The 2020 A-List: A New Set of Bay Area Superstars

Photos by Margo Moritz; illustrations by Livia Cives

For decades, the Nob Hill Gazette has published its annual A-list, noting every boldface name mentioned in the magazine over the course of a year. (Well, not every name: Some historical figures referenced in these pages are long gone. Much as we recognize Winston Churchill’s cultural significance, we can’t really say that we ran into his ghost at the San Francisco Ballet’s opening night gala.) Without further ado, we kick off a new decade with a brand-new A-list, featuring some of the folks who help run the City, shape its innovative arts institutions, and help keep it a fresh, exciting and, yes, stylish place to live, work and play.

Janet Bishop Curator, SFMOMA

In 2019, after nearly 30 years curating exhibitions at San Francisco’s leading modern art museum, Bishop received a splashy new title: Thomas Weisel Family Chief Curator and Curator of Painting and Sculpture. Previously, she supervised SFMOMA’s painting and sculpture division — now, she also oversees the vast collections for the photography, architecture and design, media arts, and contemporary arts departments. Among the buzziest and most celebrated exhibits she’s brought to San Francisco: Matisse/Diebenkorn and The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde, which later moved to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Paris’ Grand Palais. “San Francisco is certainly now a place where the curators of the Whitney Biennial, for instance, will come out to do studio visits — there’s a conscious effort to seek out and acknowledge the work that’s going on here,” Bishop said in a recent interview with the Gazette. She’s one of the connoisseurs putting California on the art world’s radar.

Anna Brockway Co-founder and president, Chairish

The entrepreneur behind Chairish, the e-destination for vintage home decor, is highly respected within the design community for her keen eye when it comes to curating statement pieces you seriously won’t find anywhere else. On her site, as of press time: A 1960s vintage Milo Baughman semicircular sofa with rosewood tables; a custom Jokhang for Schumacher velvet tiger wing chair, and a gilded Italian contemporary brass cabinet with geode details. And over at DECASO, the online marketplace she co-founded three years ago with husband Gregg Brockway, upscale modernism and antiques dealers connect with VIP clientele. Brockway, who projects artsy optimism, was previously veep of worldwide marketing at Levi Strauss. She’s partial to Vladimir Kagan mohair sofas and David Webb jewelry. The Columbia art history grad’s signature quote: “Let’s try it!”

Stephen Kay The Wise Man

When the founder of the San Francisco law firm Kay and Merkle walks into room, he pulls focus with his vivid personality: He is wry and energetic, a twinkle in his eye. He tells our photographer, Margo Moritz, that he’s short on time and only has a few minutes for a photo shoot — he’s got places to go, people to see, and deals to make. Within a few minutes, Moritz (no stranger to photographing larger-than-life characters) managed to capture Kay’s professional essence. Says Kay, “I thrive on the volume and pace of the work and love the challenge of assisting and providing solutions and sanity to an endless supply of complex issues and even more complex personalities.” (And in the Bay Area, there’s no shortage of those.) “I love the sophistication, excitement and opportunities that make San Francisco a renowned, world-class city, with the small-town reality of walkability, recognition and gossip,” Kay enthuses.

Dennis Herrera City attorney of San Francisco

In January, Herrera was sworn in for a sixth term as SF’s top lawyer — since 2001, he’s advocated for a host of progressive issues, including same-sex marriage, bail reform and tenant protections. He’s also gone after President Trump, suing him for threatening to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities in what many San Franciscans viewed as another petty personal vendetta against Americans who overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Herrera wears his federal lawsuits like a badge of honor. “What we’ve demonstrated is that the resistance is really centered at the local and state level, and that’s where you have the greatest potential to stop what is destroying this country. And that jibes perfectly with what San Francisco and what our office has always been about — because we’ve been groundbreakers on a whole range of issues for the entire time of me being city attorney.”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris First surgeon general of California

Last year, the UC Berkeley grad and superstar San Francsico pediatrician made history when Governor Gavin Newsom named her California’s inaugural surgeon general. In this new role, Burke Harris acts an an ambassador for public health — and because California policy tends to influence national politics, her child-focused agenda might help set the tone for progressive health care across the country. Her focus is on early childhood education and preventing trauma and toxic stress. “I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t believe deeply, and the evidence shows, that intervention can absolutely improve outcomes,” she has said, adding, “It’s never too late to address a toxic stress physiology. It’s never too late. I think there is a lot of attention to the early-childhood period because that is where we get the biggest bang for our buck — every dollar that we put into that now saves us dollars down the line.”

