Elite no more

Photograph of the Elite Cafe on Fillmore Street by Daniel Bahmani

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

Long a Fillmore Street landmark, the historic Art Deco building housing the Elite Cafe has been bought by the two saloon and restaurant investors who own Harry’s Bar across the street, and the Elite will close on Easter Sunday, April 21, after a 38-year run.

Rick Howard, who’s already an investor in the Elite, and his business partner, George Karas, say they pounced on the property when a 100-year-old family trust expired.

Originally it was called the Lincoln Grill. Later it was renamed the Asia Cafe and was a popular chop suey parlor until the SFPD vice squad busted the place for running a gambling operation in the basement. The tipoff: PacBell told the cops the Asia had 40 phone lines but no takeout service.

Originally it was called the Lincoln Grill, but until its final years it looked much the same.

After being boarded up for a while, it was rescued in 1981 by Bay Area restaurant impresario Sam DuVal — who beat out Jeremiah Tower, later to open Stars — and reinvented the space as a New Orleans Cajun-style eatery, saloon and oyster bar that would be called the Elite Cafe. DuVal’s instincts were perfect. With a well-traveled, free-spending Pacific Heights crowd just north of him, the Elite took off like a shot — and, with the opening of Fillamento a block north, spurred the transformation of upper Fillmore into an increasingly upscale shopping and dining district.

There have been three proprietors since Sam, including current owner Andy Chun, who made the place modern when he took over three years ago by ripping out many of the traditional furnishings and fixtures and painting the woodwork black and battleship gray. “They ruined it,” DuVal groused.

The restaurant is on the market and two competing suitors, one a prominent Italian restaurateur, are said to be vying to take over. Chun said his lease required him to continue operating as the Elite Cafe, but there will be no such requirement this time.

EARLIER: “There’s a reason they call it the Elite

The Elite Cafe quickly became a hotspot after it opened in 1981.

Fresca is coming back

The sign is gone, but after a dark year, Fresca is planning to reopen.

By SHELLEY HANDLER

When a popular Fillmore Street restaurant like Fresca goes dark, locals get curious. When it remains dark and untouched for more than a year, questions mount. Owner and executive chef Jose Calvo-Perez has now supplied some answers.

A staple in the neighborhood at 2114 Fillmore since 2002, this branch of the Calvo-Perez family’s group of three Peruvian restaurants has been dealing with a string of structural and related bureaucratic woes. The family has been looking to streamline the kitchen and refresh and brighten the look of the restaurant. And as anyone who has dealt with the city’s complex code requirements knows, permits — even for the simplest changes — take time.

“We love the Fillmore Street location. Our neighbors and customers are great,” says Calvo-Perez. “So we were willing to take whatever time necessary to work it out.” As time stretched before them, the family also took the opportunity to adapt the menu, shifting the focus from full entrees to an enticing range of small plates.

“We wanted to make it fun, lighten the tone, and give the customers a chance to sample and share a wider selection of dishes,” Calvo-Perez says. “The heart of our food is still authentically Peruvian, with creative local twists.”

The menu shines a spotlight on a bevy of ceviches, served with traditional garnishes of crunchy large kernel corn and sweet potato. A range of wood-grilled anticuchos will feature skewers of beef heart, shrimp and chorizo, octopus or vegetables. Even paella will get the small plate treatment, with individual portions of either traditional or squid ink paella, known as arroz negro. Lomo saltado, Peru’s savory saute of sirloin, tomato, onions and fries, will still hold pride of place.

It will still be a few months before Fresca 2.0 reopens. With a new 10-year lease freshly inked, Calvo-Perez aims at an early July opening, ideally in time for the Fillmore Jazz Festival, whose main stage is at Fresca’s front door.

In the meantime, Fresca’s Inner Sunset and Noe Valley outposts continue to hum. Calvo-Perez will also launch a weekend-only food truck dubbed Lomo Libre. Tapping lomo saltado ingredients, he’ll turn out lomo-based nachos, burritos and other saltado delights a few blocks down the hill at Fillmore and Lombard.

