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Babble-On By the Bay: On the Hunt for Good Signs in FOMO-Free Times

By Catherine Bigelow

Illustration by Livia Cives.

Welcome to the Gazette’s new items column! Join Catherine Bigelow each month for a roundup of newsy nuggets and juicy tidbits. Gotta item? E-mail: [email protected]

Now, where were we? Oh, that’s right: mired in a global health pandemic, colored by a contentious presidential campaign and last month, our golden state literally glowed that color as California was ravaged by wildfires.

If only there was a swinging soiree (with live music, scintillating bons mots and delectable hors d’oeuvres … that I don’t have to cook myself ) we all could attend while supporting a great cause.

Yeah, never mind.

Even with digital doodads connecting us 24/7, many San Francitizens feel disengaged. And after trolling carefully curated Instagram images, many secretly wonder: “Am I missing out on something?

Rest easy, my swells: In 20-plus years covering what was previously the “party beat,” I can safely report that nary a socialite is gripped by the usual fall arts season #FOMO: fear of missing out.

In this endless year of our COVID-19 crisis, arts patrons get a #FOMO-free pass from being assigned a bad table. For once, there’s no fear of not scoring a “day of” appointment with stylist Alex Chases. Or fear of incurring the wrath of an A-list social lioness for duplicating her gown. Or worse, twinning with someone lower in the societal alphabet.

Low-Frequency Fanfare: Like that proverbial tree falling in a forest sans an audience, does an honor conferred upon a maestro make a sound? Physics ain’t my strong suit, so I leave that to the scientists.

But sound waves finally reached us: In June, appropriately located in the Thinker’s Courtyard of the Fine Arts Museums’ Legion of Honor, SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas received France’s second-highest honor: officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

French Consul General Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens paid tribute to Thomas’ 25 stellar SF Symphony years and final 2020–21 season — in addition to MTT’s major contributions furthering the arts, and French composers, around the world.

Only 12 guests were on hand, including FAMSF Director Tom Campbell, Mayor London Breed, SFS President Sako Fisher, Paris Sister City Committee Chairman Tom Horn and civic leader Nancy Bechtle.

Following heartfelt tributes, the green (not, mon Dieu!, MTT blue) decoration was pinned on the maestro by his husband, Joshua Robison.

Miss Bigelow’s Babble-On By the Bay.

PGA Wrap: Birdies aside, last month at the PGA Championship in Harding Park, tournament general chairman
Dan Dillon also dreamed up safe dining alternatives for players happily sealed at the Hyatt Regency SFO, but less thrilled by nightly hotel menus. “We had to protect the safety bubble. But supporting our restaurateurs was important, too,” explained Dillon. “So we stocked the locker room with Original Joe’s Westlake menus. The Duggans are like family to everyone, and their lot was jammed with PGA-logoed Cadillac SUVs. Hands down, it
was the players’ takeout favorite.”

Smooth Sailing: When news broke this summer that the beloved Toy Boat Dessert Cafe was for sale, the sound of a million gnashing teeth echoed across our 7×7 terrain.

But a chorus of hallelujahs soon rose up. Toy Boat founder Jesse Fink sold his Clement Street gem to 4th-gen, EssEff native Amanda Michael, a pastry wizard-restaurateur who’s founded a mini-empire of Jane bakery cafes.

“I’m super excited. But it’s daunting: Toy Boat is a legacy institution with generational attachment,” admits Michael. “Taking on that mantle, we’re making changes respectfully.”

Don’t worry: Butterscotch, the mechanical kiddie ride horse, and Double Rainbow ice cream still occupy pride of place. However, Michael, a devoted Giants fan, will likely add orange-and-black bobbleheads to the wall of treasured tchotchkes.

What is changing: The space debuts as Toy Boat by Jane, with a menu featuring Michael’s famous fresh “Jane” salads, sandwiches, breads and pastries.

Restaurant Possible: Though designated a cultural 501(c)3, the United Irish Cultural Center, way out on the western edge of our world, relies on a robust restaurant-and-bar business.

Weeks before the citywide shutdown, UICC was knee-deep sorting T-shirts and bar towels to sell for the United Irish Societies’ 169th St. Patrick’s Day parade — which didn’t happen.

But from the center’s U-shaped parking lot, blocking wind and fog, a new business was born: the Wawona Gates, a nod to Guinness Brewery’s historic St. James Gate entrance in Dublin.

This beer garden (open Friday through Sunday) is a haven for UICC members and neighbors who, if they wish to join the craic, instantly become UICC guests.

The space is tended by devoted volunteers, who religiously sanitize tables. Guests sign their names and numbers at the gate for contact tracing — if needed. There’s also the Irish Shoppe stocked with Barry’s Tea, Taytos and delicacies like shepherd’s pie to pair with pints.

“Our core mission is Irish culture. We’re adding programming to our Dowling Library and live music with Co. Clare musician Vince Keehan,” explains UICC trustee at large Mark Burke. “If I were operating this as a small business, I don’t know how we’d get by. We’re fortunate UICC is a member nonprofit, blessed by its volunteers.”

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