A bar on par with Tokyo

Photograph of The Bar at Hotel Kabuki by Aubrie Pick

SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT

In a city of grand, gilded, pricey hotels, the 225-room Hotel Kabuki at 1625 Post Street in Japantown is a serene temple of hospitality, owned by a powerhouse Wall Street investment fund that has quietly spent $32 million re-imagining the hotel.

The Kabuki’s low profile is about to change.

Wall Street’s muscular Blackstone Group emptied the vault on design and details in the long makeover. Blackstone doubled the lobby ceiling height to 19 feet, added 13,000 square feet of meeting space to entice business travelers and the conference crowd, and created outdoor Japanese gardens, ponds and a lounge. The rooms are roomy. A 3,000-square-foot lavishly equipped fitness center, which includes a 400-square-foot yoga studio, is exclusively for guests and without charge.

Drinks in the spacious, just-opened bar and lobby lounge have the same creativity and Japanese authenticity in the glass — and are on a libational par — with what’s poured in Tokyo’s most stylish and priciest watering holes.

Five unusual combinations of spirits and sodas are offered during a weekday
4 to 6 p.m. happy hour at $7, almost half the normal $13 tariff. The Nikka G&T is a refreshing twist on the English classic cooler, using imported Japan-distilled Nikka Coffey gin and Suze, a Japanese take on a French fruit liqueur and dandelion tonic. The Natsu Soda mixes vodka, sake and a watermelon flavor. Madame Chou mates tequila with pea flower tea. Imaginative tea and “luxury” cocktails, a sheet of sakes and some 20 Japanese whiskeys float above the $20 range. Plus, there’s a list of beguiling bar bites.

A destination restaurant is in the works, being created by what’s said to be a big name San Francisco chef.

VIVA VIVANDE!

Photograph of Carlo Middione at Vivande by Daniel Bahmani

By CHRISTOPHER BRUNO

“Smell this!”

Carlo Middione said, as he thrust two handfuls of fresh, limp, uncooked spinach fettucine in my face.

I was the newest hire in the spring of 1985 at his gastronomical time machine, Vivande Porte Via, which masqueraded as a restaurant on Fillmore Street. I inhaled deeply and was shocked at the sweet, earthy smell of the uncooked strands. “It smells like…” Dare I say it? Am I crazy? Was this a test? “It smells like…” I looked at Carlo, unable to speak — and he burst out laughing.

He smiled at me with his bristling salt and peppered cheeks. It smelled like that vital life force, that injection of sweetly salted humanity from which all humanity is spun, betraying the true nature of my new place of employment: Vivande comes from the Latin vita, meaning life.

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Historic Roos House finds its new family

Inside the Roos House, designed by revered Bay Area architect Bernard Maybeck.

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

In the dwindling days of December, an historic Presidio Heights Tudor sold for the first time — ever — making it the biggest single-family home sale of 2017 in San Francisco.

The home at 3500 Jackson Street, known as the Roos House, sold for $11 million, down from its original asking price of $16 million. Designed by acclaimed Bay Area architect Bernard Maybeck, who also designed the Palace of Fine Arts and many other important buildings, the seven-bedroom home offers more than 10,000 square feet of living space. In addition to spectacular views of the bay, it features a stunning great room with 20-foot ceilings and is situated on a coveted corner location just one block from the Presidio. Since its construction in 1909, the home had been passed down through family members, making this its first-ever sale.

The Roos House at 3500 Jackson Street in San Francisco.

At $1,067 per square foot, the home represents an excellent deal for its location, but it took more than five months to find a buyer. One reason, in addition to its eight-digit asking price, is because it is on the National Register of Historic Places, meaning there are restrictions on the renovations the new owners are permitted to make. The unnamed buyers, said listing agent Nina Hatvany, “are a family who will treasure it as it has been treasured by the Rooses.”

Patrick Barber is president of Pacific Union.

On a Theme of Helgi

Photograph of S.F. Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson by Erik Tomasson

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Just before Helgi Tomasson moved to San Francisco — and to the neighborhood — to become artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet, he wound up a stellar first act as an acclaimed principal dancer with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.

In his 33 years here, Tomasson has turned a regional troupe into one of the most admired ballet companies in the world. The company’s 85th season showcases Tomasson’s skill in planning wonderfully varied evenings of story ballets and three-act programs of modern and neoclassical choreography — such as his own “On a Theme of Paganini,” beginning February 15.

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‘A grocery, not Shake Shack’

The now-shuttered space at 3060 Fillmore and Filbert was formerly home of Real Food Co.

A BIG CROWD of neighbors showed up on January 24 to preview plans to bring a Shake Shack burger joint to the former corner home of Real Food Co. at Fillmore and Filbert. But most said they prefer another grocery store in that location.

None of the neighbors seemed to have a good word for Shake Shack, the hot burger chain headed by New York restaurateur Danny Meyer that is drawing long lines of fans to many of its 160-plus locations. Shake Shack is expanding into Palo Alto and Marin, and is looking for a San Francisco location.

Rumble Fitness, a boxing gym, would share the space.

