Category Archive for San Francisco
San Francisco Gothic culture! Death Guild club, metaphysical shops, Hutch Oakland & Herlen Place restaurants.
Let’s continue my adventures in San Francisco — with a look at the Gothic and occult subculture!
I’ll take you inside Herlen Place cafe and Hutch Bar & Kitchen, and out to the Goth club Death Guild. I even got to shoot exclusive photos inside “Loved to Death” boutique (of Oddities fame), as you’ll see.
My friends and I had a mini-reunion in San Francisco. You might recognize Caroline, Trevor, John, and Lauren from Tokyo club nights way back in the blog. None of us live in Japan any more, but we’ve stayed in close touch and continue to meet up regularly around the world.
(Everyone’s stayed in sync over the years… as you can see from the unplanned red and black color scheme! Talk about #squadghouls.)
Xiomara Entropy always shows up with spooky and sweet treats, made by hand. This time, she brought us delicious skull-shaped chocolate with green absinthe filling. When you crack the head open, it looks like zombie brain matter!
Clift Hotel is filled with funky designer chairs. I took advantage of this mirrored one, for a closeup on my sparkly gold ankle boots by Le Babe.
(More of Le Babe’s shoe designs are below:)
The lobby of Clift Hotel is made for taking photos. My ghouls clamored onto Philippe Starck’s “Big Chair.” (Look underneath the seat, and you’ll see a child sticking his tongue out!)
Starck’s giant chair actually serves a function (other than providing seating for giants). He designed it to balance the negative space in the two-story high lobby.
Clift Hotel’s fabulous furniture collection includes Michel Haillard’s Horn Sofa (above), made with ostrich leather, dark wood, bronze, and horns. The devilish sofa is the perfect seating for a quartet of Goths. (For more of my stay at Hotel Clift, see this post.)
We went to Oakland to dine at Hutch Bar & Kitchen, a relatively young restaurant dedicated to Southern cooking and cocktails. The staff treated us to warm American South hospitality from the moment we sat down at this long table, lit by an iron chandelier and Edison bulbs.
Chef/owner David King named the restaurant after his family patriarch, Byron Monroe Hutchison (“Hutch”). The vibe pays tribute to Hutch’s zeal for life, and love of good food, drinks and fellowship.
We were intrigued by Hutch’s bar selection, which included dozens of American ryes, bourbons, and other spirits. If you’re a whiskey connoisseur, try the 3-drink flight that lets you try varieties from different US regions.
The cocktails put a tasty twist on American South classics. You can’t go wrong with the Good Ol’ Fashioned, or the Two Jacks Sazerac with High West double rye, Peychaud’s, and St George Absinthe.
One of my favorite cocktails was the Hutch Sour with 4 Roses bourbon, egg white, lemon, lime, and angostura bitters. All the drinks were beautifully crafted, as you can see from the presentation and foam.
For starters on the lighter side, we dove into a mixed winter greens salad and bourbon-cured trout. The perfect, clean first courses… before the comfort food rolled out of the kitchen!
My friends and I were impressed by the spread of Southern classic dishes, prepared with finesse. We especially loved the shrimp and grits with spicy Creole sauce, seasoned pork chop, and catfish with hush puppies, coleslaw and remoulade. David King’s recipes are chock full of tenderness and flavor, yet not overly heavy.
It’s difficult to choose from the selection of side dishes, but Hutch’s creamy, golden cheese grits are among the best I’ve had (and you’ll recall I ate my away around New Orleans!) We also passed around the delicious collard greens, mac and cheese, roasted butternut squash and black eyed peas.
Leave room for dessert, as the passionfruit cheesecake and bourbon bread pudding (with chocolate sauce and ice cream) were stand-outs. I would come back in a heartbeat, especially with a group of friends, for Hutch’s outstanding Southern cooking.
Time to dance at Death Guild, the longest running weekly Goth Industrial club night in the country (and second oldest in the world, at the ripe age of 25!) The Gothic party usually takes place at San Francisco’s DNA Lounge, but that Saturday, it was at Uptown Oakland.
Alas, Yukiro couldn’t be with us… but we had his lovely cousin Pontus, who rocked a darkwave style.
As you know, I love checking out Goth culture worldwide; each city has a unique expression of the dark subculture.
