Saturday, June 20, 2015

Social Network

Executive summary by darmansjah

Wired and inspired, San Francisco is a kinetic world where creativity runs off the grid.

HELLO dampness, my old friend. The familiar cold compress of a Bay Area morning makes me shiver as I pad out of my bedroom to admire my suite with its sleek white couch, gleaming hardwood, and vivid artwork. Beyond, the big window frames pretty Victorian houses marching up a hill. I push open the door to the bathroom-all frosted glass and steel lines-to discover the requisite designer bath soap. It’s the best boutique hotel I’ve ever stayed in, but it’s no hotel at all. I’m showering in a house belonging to people who were complete strangers to me 11 hours ago. Moreover, they’ve left for the weekend, entrusting their home and all in it to someone they just met.

Welcome to what I call “Share Francisco,” where a mix of digital connectivity, social ambition, and bubling optimism has this city by the bay humming anew. It’s glossier and richer and tastier than ever-the exotic capital of the $4 cuppa joe with notes of lemon curd at Ritual Coffee and cantaloupe-cayenne ice cream at Humphry Slocombe. Its smells-night jasmine, Szechuan beef, medical marijuana-are as diverse as its streetcars, dinging their way from the Castro’s rainbow flags to the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf. With the last decade’s dot-com bust a distant memory, San Francisco is start-ups and yoga pants, “Painted Lady” houses and panhandlers, programmers and poets, transvestites and tourist, plus the rudest bicyclists on the planet. Inspiring and twee, smug and seismically challenge it is bawdy, beguiling, and beautiful. In short, the city is sensational. Or as one newcomer confided to me: “Every day in San Francisco feels like a first kiss.”

“Social media has woven itself into the very fabric of this town,” says my host, Brad Olcott, 41. “It’s not just about making money in this new share economy; we want to meet people and show them what makes San Francisco so unique.” By listing their space on Airbnb, the Web designer and his wife, Julie, 36, and son, Rye, 3, have opened their home to me using the power of the online platform. I pay the m$150 a night. In return, they’re giving me more than any concierge could: a local’s-eye view of their shining city on a hill.

I’m  nervous ringing the doorbell, but Julie’s welcoming smile melts any fears. I learn she’s an artist, commissioned to design the terrazzo floors for the rising TransBay Terminal, the city’s futuristic Grandd Central Station. Dinner consists of a thin-crust pizza from Delfina’s, abottle of rose, and the inside scoop on good restaurants: Tacolicious for Mexican, Locanda for Italian, and Tartine, a French-style patisserie that inspires almost religious devotion.

The next morning the Olcott family is up early to fly to an East Coast wedding, leaving me to reacquaint myself with the city. Acting on a tip from Brad, I download SideCar, a new ride-sharing app rolling out in San Francisco that links passenger with ordinary drivers interested in making a few bucks in their off-hours as citizen chauffeurs. The negotiated fare, or “donation” as the company calls it, is paid by phone. sideCar’s easy interface and its cost (usually less than a taxi) have made it my go-to app. “You need a ride, and I need the money,” says Akasha Mutkhar, the African-born driven who picks me up in his Toyota van the first time I use the service. “It’s a community. We’re both doing this together.”

The backseat views are still the same: the grand Chinatown Gate, Nob and Russian Hills, the Embarcadero’s Canary Island date palms. The Ferry Building’s clock tower (modeled after one in Seville, Spain) still speeds the stride of commuters hurrying to catch their ferries to Sausalito and Lakrspur. Inside, Acme Bread will sell you loaves of crusty sourdough, while McEvoy Ranch sells the small-batch olive oil to dip it in. farther up Market Street, the wood-fired “chicken for two” still draws folks to Zuni Café, a classic San Francisco restaurant. But there’s a new pace. The city now counts 44,000 tech jobs. Digital synapses crackle in rising neighborhoods like Dogpatch and SoMa and energize the shoppers in Hayes Valley-the neighborhoods Twitterista Marcia Gagliardi, editor of popular restaurant newsletter Tablehopper, calls “the hipster family’s Fifth Avenue.” All the action collides in the Mission District.

In a town of inclines and perpetual chill, the Mission is hot and flat-filled with rows of two-and three-story wooden Victorians that came through the great fire and earthquake of 1906 relatively unscathed (though the northern Mission was flattened). Then it was a haven for the German and Irish families. Today it is a global mash-up. A skinny skateboarder with tattooed arms deftly swerves around a middle-aged Latina hawking phone cards to Mexican construction workers and avoids a walking-white-texting businessman. Even the restaurant advertise a jumbled patrimony, to judge by their names: Craftsman & Wolves (a bakery café) or Hog & Rocks (a ham and oyster bar).

I’m intrigued by the mission’s evolution and pull up Airbnb for a stay in this still scruffy but irrepressible community. There’s a listing from a guy named Wyatt at $100 a night with vacancy for later in the week. I book it.

