Stepping up the wine scene

Verve Wine’s stylish shop is now open at 2358 Fillmore Street.

ONE OF New York’s top wine shops, Verve Wine, is opening a West Coast outpost at 2358 Fillmore today, bringing master sommelier Dustin Wilson back to San Francisco, where he and director of operations Eric Railsback collaborated at the late RN74 and Mason Pacific.

Wilson went on to greater glory in New York at Eleven Madison Park and in the film Somm before launching the first Verve shop in Tribeca.

“We’re super excited to join the neighborhood and looking forward to getting involved and supporting the community,” Wilson said. The stylish shop will offer small-production wines from Italy, France and California, as well as classes and tastings.

Wilson offered a few thoughts about the new shop and his return to San Francisco.

Master sommelier Dustin Wilson: “We’re super excited to join the neighborhood.”

Why a shop on Fillmore Street? 

Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights is a vibrant, walkable neighborhood rich with retail stores and notable restaurants. I admire the neighborhood’s juxtaposition of international brands and small, local businesses, and its ability to maintain a strong sense of community. Between Fillmore Street’s Michelin-starred restaurants, rising star chefs and historic nightlife, it is clear that both residents and visitors appreciate food and drink much as we do. 

Isn’t coming from New York to California with wine a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle?

As a former resident, San Francisco left a lasting impression on me. Leaving the city and my position at RN74 to serve as the wine director at Eleven Madison Park was bittersweet, but with California’s deep connection to wine, my return was inevitable.

With our Pacific Heights store, we not only had the opportunity to design a space that truly captures our brand but also integrate technology — specifically, in-store iPads used to shop our 3,000 label inventory — in a way that would resonate with San Francisco’s tech-savvy locals.

In addition to highlighting some of our favorite small producers and non-manipulated wines from California, we’ll introduce San Francisco customers to a variety of Old World wines and small allocations that are unavailable elsewhere.  

How often do you expect to be out here?

As often as possible! I hope to be in town about once a month for about a week or so, if not more frequently, for events, tastings and to further explore the neighborhood. 

For more information, stop by 2358 Fillmore or visit Verve online.

Photographs of Verve Wine by Jessica Monroy for Drew Altizer Photography

An opera star in the neighborhood

Tenor David Cangelosi, a guest artist with SF Opera, on Sacramento Street.

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

International opera singer David Cangelosi has been subletting an apartment in the neighborhood since April, when he began rehearsals with San Francisco Opera for Richard Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle: four operas over three evenings and one afternoon each week for three weeks. Cangelosi, a tenor, sings in the first opera, Das Rheingold, which opens on June 12, and the third, Siegfried, opening on June 15, and will perform on the two following Tuesday and Friday nights.

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Noosh is the name

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

This just in: Noosh is the name of the new restaurant being created on the corner of Fillmore and Pine. The concept is a fresh take on casual fine dining at reasonable prices. The cuisine: Eastern Mediterranean inspired, California made.

The name — soon to adorn the Victorian storefront at 2001 Fillmore that once housed the revered Pacific Heights Bar and Grill and most recently Thai Stick — is a festive Persian toast “to eat and drink” that also translates as “lovely lady.”

Partners John Litz and the husband and wife chefs Sayat and Laura Ozyilmax are still noodling the menu. Says Sayat: “Think California cuisine, locally sourced, farm fresh, healthy with an eastern Mediterranean inspiration — your favorite dishes from Turkey, Iran, Greece, all carried through to the bar and beverages.” Adds Litz: “We’re not just about food and drink. It’s about elevating the aesthetic, the service, the hospitality. We hope to set a new standard.”

The trio have the chops. The chefs have cooked in five of the world’s 50 highest rated restaurants. Litz has launched restaurants in Chicago and Mexico and is a founding partner in the tough-to-get-into Lazy Bear in the Mission.

Fillmore residential interior designer Eden Wright has been commissioned to collaborate with the partners on a totally new look for the space. She has an easy commute. The Eden Wright Design studio is just up the stairs above Noosh.

Noosh owner John Litz (center) with chefs Sayat and Laura Ozyilmax.

The final days of Kelly Johnson

In the final minutes of his life, Kelly Johnson was surrounded by friends and family.

By ARASH MALEKZADEH

A month ago, I was offered the opportunity to film the last days of Kelly Johnson’s life. I did not know him. I did not know how or why his death was predetermined.

I was told to meet the next morning at Peet’s for coffee. Then I’d walk half a block with my equipment to a beautiful blue Victorian overlooking Fillmore Street where he’d lived since 1969. After climbing two flights of stairs, each step creaking with antiquity, I entered the top flat. I followed an oxygen tube strewn across the carpet.