Death Guild Uptown has two rooms that play a mix of Gothic, Industrial, synthpop and other dark music. At the bar, we watched the Japanese monster-fighting CGI film Gantz:O, while sipping on speciality cocktails and grooving to 80s music. In the dance area, the DJs got us moving to Kate Bush, Garbage, old-school Goth tracks, and more.
Upstairs, Death Guild has a “Dark Market” where vendors sell hand-made spooky items. We browsed a fine selection of jewelry, homewares, custom art, and crochet creatures of the night.
(For more Goth party info, check out my previous San Francisco Goth clubbing guide — it includes reports of Wicked Grounds, Cat Club and T-Shack.)
A Gothic cultural trip to San Francisco isn’t complete without a visit to Loved to Death in the Haight district. John and I wanted to get everything in this store, which you may recognize from the Oddities SF television show.
The window display hints at the darkness within… Antiques, taxidermy, Victorian memento mori, skeletons and other delights fit for a cabinet of curiosities.
(Loved to Death address: 1681 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA)
It was a pleasure to see owner Audra Kunkle again, who remembered me from my last stop-in. As always, Loved to Death has a riveting selection of odd and perhaps disturbing objects from around the world.
We especially loved the skull with Cthulhu tentacles, and Baphomet the Sabbatic Goat statues (John got one). He brought me a Miffy grey plush bunny from Hong Kong, and she fit right in with these Satanic icons. Hail Miffy!
Wouldn’t you like a two-headed baby skeleton in your home? An antique bicorn hat? Or how about a poisonous spider in a glass jar?
Creep over to the Oddities San Francisco shop in Haight-Ashbury, and see these critters for yourself. (For more photos inside the store, check out my blog post about Loved to Death from 2014.)
Trevor grew up in SF, and suggested that we visit The Sword and Rose, a hidden metaphysical shop. (From the street, all you see is a narrow walkway… which opens up into this spectacular garden). At The Sword & Rose, seekers come for tarot card readings, and mystical supplies like incense, gemstones, crystals and candles.
Address: 85 Carl St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA
San Francisco is one of the world’s biggest hubs of new age / metaphysical / spiritual culture. Some of the shops veer on the tourist side, but not The Sword and Rose: as soon as you step into the little hut, you can feel a special energy. The staff welcomes people from all walks of life and spiritualities.
The mystical shop is small, and contains several altars that celebrate Egyptian gods and other spirits. The Sword & Rose has many regular visitors; some came with their dogs, who added to the joy of the space.
In the back shelf, you can see over 90 oils and incenses, all ritually made by hand. The staff helps you choose a fitting one according to astrological aspects, ceremonial purpose, intention, or deity.
John got this blue “El” powdered incense, as well as a small burner.
Since 1985, San Franciscans have come here for warm and attentive tarot readings. This is a wonderful space with a sense of community, and we’re glad we wandered in.
We ended the San Francisco getaway with a final brunch at Herlen Place. This smiling owl welcomed us into the modern, chic cafe / wine bar, located right by Chinatown’s Dragon gate. A relaxing, Zen-like spot to enjoy a leisurely meal.
Herlen Place serves up a healthy and fresh menu, highlighting organic produce, seasonal herbs and vegetables, and bio-dynamic wines.
The photos speak for themselves… this is brunch heaven! I wish I could order Herlen Place’s Eggs Avocado every day, accompanied by sundried tomato pesto and baby arugula. Be sure to order one of the delicious espresso drinks, and a chocolate croissant. The Eggs Benedict and Farn Fresh Eggs on the other tables also looked delicious.
We dove into the lunch menu: a crisp tuna salad and hearty cauliflower soup, paired with a sparkling mimosa. Cheers to Herlen Place for its healthy, sustainable, vegetable-centric menu that is quintessential San Francisco.
Namaste to the city by the bay, until I come again (I’m here at least every two years or so).
For more San Francisco alternative culture guides, click here. This is my collection of stories over the years, including a stay at the SF Zen Center, drag queen shows, and cat cafes! I hope you find these travel tips helpful for planning a trip here.
Synthwave San Francisco! Turbo Drive retrowave club, design Hotel Clift by Philippe Starck, Alexander’s Steakhouse.
Fire and brimstone… Talk about a warm welcome back to San Francisco!