THE FUTURE MAY COME SOONER to San Francisco than anywhere else, but the city’s rich past is what draws the tourists. For me, too, I think, booking a stay at one of San Francisco’s newest hotels, the Inn at the Presidio. My Side Car driver pulls through the gates of the 1,490-acre former Army base, and I see that the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the brick-and-wood houses sheltered by Monterey pine and eucalyptus is unchanged despite the Presidio’s new designation as part of the Golden Gate national Recreation Area. The 22-room hotel opened just last year in what once was the unmarried officers’ barracks. Built in 1903, the Inn is one of the handsomest of the 433 historic structures here that include the Walt Disney Family Museum and a commanding fountain state of Yoda channeling the Force in front of Lucas Arts.

There’s crackling fire in my suite’s hearth. As p prepare for the evening, I can hear the wail of foghorns rolling across the water. Old-school San Francisco. How is it faring in this Google-ized new world? To find out, I’m dinning tonight with one of its avatars. Barnaby Conrad III epitomizes the city’s unhurried, courtly charm. His father, Barnaby Conrad, Jr., was a best-selling ‘50s noevelist, who operated El Matador, his famous Barbary Coast saloon patronized by the likes of William Saroyan, Robert Mitchum, and Marilyn Monroe.

I’m meeting Barnaby 3.0 in Pacific Heights at Florio, an elegant bistro celebrated for its hanger steak and sangfroid. Upper Fillmore Stret is bustling when I arrive. Thin blond women in blackquilted jackets carry shopping bags marked with the names of boutiques: Kiehls, Nest, Margaret O’Leary. Their men sport blue blazers. The silver bars across their loafers gleam in the setting sun. we don’t have a reservation, but that doesn’t appear to matter when you’re with Barnaby. Ordering a negroni, he stops to chat briefly with Hollywood director and writer Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Right Stuff, Hemingway & Gellhorn) and greet other friends. It’s a scene those glamourous, if fictitious, local detectives Nick and Nora Cahrles of the 1930s would recognize-right down the martini coupes. Things have changed in San Francisco. But, clearly, not much.

“I was born here in 1952,” Barnaby said. “And I’ve seen it evolve, but this city has always done the same thing: it’s mad things. We had shoemakers, printers, and shipwrights then, and in North Beach they still make pasta, cocktails, and romance. Now, in SoMa, they are crafting social media. Whatever it’s called, it’s making things. That’s our cultural franchise.”

Making and remaking them. Over the past few years the city has opened new attractions like the Disney and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, located in the Yerba Buena district ,and expanded others, from the Asian Art Museum to SFMOMA (the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). To experience the cultural revival, I venture to Golden Gate Park to the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum, San Francisco’s striking fine arts center. Built in the early 20th century, the institutions once faced each other across a fountain like two aging preppies sipping gimlets at the palace Hotel bar. I emerge from the complex’s basement parking lot and discover that the two duffers have been transformed beyond all recognition.

Gone is the old-money rectitude. The two august buildings have been transformed into theater. The de Young, torn down and re-imagined in 2005, resembles an aircraft carrier designed by Darth Vader, all metal cladding with a coppery, twisting tower piercing the tree canopy nine stories up in the air. The academy has become the forest itself-sporting an undulating green roof covered in grasses and plants that look like a Hobbit refuge.

“I’m sorry, but due to demand we can’t accommodate any more people in our earthquake exhibit.” The ticket taker is polite but firm. I head over to the de Young and decide to hit the observation tower first. It’s a spectacular 360-degree view on a par with that from Coit jumble of Victorians in the Haight and the Panhandle punctuated by the domes of St. Ignatius, the University of San Francisco’s great Jesuit baroque church, and the neo-Byzantine dome of the Temple Emanu-El. To the west, the tidy pastel boxes of the Richmond and the sunset dissolve into a watery gray cloud. The marine layer is pushing in from the Pacific Ocean, crossing the Great Highway and into the parts of those neighborhoods known locally as the Outer Avenues. “I love watching the fog up here move in from the Pacific,” a docent says wit ha sigh. “It’s never the same fog twice.

To most visitors, third grid of compact homes that meets the Pacific at Ocean Beach remains undiscovered. This neighborhood of surfers, families, and strivers from Manchuria to Madrid is San Francisco without the glitz. A place of Irish bars, surfer dives, Orthodox synagogues, indie bookstores, and menus from every province, republic, and kingdom in Asia.

I stop in at Outerlands, a rootsy restaurant dishing up comfort food like Dutch pancakes and “eggs in jail,” a popular brunch dish. The Pacific, just a few blocks away, makes itself felt. A gorgeous Russian-speaking woman keeps her fur-lined hoodie snug as she pulls the crust from her grilled cheese, whle members of a bike club, warm under an outside heater, watch a Latino construction crew mold concrete forms for yet another San Francisco “parklet”-one

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