Amy Errett CEO, Madison Reed

Seven years ago, Errett founded her hair color company in San Francisco after noticing that the dominant brands (think Clairol) were lagging behind in terms of quality and technology. “If you go to a salon, you have no idea what they’re putting in your hair,” she told Forbes. “If you go to a drugstore, most women don’t know what ingredients are in that box.” Enter Madison Reed (name inspiration: Errett’s daughter), which makes products free of parabens, ammonia and other toxins. In 2019, the veteran venture capitalist partnered with Ulta to stock Madison Reed’s line of dyes and color maintenance must-haves at the beauty chain exclusively. She also launched new Color Bars (think Drybar but for root touch-ups), including a brick-and-mortar flagship salon in SF’s Hayes Valley.

Sarah Friar Tech dynamo, CEO of Nextdoor

Are you addicted to Nextdoor, the community forum (er, crime blotter) where your neighbors breathlessly report stabbings in North Beach, solicit dog walker applications and debate the merits of Keanu Reeves filming on Van Ness? (The commenter consensus: “You got a problem with Keanu? You got a problem with ME.”) Well, you’re not alone in your addiction. In many ways, Nextdoor has replaced the endangered newspaper as a source of local news — for better or worse. Friar, formerly chief financial officer at Square and a managing director at Goldman Sachs, is the dynamic leader at the helm of this enterprise — she became top boss a little over a year ago and is poised to steer the company in the direction of growth. Controversy, of course, is baked into Nextdoor’s user comments, but Friar would likely argue the merits of running a platform that forges neighborly bonds and helps keep elected officials accountable.

Soleil Ho San Francisco Chronicle food critic

Last spring, the Washington Post called the Chronicle’s new restaurant critic Soleil Ho the third wave of modern food criticism. They’re not wrong: Ho is a millennial woman of color who openly identifies as queer and doesn’t mince her words when it comes to calling out wrongdoings in the food industry. Since stepping into her position at the paper early last year, the former freelance writer and podcaster has jolted the Chronicle food pages — and the City’s culinary scene — with a healthy dose of energy. The native New Yorker’s first order of business: Trading the archaic star rating system for amore nuanced style of reviewing that may include a restaurant’s level of accessibility or approach to culture. The types of restaurants being reviewed have diversified, too. Think Tijuana-style quesa-tacos to refined Moroccan cuisine. “People are going to pick apart everything,” Ho said, “so the idea is give them a whole lot of s— to pick apart.”

Mark Hornberger Visionary architect

A founding partner of the San Francisco architecture firm Hornberger and Worstell, the intellectually curious starchitect remains excited as ever about the work he’s doing. “We were hired by the National Park Service to tell them how to bring the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite into its next 100 years,” he says. “So we’ve actually created a plan to bring that magnificent building into another whole century of life.” Hornberger’s past major projects include the Olympic Club in SF, the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Tahoe, and Japan’s Hotel Mount Fuji. When he’s not busy working, he and his wife love to travel places where hiking the great outdoors is a focus. The natural world continually inspires him. “We were just in Big Sur. We love going to Julia Pfeiffer State Park and doing the hike up the hill and looking for condors.”

Jony Ive Apple’s erstwhile, legendary head of design

Ive was long regarded as Apple’s secret sauce — a low-key, modern Michelangelo who was instrumental in designing the company’s most groundbreaking products during his 20-year tenure as chief design officer. (That sleek, elegant smartphone that’s surgically attached to your hand? Jony!) But in 2019, Ive announced he would be leaving Apple to take his own bite out of the design industry. Enter LoveFrom, an independent firm slated to launch this year that is reported to focus on the luxury market and ironically (or not?) count Apple as a primary client. But in the meantime, Ive is rightfully living it up. He’s been spotted across the City with his buddy Denise Hale at the Hermès boutique opening in November, and with his wife, Heather Ive, at Allison Speer’s 50th birthday blow-out that same month. Back in London, he’s caught up with everyone from Naomi Campbell at the 2019 UK Fashion Awards, to his longtime friend, the designer Paul Smith, at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Farah Makras Socialite and philanthropist

How to describe Makras in three words? Chic, warm and generous. (If you write a book, she will not only show up to your signing, but also recommend it to her bookclub.) She’s good at relationships, and that’s why husband Victor and close friends including Sonya Molodetskaya and Mayor London Breed, welcome her company. Also, she’s fun. And her joie de vivre is contagious. “I do better under pressure,” she says of her hectic daily schedule. “I just like being busy. It gives me energy when there’s an event to go to, a charity to help.” In December, she co-chaired the San Francisco Opera’s festive Evening on the Stage honoring philanthropists Carol and Dixon Doll. Makras is a member of the Opera Guild’s board of directors. Later this year, November 14 to be exact, Makras will be on hand to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Booker T. Washington Community Center in SF. “Not too many people know about it,” she says. Now, they do!