I recently took a weekend trip to see some of my favorite ghouls. Since I’m currently all about retrowave music, this was also the perfect excuse to check out SF’s synthwave party scene.
San Francisco has long been a hub for subcultures: from the Beatniks to the hippies and onward. Right now, it’s the site of the longest-running and best synthwave party on the planet, Turbo Drive.
Keep reading for a firsthand report of the outrun fun, featuring a performance by French artist Danger (above!)
First, let me introduce you to my favorite new necklace — this minimal choker from Aurum by Guðbjörg. They’re an Icelandic jewelry designer, handcrafting every piece from silver from their workshop in Reykjavík.
My necklace is from the Aurum Asterias collection, which is inspired by the country’s unique, dark ocean waves. I love this design because it brings back fond memories of when I visited the black sand beaches of Iceland.
As you know, I’m all about supporting independent designers that produce exquisite pieces. Aurum melds traditional craftsmanship with modern design, and prioritizes sustainability with fair-trade materials and environmentally friendly packaging.
For a special piece, I encourage you to view their collections that include rings, bracelets, earrings and other accessories.
See more from Aurum below:
I had fun staying at San Francisco’s Clift Hotel, which was designed by Philippe Starck (one of my favorite modern furniture/interiors designers) and Ian Schrager (co-founder of the legendary NY nightclub Studio 54).
Monkeying around is encouraged, in this hip hotel. Guests can sit on Starck’s Big Arm Chair and take photos… that is, if they can manage to clamor up there! (Images by Lauren Levitt).
Clift Hotel San Francisco has a mind-bending lobby, featuring a collection of avantgarde chairs. There are seats designed by Ray and Charles Eames, a coffee table by Salvador Dali, and a surreal stool by Roberto Matta who was inspired by René Magritte. (Remember when I went to his surrealist museum in Belgium?).
Clift San Francisco is part of Morgans Hotel Group, hence the eclectic, boutique luxury vibe of the space.
We had cocktails in Clift’s historic Redwood Room; legend says it was carved from the wood of a single redwood tree. The bar has been restored by Starck, with an enormous etched glass bar and plasma TV screens that broadcast digital art.
(I’ll show you more from the hotel further down… but now, it’s time to party.)
Many of my friends and I are currently loving the neo-80s sounds of synthwave: think Stranger Things and John Carpenter. I’ve long wanted to attend Turbo Drive, the first and only San Francisco dance club dedicated to retrowave / outrun.
As the party describes it: “This is the soundtrack for carefree drives along the beach, Day-Glo legwarmer aerobics, sunsets over laser grids, outrunning the cops in a cyberpunk dystopia, falling in love with your first robot crush, and occasionally summoning the unholy forces from the depths with a keytar.”
Turbo Drive takes place regularly in the space about DNA Lounge. I’m hanging with Meikee Magnetic in the DJ booth; he runs the party with Danny Delorean and Devon Dossett. (They also do other events around the city, including Bootie SF and Neon Black).
The club’s playlist is space-synth perfection. The DJs spin Carpenter Brut, Perturbator, Dance with the Dead, Com Truise, Gost, Robert Parker… the soundtrack of night-driving in space.
Then, Danger took the stage! The French musician electrified the crowd with his glowing eyes, behind a mask reminiscent of Daft Punk or Aural Vampire’s Raveman.
Danger had tremendous energy throughout his set, never letting up on the pounding hyperdrive. He drew in a packed room, and by the end, everyone was headbanging hard to the retro-futuristic sounds of the 80s.
Thanks to Meikee for inviting me to Turbo Drive. It was great to catch up with friends, and experience this intergalactic club scene. If you come to San Fran, hopefully you too can check one of their synthwave events.
Here’s another look at my “Kung Fury” outfit of the day. I’m constantly wearing this 90s-style red beret by Mary Wyatt London.
My Dragon midi skirt is from Print All Over Me, which lets you print custom designs on 200 high-quality templates. You can also order designs by top artists; my skirt is by gentlethrills.
San Francisco’s Hotel Clift is made for photo-shooting. Lauren and I got access to one of the mod suites, with high ceilings and a dining room with furniture designed by Philippe Starck.
Mirrors, mirrors everywhere. (As you can see, PAOM skirt is double-sided!)
The suite at Clift San Francisco is a study in sumptuous textures. Silk, leather, velvet, chrome and Venetian Murano glass.
