph Avenue to a new location, and re-create the place just as it was: same shuffleboard table, same scuffed floors, same ancient popcorn machine, same Cal memorabilia–covered walls, same hulking Buck Hunter machine. Here’s to another nine decades.
Girl-on-Girl Action (Best Pinball Wizardry)
As a competitive pinball player, Echa Schneider was used to being the only woman in the room—not that she liked it. “Pinball is high-pressure, and it’s so male-dominated,” the Oaklander says, noting that a vast majority of the top players are men. As a veteran of restaurant kitchens and the tech world—two other notoriously gender-unbalanced arenas—Schneider had seen firsthand that “having women-only spaces allowed people to thrive, and I didn’t see how it would be any different with pinball.” So last fall, she started her own league—Belles and Chimes, which she believes was the first all-female pinball league in the world (though it’s reportedly already spawned copycats in Seattle and Norway). Since its launch, B&C has amassed a loose group of more than 30 members from all over the Bay Area, making a point of accepting and mentoring players from total newbies all the way up. “It’s more fun that way,” Schneider says. The fall season starts July 28 and will run every other Monday night at Hi-Life (400 15th St., at Franklin St., Oakland). Start collecting those quarters now. —E.C.
Cheap Night Out (Best Scribbling)
Channel your inner artist at Temple Nightclub’s aptly named Painting to the People, a free weekly event that offers room for drunk doodlers and would-be Monets alike on large shared canvases—not to mention decidedly starving artist–friendly cocktail prices, with $5 wells and $3 draughts—every Tuesday starting at 7 p.m. The club provides the supplies and the soundtrack for free, and if the muse strikes, the more ambitious can sign up for $45 painting classes taught by professional artists. Best of all? A drink in one hand and a paintbrush in the other means no free hands for texting, tweeting, or other antisocial activities.
540 Howard St. (near 1st St.) —George Mcintire
Swingers’ Club (Best Putt-Putt)
The newly opened Urban Putt isn’t just the best (and only) place in San Francisco to get your (mini-)Tiger on—it’s a full-service entertainment destination. On the former mortuary’s ground floor, 14 holes of first-come, first-served San Francisco–inspired mini-golf beckon. There’s also a beer-and-wine bar equipped with golfing-friendly adult sippy cups. The upstairs restaurant, meanwhile, offers views of the putting green as well as fancified takes on comfort food classics—duck confit poutine, anyone? All told, it’s a much better way to while away a Saturday afternoon than watching the Masters on TV.
1096 S. Van Ness Ave. (at 22nd St.), —S.L.
Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco