Best of the Bay 2005

Paramount TheaterSome contributions to the Bay Guardian‘s Best of the Bay 2005

“Best Fully Functioning Classic Film House Complete with Original Newsreels and Animated Shorts”

At Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, Tom Waits, James Brown, and Björk rub shoulders with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and the Oakland Symphony. This art deco monument is a double threat: It hosts exemplary live shows and screens films from the golden age of Hollywood. Movie nights include a half-hour performance on all 1,800 pipes of the mighty Wurlitzer, followed by antique trailers for the movies of yesteryear, newsreels that give the latest updates on the progress of Allied troops across Europe, as well as some of the more mind-bending Merrie Melodies cartoons, with their delightful crossdressing and proto-postmodern pummeling of narrative. Save your ticket stub for the opportunity to “win valuable prizes from the house of generosity” playing Dec-O-Win. On first and third Saturdays of the month, the Paramount offers tours that highlight the theater’s history and architecture for just $1. More than 70 years old, the Paramount is the brainchild of Timothy Pflueger, architect of the Castro Theatre and the SF stock exchange. More opulent and better preserved than either, the lobby of the Paramount is designed to resemble a redwood forest, with a waterfall over the entryway and caryatids shimmying among the massive tree trunks. The huge walls and lofty ceilings of the 3,000-seat auditorium are decorated with bas-reliefs of Greek sun gods and Polynesian warriors. The 1973 restoration was the work of many Oakland citizens with a dedication to light fixtures, drapes, and carpeting. The Paramount is also home to the Oakland Symphony and the Oakland Ballet.
2025 Broadway, Oakl. (510) 465-6400.

“Best Antagonistic Tag”

This year a distinctive tagger, armed only with shipping labels and primary- color markers, and with a penchant for upper-case letters, peppered the display window of many San Francisco Examiner newspaper boxes. We think of ‘Give me an art grant’ as his or her defining phrase, but the range of commentary isn’t limited to that. A walk down Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue yields further insights: “Jesus loves land mines©”; “Their [sic] taking ugly lessons down at the country club©”; and “God bless our brave CIA death squads©.” In the Bay Area, where enthusiasm for US military operations is a bit, shall we say, subdued, these tags are our local populace’s equivalent of tying a yellow ribbon on the oak trees.

“Best Place to Grab the Ear of the US Ambassador to Kazakhstan”

The World Affairs Council, located just off Union Square, is a clubhouse for internationalists. Several times a week, it hosts visiting lecturers such as Robert McNamara, Desmond Tutu, George Schultz, Paul Wolfowitz, Ehud Barak, Thomas Friedman, and Joseph Stiglitz, as well as lots of US ambassadors. In an era in which any type of diplomacy seems progressive compared to unilateral militarism, the council is a great place to study this lost art. Don’t go to hear people who share agenda bullet points; go to get a view of the ins and outs of international relations and for a chance to discuss policy with actual policy makers. The $15 lecture admission ($5 for students) may seem a bit pricey, but the council does offer the occasional free lecture, and speeches are broadcast on KQED, 88.5 FM., every Monday at 8 p.m.
312 Sutter St., SF. (415) 293-4600.

“Best Art Deco Replica of King Tut’s Tomb”

Back in 1927, long before Las Vegas had concocted the Luxor, San Jose built its own homage to Egyptian culture, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum Park. The park and museum show the influence of the art deco era as much as that of Cleopatra. In the center of a tiled fountain, the hippo god looks as if he’s wandered off the set of Fantasia. The statues of lion-pawed sphinxes, cognizant birds, and a tiny pharaoh leaning against the neck of a goat are poured from concrete rather than hewn from stone, giving the overall impression of an Island of Dr. Moreau–themed miniature golf course. The Rosicrucians are a secretive group not unlike the Masons, except even more psyched about Egypt. The museum is known for its large collection of mummies; however, the description of the planetarium show reads like a Rosicrucian recruitment film. Bring your friends and help disprove the perception that San Jose is a banal cultural wasteland.
1342 Naglee Ave., San Jose. (408) 947-3665.

“Best Place to Go for a Freaky, Postindustrial Bike Ride”

The best thing about going for a scenic bike ride through the Port of Oakland is that the scenery is always changing. One day they’ll be unloading hundreds of Hummers, and on another, schoolbuses from Guam. But you can always count on the spectacle of enormous cranes, a park in the shape of the floor plan of a WWII munitions warehouse, and strange and defunct train-cleaning equipment. It’s a great place to contemplate the trade deficit with plenty of concrete visual aids. Get your exercise and see what the United States is importing lately.