Ellanor Notides Christie’s power broker

The auction house’s West Coast chairman launched its San Francisco branch in 1982, advising big-money collectors such as the late Mary Margaret “Moo” Anderson and her husband, Harry. All told, “I don’t think of myself as A-list,” she says. “I feel most A-list when I’m working closely with the City’s museums. We help people sell art, but we really help the institutions raise their visibility and their programming.” Her high-profile art-world relationships include SFMOMA, the Fine Arts Museums and the Asian Art Museum, among others. For three decades and counting, she’s “watched San Francisco grow up from a very small community of collectors to a really robust community.”

Samin Nosrat Chef, TV host, food writer and author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Many people have tried, and failed, to replace Julia Child: We won’t name names, but one writer wrote a popular memoir-turned-movie about her attempt! Then, in 2017, Samin Nosrat published her cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, to near-unanimous acclaim. But her transformation into Julia Child 2.0 didn’t fully begin until the next year, when her Netflix series based on the best-seller debuted, introducing the Berkeley-based Chez Panisse alum to a wider audience of fans. “Above any other way of identifying, like above race or religion or anything — or nationality — I identify as a Californian,” the San Diego-raised daughter of Iranian immigrants told the New York Times in 2019. “This way that I’ve gotten to spend so much of my life outside, in different landscapes, has absolutely affected me. Agriculture has affected me. The way there are so many different kinds of people from all over the world — I’m so, so grateful for that. I remember being sick of the fact that it was always sunny in San Diego. My dad said to me: ‘What’s wrong with you? Everyone in the whole rest of the world aspires to live in California.’”

Jeanine Nicholson San Francisco Fire Chief

When Mayor London Breed called Nicholson last spring to tell her the good news — that she would replace Joanne Hayes-White as the City’s fire chief — the veteran firefighter, seeing Breed’s name pop up on her phone, accidentally dropped it on the floor. “I was a little nervous,” she says, laughing. “I’m human!” But after 25 years rising through the fire department’s ranks, Nicholson was more than ready to accept her biggest promotion yet. She made history as the first openly gay fire chief in SF, and has developed a reputation as a humble team player. “I don’t necessarily feel A-list. I’ve always felt like a worker among workers,” she says, giving credit to her colleagues. “I can’t do this job alone. In the fire department, we always say it’s a team effort. And it still is. I can’t go to work if I don’t have my uniform dry-cleaned. I can’t make an operational decision without my deputy chief. Everybody plays a part in me being here.”

Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House, impeachment bad-ass

2019 was the year House Speaker Nancy Pelosi picked up her gavel again and ingrained herself into our pop culture — and political consciousness — forever. Even before charging ahead with the president’s impeachment late last year, Pelosi became an icon of resistance for generations new and old in the Trump era. Remember when she left a meeting with the White House circa December 2018, nearly breaking the internet in an aspirational power-red Max Mara coat, dark shades and air of defiance? Or her pièce de résistance: the clap heard around the world. When she “applauded” President Trump at the 2019 State of the Union with a wicked smirk that said, “I’m coming for you,” it was a triumph in subtle shade that went viral and birthed many a meme. (Is that when you know you’ve made it?) Taking down the bloviator-in-chief is a full-time job, and yet, Pelosi still managed to drop in on the 2019 SFJAZZ Gala, the San Francisco Girls Chorus gala and even the SF Ballet’s opening night last month. It’s called balance, right Madam Speaker?

Boots Riley Rapper, producer, director, activist

With his signature sideburns, afro and sunglasses — plus a killer collection of throwback suits — Oakland’s break-out filmmaker is the hometown hero we deserve. Long hailed as a local indie rapper, 2018 was the year Riley made his film debut with Sorry to Bother You, a manic, dark comedy starring Lakeith Stanfield that’s set in an sci-fi version of Oakland. Winning the Spirit Award for best first feature last year, it weaves in not-so-subtle commentary on race and capitalism in America, drawing from Riley’s longtime involvement in radical activism. In 2018, SFFILM honored the musician-director with its Kanbar Award for Storytelling alongside Amy Adams and Steve McQueen. “If you’re an artist and don’t have a connection to campaigns or movements, get one,” he said recently, stressing the importance of social justice. “We need our art to be relevant.”

