Audible Eats: San Francisco Revisited
1805 Geary Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94115
If ever there was an SF venue as derided for its prices as it is lauded for its place in the pantheon of American psychedelia, it’s the Fillmore.
Since its opening in 1912 as the Majestic Hall and Majestic Academy of Dancing, the Fillmore has worn many hats. A dance hall through the 1930s, a roller rink through the 1940s, and a host to acts like James Brown and Ike and Tina Turner through the 1950s and early 1960s, the Fillmore ultimately cemented itself as a holy site of hippiedom in the mid- to late 1960s, where what began as a series of benefit shows to raise legal fees for the incarcerated leader of a radical mime troupe (no joke) ended up launching acts like Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Grateful Dead to name just a very few. Not bad for a building you can pretty easily miss if you don’t know it’s there.
Assuming you fought the ticket sticker shock or handed over your grocery money to a savvy scalper, just step inside and take a peek at the walls. From the aptly named Poster Room upstairs to the floor downstairs, line after line of black frames hold show posters so iconic they have literally come to define a size of paper. If you snag a seat in said poster room or get there early enough to grab one on the balcony or floor, you’ll have a chance to peek at a menu that screams “EAT SOMEWHERE ELSE.” Expect to pay $8 for a beer, double digits for anything near the top shelf, and $12 for a quesadilla the ghosts of college roommates past could have nuked in a dirty microwave. Yes, there are other things on the menu, but I’d spare myself the $4.00 gamble on a hot dog, grab an apple from the basket downstairs, and put the 400 pennies you just saved towards half of your next beer.
It’s pretty much impossible to deny the amount of musical history that has happened at The Fillmore since the 1910s, and I’d be the first to tip my hat and pass a drink to the souls that made it so. But this is 2012, and since 2008, the Fillmore has been a magical line item on a LiveNation balance sheet. Does that mean it’s not a great room, you won’t have a good time, and you won’t leave with a one-in-1200 snowflake of a show poster if you bite the bullet to see your favorite act? Quite the opposite. Just know where your money is going, think twice before blowing your coin on the flavor of the week, and for fuck’s sake, eat somewhere else.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
There is a time in many memories when music was pure. It was the reason skinny teens spent summer afternoons in semi-finished basements, shaking the floorboards beneath their patient parents with poorly tuned drums and sloppy power chords. It was schlepping gear up and down flights of stairs, cramming into borrowed vehicles, and making not-so-orderly piles in the darkened corners of teen centers and VFW halls. Before it became long lines and service fees, it was plastic totes and cardboard boxes filled with home-burnt CDs and iron-on tees. It was black Xs on the backs of pubescent hands and post-show pancakes at Denny’s. It was sweat and blood and blisters and love.
Somewhere between two freeways just east of the Mission, a bright blue light hangs over the door at an unofficial shrine to that time in our collective recollection. Voted Best Rock Club by the SF Bay Guardian seemingly uncontested for the better part of the last decade, Bottom of the Hill is a place where the raw and the real are nearly nightly visitors. A dive-y room with minimal fanfare, there is little to distract patrons from the show taking place on the short stage in the corner.
As far as dinner goes, the place itself isn’t exactly ideal for dining and watching (especially when it’s sold out), and the menu reflects that. The standard options are cheap ($1.50-$8.50) and more like shareable, alcohol-absorbent companions to reasonably priced, adult beverages, rather than full meals. From buttered popcorn and black bean hummus to grilled cheese sandwiches and polish sausage, it’s finger food at its messy best, complete with vegetarian versions of just about everything on the menu. When the place is packed, avoid standing in or near the veritable highway that runs along the right side of the room, seeming to connect the bar, kitchen, bathrooms, and small outside patio area with a series of soft elbow jabs and ‘excuse me’s'; but if you’re hungry, put your shoulder down and check the kitchen window for daily specials.
I’d be willing to wager that Bottom of the Hill is as loved as it is because it doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. For the local and the up-and-coming to the veteran victory tours, it’s a rock club with great talent where “backstage” is more of an idea than any physical place. Just like it used to be.
Café Du Nord
2170 Market St.
San Francisco, CA 94114
Nestled between the Castro proper and Upper Market neighborhoods of San Francisco, Café Du Nord is the perfect place to catch your new favorite act just before they blow up (and their ticket prices follow suit). Marked by the same black canopy and red neon that could quietly herald the presence of any dive bar, Cafe Du Nord is an indie-cred cavern that smacks of its speakeasy past. First-time visitors with an affinity for small shows will undoubtedly be flooded with regret for not visiting sooner.
Note the “Watch Your Step” sign at the top of the formidable (and totally toboggan-able) set of stairs. Save yourself the trip to the ER — they aren’t kidding. Once the delicate dance with gravity is over, take a deep breath of yesteryear and belly up to the hand-carved mahogany bar for your poison of choice.
If you called ahead (which, if this is a date, you should have), one of the bar staff will show you to your choice of the remaining dinner tables. Spots are limited, but it’s free to reserve and totally worth making the effort to type 10 numbers and speak to a human. Menu offerings run from bar staples to more fork-and-knife style entrees like Pot Roast and Porcini Ravioli; whatever your fancy, portions are more than adequate, and dinner for two plus drinks likely won’t run you much more than $30.00. If you’re just looking for something to sop up the alcohol, throw down $5.00 for a plate of Kennebec fries so large it’s amazing potatoes haven’t started picketing.
With a stage that’s only a foot or two off the floor and a room that can’t hold many more than 200 show-goers, there are few places around that boast the kind of quality acts and intimate performances that happen nightly at this classic SF venue. Go early and go often — but seriously, watch your step.