“Best Dueling 2 a.m. Sushi Restaurants”

Across the street from each other, Koryo and Sai Sai are poised to compete for your late-night Oakland dinner dollars. Once the domain of polished palettes, sushi is finally available to night owls and pub crawlers. Longtime neighborhood favorite Koryo is small but comfortable, offering cheap, tasty sushi and the spectacle of salmon roe glistening like fragments of shattered taillight strewn across an intersection. Recent arrival Sai Sai is spacious, and its booths serve to insulate conversation. The latter’s wider selection will cost you a little bit more, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of additional amenities like salmon ice cream and sherbet served in hollowed-out halves of fruit. Don’t miss the coin-op coffee dispenser, with its jug of purified water growing tumorously from its head — seriously good coffee. Both establishments are worth visiting for their imitation crab and real hospitality. 4290 Telegraph, Ste. G, Oakl. (510) 594-0661; 4345 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 658-7273

“Best Cheap, Excellent Warehouse Concerts”

At its best, an Oakland warehouse show is a thing of rare beauty. With vaulted ceilings and vast floor plans, there’s a whole spacious social geography to navigate. Plenty of room to get rambunctious with your friends, and a wider array of behavioral options than you would ever find at a bar or a house party. So many hipsters cycled over to LoBot Gallery’s inaugural Black Dice–Comets on Fire show that U-locked bikes were stacked fourdeep around a nearby stop sign. You’ll find more than just music at LoBot’s shows; they double as art openings. Residents have done such performance works as living for a week in artist-designed cages suspended from the ceiling. In the recent Labyrinth show, acclaimed noise bands alternated sets at either end of a maze, forcing the audience to navigate back and forth through it in order to see the show.Warehouse performance spaces frequently experience a meteoric rise and sudden collapse, but LoBot shows signs of relative stability. Anticon, Mr. Lif, Animal Collective, Soft Pink Truth, Kid606, and a dog fashion show have all graced its stage.
1800 Campbell St., Oakl..

“Best Place to See Experimental Dance Performances amid the Freaky Smell of Molten Tires”

Only when experimental dance has the scrappy vigor of punk and the eccentric structural vision of Buckminster Fuller is it worth tolerating the rubbery aroma of a Firestone tire store located just downstairs. Fortunately, at Jon Sims Center for the Arts, the vigor and vision are both present. Rarely is dance as entertaining and innovative as the work showcased here. The center is named for the founder of the Gay Freedom Day Marching Band and Twirling Corp., reputedly the first-ever openly gay cultural group. The center continues to offer venues and studio space for artists dealing with issues of gender and sexuality. Recent shows have encompassed everything from avant-garde to burlesque to tap dancing to avant-garde burlesque tap dancing, as well as excellent work from Sean Dorsey and Goldie Award–winner Alma Esperanza Cunningham. Yes, brain cells will be killed by the industrial vapors, but your mind will be more than compensated by the thought-provoking work.
1519 Mission St., SF. (415) 554-0402.

“Best Place for $2.50 Movies with Beer and Homemade Previews”

Instead of smuggling contraband 40s into the multiplex, why not watch summer blockbusters a few weeks after they open, at Parkway Speakeasy Theater, with beer from the tap rather than the inside pocket of your overcoat? If you go there on Wednesdays, when the theater offers two-for-one admission, you and a friend will each pay a measly $2.50. Instead of Hollywood previews, the Parkway shows a home-videotaped clip of proprietors Kyle Fischer and Will the Thrill sitting in lawn chairs discussing the relative merits of upcoming features. The theater’s programs include works by local filmmakers, an African diaspora film series, and “Thrillville,” which showcases the tiki-psychotronic aspects of cinema. The Parkway’s frequent fundraisers are highlights of the program. A recent evening featured a screening of Rosemary’s Baby to benefit the Women’s Choice Clinic. But the Parkway is pro-child and pro-choice; check out the weekly Baby Brigade, where newborns and their nightlifestarved parents can take in a flick. The snack bar offers the Wild Munch quesadilla and Buffalo Wings of Desire.
1834 Park Blvd., Oakl.. (510) 814-2400.

Best Kids and Kitsch Toy Selection

Attention, savvy children and kitsch collectors — Cliff’s Variety has the most interesting selection of nonerotic toys in the city. While it’s true that since 1969 this Castro Street landmark has offered an extensive selection of actually useful items (e.g., strawberry hullers and compassionate live-animal traps), all of that handsome industrial design just pales in comparison to the “Psycho-Shark Attack” toy, complete with a bloody half-mauled diver in its maw. We’re just going to give you a sample Cliff ’s Variety shopping list and assume it speaks for itself: male nurse action figure; plush Pez dispensers as big as your head; Sigmund Freud bobbleheads; “The Cubes” cubicle office-worker toys; giant, fully functional pencils; and a see-through cow. Cliff ’s also carries a nice array of odd items for under one dollar — as gifts for children that you only kind of like.
479 Castro St., SF. (415) 431-5365.

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