Sobia Shaikh Blogger, designer, style influencer

While she’s one of the most stylish women in San Francisco, Shaikh’s Instagram influence (handle: @sobiaashaikh) spreads far beyond city limits. The Pakistan-born beauty, who shares fashion and beauty tips with international admirers on her blog Shaikhen and Stirred as well as her Insta Stories, is a frequent presence at VIP society soirees around the world, whether it’s a Dolce & Gabbana event in gilded Presidio Heights or the Dior show at Paris Fashion Week. “I feel super-duper A-list at home in my pj’s on my orange velvet couch with my husband, son and daughter next to me on a Friday or Saturday night,” says the down-to-earth mother of two. “Nothing beats that feeling of being queen in my home surrounded by my three sweethearts!”

Joaquín Torres Head of SF Office of Economic & Workforce Development

The city official wears two important hats: He’s the president — seven years running — of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission and, as of 2018, has been the director of economic and workforce development at City Hall. “We’re living in very, very prosperous times here in San Francisco,” Torres declared following his appointment for the latter position. “At the same time, there are those who are not feeling the benefits of this strong economy.” He remains committed to serving the City’s small businesses and most vulnerable populations. During a time when the economic divide between the haves and the have-nots, the wealthy and the poor, seems to be widening to new extremes, that’s a massive — but hopefully not Sisyphean —task. Good luck, Joaquín!

Dr. Jay Xu Director, Asian Art Museum

Sometimes museum directors can seem guarded — even though they hold powerful positions in the arts, they tap-dance around the apparent fear of providing controversial (or interesting) opinions to a journalist writing an article about them. Not Jay Xu. The director, leading a $100 million renovation and expansion of the Asian Art Museum this year, is a breath of fresh air: Talkative, open, funny. Yet Xu, the first Chinese American to helm a major U.S. art museum, brings a serious vision — academic yet accessible — to his efforts to bring attention to Asian artistry, including its much-appropriated, frequently undersung influence upon Western culture. He points to the 2015–2016 exhibit Looking East, which explored the impact of Japanese artists on impressionist icons such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Edgar Degas. This year is “monumental,” Xu tells the Gazette of the new Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion, set to open in May with an exhibition from Japanese digital collective teamLab. “The [Chinese] lunar calendar is the Year of the Rat. But the rat, actually, is the beginning of the 12-year zodiac. It’s a new beginning.”

Rick Welts President, Golden State Warriors

When does Welts feel most A-list? “When I take my seats at a Warriors game. I sit in the third row behind the court,” the Golden State Warriors president tells the Gazette. Welts has been at the helm of the NBA power-house team since 2011, presiding over a colossal winning streak that resulted in championship wins in 2015, 2017 and 2018, losing to the Toronto Raptors last year. (Drake, if you’re reading this, please wipe that smug grin off your face!) As star players Steph Curry and Klay Thompson recover from injuries, Welts’ outlook remains optimistic. His message for fans: “The cavalry is coming. … They’re just not playing.” Meanwhile, he’s buoyed by the unveiling of the new Chase Center, which has proved its merits as a major concert venue for acts from Elton John to Billie Eilish. “To be able to bring that to San Francisco is incredibly gratifying for everybody,” he says.

Jed York CEO of the resurgent San Francisco 49ers

In December 2018, the 49ers’ CEO made a promise to his team during an emotionally charged postgame speech. “This team is going to be a champion,” he pledged. York had already started setting the foundation with sparkly additions to the roster — a star coach and a dedicated general manager. And this month, more than a year since he made that locker room vow, York is leading the Niners to the 2020 Super Bowl. The 40-year-old Ohio native and University of Notre Dame alum stepped into his leadership position in 2008 with support from his parents, John York and Denise DeBartolo York, who are co-chairs of the franchise (the team has been in York’s family since the 1970s). During his decade long tenure as CEO, York has led the Niners to one other Super Bowl, two NFC West Division titles and multiple NFC Championship Games, but this is very much a comeback season — for the team and for its boss. Who doesn’t love a comeback?

Zendaya Actress, alum of Oakland School for the Arts

The first thing actress Zendaya does when she touches down in her native Oakland? Visits It’s All Good Bakery, a local favorite on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. After checking in with her grandma, of course. The Bay Area-born actress is an A-lister by not only the Gazette’s standards, but also by Hollywood’s, having graced the big and small screens and more magazine covers than we can count in the last year alone. In 2019, the Disney alum starred in Spider-Man: Far From Home and HBO’s breakout hit Euphoria — arguably her best role to date. Zendaya’s portrayal of troubled teenage addict Rue earned her a Critics’ Choice Award nomination for best actress in a drama series. And speaking of awards shows, Zendaya’s choices on the red carpet have made her a revered fashion icon at only 23 years old. Whether it’s dressing in full-on Joan of Arc armor for the Met Gala or wearing a charcoal Berluti suit better than Michael B. Jordan, Zendaya’s style is always surprising but always her: smart and refined, without ever taking itself too seriously.

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