Despite the demand, no one suggested there is much hope for a grocery store in the former corner garage, built in 1915, which is small and has limited parking. Neighbors got excited when Bi-Rite Market was rumored to be mulling a store there — incorrectly, as it turned out. The property owners say they have been able to find no other grocers who are interested, either.

“This is not what the Cow Hollow-Marina neighborhood needs,” resident Emily Scott said of the Shake Shack-Rumble combo, circulating a list of a dozen nearby places serving burgers and nearly three dozen fitness options. “What we do need is a grocery store,” Scott said.

Quick end to a stickup at Sterling Bank

The Sterling Bank branch at Fillmore and Bush.

CRIME WATCH | DONNA GILLESPIE

Sterling Bank at 1900 Fillmore was the target of an alarming, if ultimately unsuccessful, robbery attempt on January 16. It happened at 4:50 p.m., just before closing time.

Some inside the bank were aware of a man in a blue rain poncho pacing up and down the sidewalk in front of the small, glassed-wrapped bank, but at first no one paid much attention. Then the man entered the bank, confronting manager James Rensch. Covering his face with one hand and wielding a gun with the other, the robber told Rensch: “Give me all your cash or I’ll shoot.”

In accordance with bank instructions, “I complied,” said a clearly shaken Rensch. He said the man was in the bank for a tense three minutes before he fled with the cash.

Rensch called 911, and two plainclothes policemen, along with beat cop Gordon Wong, were nearby. The plainclothes officers chased the suspect up Bush Street and caught him just past Webster. The apprehension was witnessed by the bank’s neighbor, HiHo Silver shop owner Victoria Dunham, who was leaving her flat as the arrest unfolded outside her front door.

Police dispatch had given the officers a description of the man, but during his short flight he had managed to shed his clothes and don new ones. Although the suspect was arrested, the police investigation is still ongoing and the FBI is now involved.

More Yoshi’s fallout: Black Bark is moving

Black Bark owners Monetta White and David Lawrence

THE CITY’S DITHERING over the future of the Fillmore Heritage Center has claimed another casualty: Black Bark, the modern barbecue joint at 1325 Fillmore, did not reopen after a holiday break.

Only weeks after ending regular dinner service across the street at their upscale 1300 on Fillmore restaurant, owners Monetta White and David Lawrence decided to remain closed as they continue negotiations to move Black Bark to another location “on the other end of Fillmore,” White said, gesturing toward the Marina but refusing to be specific until a lease is signed.

White and Lawrence have already begun moving their equipment and say they hope to reopen in the spring.

White said the food, the concept, the graphics and the furnishings will all remain the same. Since it opened two years ago, much of Black Bark’s thriving takeout business has come through delivery services, and they are preparing to launch a line of sauces and other products.

But they want more foot traffic, and that may take years on a block where the entire east side is occupied by massive empty spaces that for a few years housed Yoshi’s restaurant and jazz club, plus a gallery and screening room.

In November the city threw out the bids from five potential buyers and said the process of finding a future for the heritage center will begin all over again.

Fillmore 1996: a moment in time

TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS BY LUCY GRAY

Two decades ago, in the summer of 1996, I photographed shopkeepers and workers on Fillmore Street. I thought there were wonderful looking people in my neighborhood, people who looked like characters. They understood the performance aspect of small shops, the need to create a style.

I could see that the street was changing, as independent stores and thrift shops diminished and branding put a shellac over individual expression. I wanted to hold on to a moment when individuality was celebrated. The people in this series of photographs all owned or dreamed of owning their own shop, or they were living the dream of expressing themselves through their choices. There was an ideal of earning a modest living through self-expression that may have been sentimental, but it was an era when to be inimitable was prized.

I regret not taking a picture of Cheryl, who was given the dress shop Jim-Elle by its previous owner, which was true for several shops on the street. She was very funny and I can still hear her joking. She married the handsome Irish UPS driver we’d all known for years and she was gone in a snap. Lucky guy.

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Bringing life into the present tense

Kelly Johnson composed and performed the music on his new CD.

FIRST PERSON | KELLY JOHNSON

In the sunset years of my life, I sometimes realize that many of my friends don’t see me as I see myself. They see just an old guy on the corner outside Peet’s. But inside my head, I know I’ve had an interesting life — even if the interesting parts all seem to be in the past.

Recently I took on a new project that involved writing original music for ballet class, publishing a CD and developing a website. It was life changing.

And it turned out to be the glue that holds together all of the disparate parts of my life: as a child performer in vaudeville, later at the S.F. Dance Theater, which started on Fillmore Street; then as executive director of the Berkeley Symphony, followed by my years as a concert pianist and now my newest work as a composer.

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Serenely Modern: William Wurster in Pacific Heights

Photographs of William Wurster’s neighborhood homes by Shayne Watson

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

In a prolific five-year period between 1937 and 1941, one of California’s premiere Modernist architects, William Wilson Wurster, designed several important houses in Pacific Heights.

Drawing on an established reputation as a residential designer, Wurster crafted these homes for urban living. However, each takes advantage of its distinctive site to include an outdoor room or significant garden space, sometimes designed by Wurster’s long-time collaborator, landscape architect Thomas Church.

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