She’s pulling up her roots

Traci Teraoka and her hound, Huckleberry, made Sacramento Street a more neighborly place.

By BARBARA KATE REPA

Traci Teraoka, the personable proprietor of Poetica Art & Antiques at 3461 Sacramento Street, believes in synchronicity. Growing up, her family moved every few years to accommodate her dad’s career in air freight. But after she landed in San Francisco two dozen years ago, she noticed roots growing out of the container of a lemon tree she’d bought.

“I took that as a metaphor that it was time for me to put down real roots here,” she says. And she did — sending her son Alexander to nearby Town School and Drew School, establishing a small business and living upstairs above her eclectic shop, taking a leadership role in neighborhood organizations.

“I really let myself be here on Sacramento Street more than any other place in my life,” she says. She even planted the lemon tree in her back yard — in the ground.

But now she’s being uprooted. Teraoka and her business partner had an agreement that when Alexander was a year out of high school, she would buy out her partner, or they would sell the building.

And now the time has come.

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‘1,000 Monks’ helped create a community

FIRST PERSON | TRACI TERAOKA

Over the years, many artists asked me to consider showing their work at my shop, Poetica Art & Antiques. One day a woman walked in who was looking for a place to present a special print, which she called “1,000 Monks.” Andrea Speer Hibbard was visiting from her home in Santa Rosa. She had created the original artwork back in 2001, and her son had encouraged her to make prints to make it more widely available.

Little did I know how important that serendipitous encounter would become.

Andrea and I quickly reached an agreement, and soon “1,000 Monks” was for sale in my shop. It has been my best-selling item, and one of the single greatest contributions my small business has made to the community. Andrea has been wonderful to work with, often hand-delivering prints so we can visit.

The giclee prints have been a source of joy and happiness, connection, strength and contemplation since the day they first arrived. Many people stop in their tracks once they make eye contact with “1,000 Monks.” They look, find a monk looking back and soon are transported, looking at different monks. The piece is instantly engaging. And that happens time and time again, day after day. Some people have told me they walk by just by hoping they can visit the monks through the window. 

For many years, the only sales I had on the website for the Poetica shop was the print of “1,000 Monks. “ I don’t sell them by the thousands, but when the bell on my phone sounds, notifying me of a sale coming through, more often than not it’s still for “1,000 Monks.”

Sales are often the result of someone seeing the piece in a friend’s home, creating a little chain reaction. A friend bought one and had it shipped to Jonesboro, Arkansas. That purchase led to several of her friends acquiring the piece in several cities in the South.

Sometimes the piece provides needed comfort. In 2015, three young people went on a murderous rampage beginning at Golden Gate Park after Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Their next stop was Marin, where they shot Steve Carter and his dog Coco multiple times. Coco survived. Steve did not. Steve’s wife, Lokita Carter, suddenly a widow, was also grappling with intense chemo treatments for a rare late-stage cancer. I heard the familiar bell notification on my cell phone that “1,000 Monks” had been ordered. It was Lokita. Andrea and I refunded Lokita’s purchase and gifted it to her. She recently told me the monks continue to be a cornerstone in her life.

Another story: Last fall, I was talking to a neighbor in front of the shop when a man stopped to look in the window and became mesmerized by the framed “1,000 Monks.” He said he was having a difficult and challenging week, and really wanted the piece. As I was processing his sale, he confided he was James Roche — a roommate at Yale of Brett Kavanaugh, then battling for confirmation as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Though raised in an ultra-conservative family — his father owned a MAGA hat — Roche said he had taken a leap of faith and gone public with his belief that Kavanaugh had lied repeatedly under oath and sexually assaulted another woman who was a friend.

There is something in this piece that creates connection, happiness, contentment — and solace.

The giclee print of “1,000 Monks” is $85. It’s in stock at Poetica, at 3461 Sacramento Street.

The dancer is a choreographer

Photograph of Myles Thatcher rehearsing S.F. Ballet dancers by Erik Tomasson

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Myles Thatcher first came to Pacific Heights when he lived in the dorm for San Francisco Ballet School students on Jackson Street. He joined the company in 2010, and still lives nearby.