The relaxed opulence fit with my embroidered high heel shoes by Le Babe. (More of their designs featured below:)
One of my friends rented a Clift suite for a birthday party. This would also be a fabulous spot to ring in the New Year, as it’s centrally located in downtown San Fran.
Lauren’s black latex dress and cat mask matched the playful energy of the hotel. (On each level, you’ll find a big circular mirror and these reflective chairs).
Don’t miss out on the 16th floor, featuring this lavender spiral staircase and glass lights.
At an art hotel like The Clift, adventure awaits… Shout-out to the staff for welcoming us here, and their kind comments on our various outfits!
On our first night, I enjoyed a brilliant meal at Alexander’s Steakhouse with Dr John Skutlin, who was in town to speak at a University of San Francisco conference about tattoo culture in Asia. He says, “Alexander’s elegant and sophisticated interior and warm ambient lighting set the mood for an evening of gastronomic delights guided by their expert staff.”
The restaurant is a traditional steak house, yet they innovate with fusion dishes and creative cocktails. My gin curry cocktail above is a perfect example; decorated with edible flowers, this Indian inspired drink is wonderfully refreshing.
(John and I are wearing rings by Alex Streeter, our favorite jewelry designer. The legendary silversmith created the Angel Heart Ring, which was memorialized in the movie starring Robert De Niro as Lucifer. This pentagram design comes in several variations; John’s ring has two silver devils on the side. I’m wearing Alex Streeter’s Ouroboros and Bone Claw rings.”)
John continues, “Of course, steak is the name of the game, but before our massive cuts of beef we were treated to hon Hamachi “shots” – a line of shotglasses each filled with avocado, serrano, cilantro, and of course raw yellowtail, all topped off with a splash of yuzu soy sauce for a refreshing aperitif.”
The server quipped that we could throw back a dozen of these and still want more… as you can see from my expression, he was correct! Other restaurants have copied this dish, but Alexander’s hamachi shots are the original ones.
“Might I say that I’m Old Fashioned?” Our server brought us an extensive wine and cocktail list to peruse.
John says, “The libations were almost too numerous to choose from, but the double rye Manhattan was perfectly balanced between the vermouth and the heavy dose of rye. Everyone knows about aging wine and whiskey, but cocktails can be mixed and then aged as well, allowing the ingredients to fuse together in subtle and surprising ways, as I found with the aged Rob Roy cocktail Alexander’s served up.”
Alexander’s Steakhouse has a meticulously curated beef program, highlighting small farms from the US, Australia, and Japan. They are also one of the only restaurants in the US certified to serve authentic Kobe beef.
In John’s words, “The star of the show was the steak. Wagyu Japanese beef has become a household name in the US, but here we found a menu with rare and intriguing selections, including Hokkaido privately farmed beef from cattle raised in below freezing temperatures, and extremely limited olive-fed beef from Shodoshima Island in Kagawa, Japan.”
Our server recommended the aged T-bone, which John is cutting into. The meat was tender and juicy, and at a perfect medium rare: total umami. We accompanied it with sides of wild mushrooms and mashed potatoes, all beautifully prepared and not too heavy.
At the bottom, you can see the Hidagyu from Gifu Prefecture that we sampled. John raves, “It was richly marbled, a hallmark of Wagyu beef, and practically melted in our mouths. The beef was served with what can only be described as a “flight” of twelve different salts from around the world, some smoky, some almost sweet. Each brought out a new dimension of flavor from the meat.”
The staff impressed us with their knowledge, and treated us with little extras such as a splash of red wine to pair with the steaks. They also created special cocktails for us based on our favorite tastes — mine had yuzu in it, and was spot on!
We ended with a warm, gooey souffle and lemon poppy cake. Fresh out of the oven and not overly sweet; exactly how I like my desserts.
Alexander’s Steakhouse was a five-star experience, all around. The dishes, drinks, atmosphere and especially the service deserve the highest rating. For a special night out or celebration in San Francisco, I’d book a table at Alexander’s without hesitation.
More to come from San Francisco — including shopping at occult shops, and the Death Guild Goth party!
It was such a treat to reunite with friends that I met in Tokyo, over 10 years ago! I’m sure you recognize them from this blog over the years. Have you ever had a reunion like ours?