Kelly Johnson sat on his red couch, calmly staring out the window, as I approached with my camera in hand. A smile stretched across his face as he greeted me. He was ready for his close up.

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The mystery of the three lamp posts

Three old-style lamp posts on Fillmore are dedicated to Katie Flavel. But who was she?

LOCAL HISTORY | JOE BEYER

For nearly a century, three lamp posts on the sidewalk in front of Calvary Presbyterian Church have added enlightenment on the busy corner of Fillmore and Jackson.

The two on either side have plaques attached dedicating them to the memory of Katie Flavel, who apparently died on August 19, 1910. But there is no record she was ever a member of Calvary.

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Curbside Cafe turns 40

THE CREW AT Curbside Cafe had no idea, but they were about to celebrate the restaurant’s 40th anniversary with the person who started it all. Lee Burns came for dinner on Saturday night, May 26, just as he had 20 years earlier, and 20 years before that, when he and partner Manuel Pena (above) opened the restaurant at 2417 California Street, just around the corner from Fillmore.

When they took over what had been the Maison Aji (below), the rent went from $150 to $300 a month. Two years later when the rent went up to $450, they sold the restaurant to concentrate on a second Curbside in Napa. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” Burns said.

Plan to tear down St. Dominic’s School sidelined

A PROPOSAL TO tear down the historic St. Dominic’s School and replace it with a modern new pastoral center over a 59-car below-grade parking garage got a chilly reception from the Planning Commission on May 24.

The project came before the Planning Commission with a recommendation from its staff that the proposal be rejected as inconsistent with the city’s general plan, which calls for preserving historic buildings.

“The project would demolish a known historic resource that has been deemed to be individually eligible for listing on the California Register of Historical Resources because it represents the work of a master architect and possesses a high degree of artistic value,” the Planning Department report noted. “Demolishing the subject building would represent the irreversible loss of a historic resource with significant architectural and aesthetic value.”

Noting that the project was located in what is primarily a residential area, the report concluded: “The department does not find the project to be necessary or desirable, as there is ample space on the subject site, namely the surface parking lot at the northwest corner of the site, that would be better suited for redevelopment. Likewise, there are opportunities to adaptively reuse the existing school building or to construct a rear addition to the building, which would achieve many of the project sponsor’s programming objectives while retaining the building.”

The planning commissioners voted unanimously to continue the proposal indefinitely and told church leaders to come back with a comprehensive plan for the St. Dominic’s block that included the school building.

EARLIER: “St. Dominic’s plans 5 new buildings

The St. Dominic’s Block

A rendering of St. Dominic’s Church from the May 1924 Architect & Engineer.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

One of San Francisco’s most impressive interpretations of Gothic-inspired architecture, St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, at the corner of Steiner and Bush Streets, is the fourth ecclesiastical structure to stand on this site.

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Help save Browser Books

Photograph of Browser Books at 2195 Fillmore by Daniel Bahmani

A PUBLIC APPEAL | CATIE DAMON

We need the help of the neighborhood to ensure that people continue to make memories at Browser Books, as they have for decades.

With the proliferation of online shopping and e-books, it has been challenging to keep Browser’s doors open. When the recession hit in 2008, we almost closed, and my dad, owner Stephen Damon, was forced to double down so that the shop could continue. Business has vastly improved since then, but the debt has accrued. And my dad can no longer sustain the debt and his medical bills.

This month, we begin running a Go Fund Me campaign to save Browser Books. The goal is to raise $75,000 to pay off the store’s debts. Any money received after the debt has been paid will go to building the store’s future. This will enable the bookstore to continue under the direction of its longtime employees.

If we cannot raise this sum, my dad will be forced to close Browser Books at the end of the year and the neighborhood will lose an important literary and cultural center.

For more details — and to donate to the campaign — please go HERE.

UPDATE: The campaign to raise $75,000 to retire the debts of Browser Books and help keep it in business was overwhelmingly successful and topped its goal within a month.

FIRST PERSON: “Growing up at Browser Books

Growing up at Browser Books

Browser Books owner Stephen Damon with young Catie Damon.

FIRST PERSON | CATIE DAMON

Browser Books, the literary landmark on Fillmore near the corner of Sacramento, was originally located one block north, beside the Clay Theatre, in a building that had also been a head shop and a recording studio for Carlos Santana’s first album, called simply Santana and released in 1969.

How my dad, Stephen Damon, came to own Browser in 1978 is, as he acknowledges, a curious and incredible story.

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