As a member of the corps de ballet, he has danced in everything from Swan Lake to Balanchine gems to world premiere works by today’s hottest choreographers. In fact, Thatcher, one of S.F. Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s youngest commissioned choreographers, has created some 15 one-act works himself — and he’s only 28.

This month, you can see him perform when S.F. Ballet presents John Neumeier’s heart-wrenching story ballet The Little Mermaid from April 19 to 28.

When did you know you had to become a ballet dancer?

I started dancing when I was 8 or 9 years old and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I started training seriously at 13 or 14 and moved away at 15.

You left home at 15?

I’m from a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, and it’s hard to find a ballet school that’s high caliber enough to get you into the career circuit. I moved to Boca Raton to a place like a ballet boarding school. From there, I moved to New York City to train, and then I joined the top level of the S.F. Ballet School. I fell in love with the city and company when I did a summer program here at 17. I just knew if there was any way I could live and work here, I wanted to pursue it.

What about pursuing dancemaking?

I remember telling a dance teacher I wanted to do choreography, and she rolled her eyes. I kind of lost interest as I was getting my technical abilities up to par, but then we had this opportunity to choreograph. I made my piece on trainees at the S.F. Ballet School, and Helgi Tomasson chose mine to go to a festival the National Ballet School of Canada was hosting. That went well, so they asked me to do another piece for the S.F. Ballet School.

And you never stopped.

Helgi asked me to do work for the company, and from there I started working with other companies, nationally and internationally, for galas, competitions, films.

Would you prefer to be known as a great dancer or a great choreographer?

I would not give up choreography to pursue anything else. I’m happy that I’m setting the groundwork for when I can no longer dance. The average age to stop dancing is the mid-30s, though we have some dancers in their 40s. Right now, I’m balancing the two.

But you’re looking ahead.

I would not want to stop dancing yet, but it’s a short career. Creating dances is a beautiful way to express myself in this art form in a different way. It allows me to discover things with other people. You can’t do ballet alone. You can’t learn it off YouTube. The human element is why it’s survived all these years.

Explain a bit about The Little Mermaid.

It’s not your typical Disney version. It’s a really powerful and moving story about giving yourself to a person who doesn’t have the capacity to give back. The mermaid sacrifices a great deal to try to be with him. The story might be a metaphor for a poet character who is constantly at the mermaid’s side, who might have been in love with a straight man. By the end, we realize the mermaid and the poet narrator have been dealing with events in kind of the same way, like a thread through the piece.

What will you be doing in the piece?

John Neumeier is just a genius storyteller. Being able to work with him, you realize every step in that ballet has a narrative intention, down to the steps for the corps. I’m one of the dancers who make up the sea; we wear long blue skirts with white at the bottom. We also reflect the mermaid’s emotions: She comes from a peaceful place where she belongs and goes to a place where no one’s really happy, so there are moments we reflect tumultuous feelings. Once she gets on land, I am one of the ship’s passengers and wedding couples.

What do you do on a typical day off?

Many days, a few dancers will go to Roam on Fillmore to unwind and have a burger. A little bar called Fat Angel always has an interesting selection of wines and beers, and they have a really good mac and cheese. Upper Fillmore has changed a lot, but I kind of grew up going to La Med, and I still go back there.

‘The most beautiful hotel in San Francisco’

For years, the 1881 Victorian was the headquarters of the San Francisco Medical Society.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“I want to have the most beautiful hotel in San Francisco,” says Bernard Rosenson about the Mansion on Sutter, which he recently purchased.

A visit to 1409 Sutter Street suggests that wish is on its way to becoming reality. From the carefully restored Victorian era woodwork to the polished marble floors and unique art and antiques — plus a presidential suite with steps leading to a private gazebo with views — the Mansion on Sutter is emerging as the newest jewel in the neighborhood’s crown.

Its signature restaurant, 1881, is already serving dinners created by executive chef Juan Carlos Olivera, and a downstairs speakeasy bar, Notorious, is set to open on July 4.

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He scraped the gingerbread off

Erich Mendelsohn’s floating modern landmark at 3778 Washington Street in 1952.

ARCHITECTURE | BRIDGET MALEY

“For some 14 months now the normally placid Pacific Heights intersection of Washington and Maple Street has been host to what might be described as a perpetual traffic jam,” reported a Chronicle article on June 17, 1951, headlined “A King-Size House That Floats on Stilts: Mendelsohn Creates a Landmark.”

Architect Erich Mendelsohn, a German modernist whose innovative designs had riveted the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, had indeed produced one of San Francisco’s most innovative — and attention-getting — modern homes.

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Versailles on the Heights

Photograph of the Petit Trianon at 3800 Washington by Bob Morris

By BRIDGET MALEY
with KAMALA MOSTERT

Having recently visited Versailles, it is easy to see how Corrine Koshland became so enamored with the estate’s Le Petit Trianon that she commissioned a copy as her family home in San Francisco.

In September 1900, Corinne and Marcus Koshland, their three young children, Daniel, Robert and Margaret, along with a nursemaid, embarked on an arduous journey via rail and sea to Europe. In France, Corinne fell in love with the Palace of Versailles, the royal residence of France beginning in 1682 under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789.

Specifically, it was the Petit Trianon that caught Corinne’s attention. Completed in 1768, the garden pavilion situated within the larger Versailles gardens was designed by Ange Jacques Gabriel. Originally conceived for Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress, Louis XVI later presented the garden pavilion to his young bride, Marie Antoinette, who immediately began an elaborate reworking of the interiors and gardens. The Petit Trianon, from its inception, had a strong female presence. This too, likely inspired Corinne Koshland, who later became a grande dame of San Francisco, entertaining extensively in her home.

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Not just any Tacobar

Photograph of Tacobar getting a fresh look by Jonathan Pontell

“WE’RE NOT THE usual taqueria,” acknowledges Antonio Solano, the dynamic manager of Tacobar at Fillmore and California. Tacobar just got a facelift, an updated menu and a bright new paint job as the popular corner spot at the heart of the neighborhood prepares to celebrate its ninth birthday in April.

Tacobar is also now set up to accept online orders and payment, which lets customers skip the line for pick-ups. “You show up and it’s ready,” Solano says.

They’ve also partnered with the Caviar delivery service. “You’ve got to stay alert and give the customers what they want,” he says. “We love being here, and we want to continue to be successful.  What else can we bring? This is our baby. My dad taught me always to give 100 percent.”

Of the new color scheme and new menu items, he says: “We’re authentic, but reinvented.”

‘Retail is dead’ for 3 independents; not for brands

The fashion label Veronica Beard is opening a stand-alone shop at 2441 Fillmore.

RETAIL REPORT | RICHARD SPRITZER

Fillmore is losing three more of its independently owned small businesses. The Elizabeth Charles boutique is down to its final days, after 12 years at 2056 Fillmore, and March is the final month for the gift shop named for its address at 1906 Fillmore. They join the pioneering Brooklyn Circus shop at 1521 Fillmore in saying farewell to Fillmore Street.

“With the way consumers have been proving to shop in the last couple years, retail is dead, but experience and service are alive,” says Gabe Garcia, co-owner of Booklyn Circus. “I’ve been developing an exciting concept and solution to this challenge that I know the neighborhood would love and appreciate and I want to bring back to my retail space where I’ve spent 11 years.” But nothing is certain yet.

Elizabeth Charles moved to New York with her family three years ago and has decided to give up the commute. And while Victoria Dunham’s 1906 shop will close, she’s still going great guns next door at HiHo Silver.

At the same time, Fillmore Street says hello to two new fashion labels: Koio, the hot line of Italian leather sneakers, has opened its sixth shop at 2029 Fillmore. And the women’s fashion label Veronica Beard, available in department stores, will open its own stand-alone shop at 2241 Fillmore, where Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop popped up during the holidays.