This city on the bay has lofty arts and cultural aspirations long before it was trendy or important to do so. She had the most important cultural scene on the western seaboard, and indeed anywhere west of New York, since last century, gathering the most important opera company, arts schools and museums all in one place, as Los Angeles looked on as her provincial oil town self back in the 1940s. For one, she played an important role in the advent of the American abstract expressionism where Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko worked at the California College of Fine Arts to establish abstract expressionism as one of the most important art movements in the 20th century. Fast forward to circa 21st century, the newly-refurbished SF Museum of Modern Art has brought about a resurgence of art appreciation in the city and a new era of arts patronage (benefiting from Silicon Valley profits and wealth) has entrenched SF’s position as an important arts and culture destination.
wee black book : SAN FRANCISCO EDITION
TOKYO WEE BLACK BOOK
SF MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (SFMOMA)
Possibly the most important arts institution on the western seaboard and having absolutely no relations to the NYC MoMA, this behemoth arts complex holds the largest collections of various important artists of the modern age from Sol LeWitt, Alexander Calder etc. It has gone from strength to strength since its founding in 1935, and its recent major do-over has taken it to new heights and significance.
DOGPATCH/MINNESOTA STREET PROJECT
To experience the most exciting hotspot of the local art scene, then the Dogpatch district, where the Minnesota Street Project is providing much-needed infrastructure for some of the best galleries and most exciting artists in the city, is a must-visit. This sprawling complex, built to offer affordable art spaces to artists and galleries, is comprised of three converted warehouses that house numerous galleries, artist studios, temporary venues, a restaurant, and the non-profit San Francisco Arts Education Project. This is possibly the best vantage point to view this cross-section of San Fran art with galleries ranging from San Francisco stalwarts that have recently relocated (like Rena Bransten Gallery) to fledgling, dynamic galleries (like Bass & Reiner). Casemore Kirby and Ever Gold are proving themselves to be thought-leaders in this space.
DE YOUNG MUSEUM
This museum, so-named after its newspaper baron founder. Having fin de siecle roots back in 1895, it was gorgeously refurbished by the prestigious architectural firm of Herzog & de Meuron and was unveiled in 2005. It blends the museum with the Golden Gate Park, to provide an optimum light-filled environment for the enhancement of the viewing of the impressive 17th - 19th century American art and the eclectic international contemporary art collections.
Benu marks Corey Lee's heralded return to SF Bay Area after leaving the venerable The French Laundry (and receiving a third for Benu last fall) and it has sizzled up the local gastronomic scene ever since. Lee's signature injection of Asian flavours and techniques invigorates the taste buds and as for the resultant innovative dishes in kaiseki format, many will not disagree that they also double up as art. We approve of the gorgeous tableware and the minimalist overtones around too.
STATE BIRD PROVISIONS
As its name suggests, it provides patrons with the state bird of California, the quail. It is as cute as it is delicious, especially the deep-fried rendition. Chef-owners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski have won multiple awards for this institution of a restaurant, including the James Beard Best Chef of the West award, the culinary world's Oscars. 'Nuff said. If you can't get a table here (or get Bespokcracy to plan it for you!), try out their sequel, Progress, right next door.
San Francisco is known for her sizeable Chinese population and if they all run to Yuet Lee for a Cantonese cuisine fix, then you know where to go to for a good Chinese meal in SF. It serves honest, authentic Cantonese food, even right up to the wee hours during weekends- for over 30 years now. Yuet Lee might as well be "institution" in Cantonese.
S N O O Z E
Drawing from its previous reincarnation as the Japanese Consulate, this is one hotel you come to for the perfect balance of Eastern influences and Western counterculture, delivered with sprinkles of theatre at that. From the carbonized black accents set against blond wood reminiscent of the Japanese technique of preserving wood with fire, or shou sugi ban, to the finer furnishing details of the shibori-style rugs and framed vintage Japanese newspaper prints on the walls of the guest room, MARKZEFF, the Brooklyn-based firm behind this major design shakeup, sure takes pains to recreate an environment that harkens to the good ol’ hippie heyday.
THE HUNTINGTON HOTEL
It feels unlikely that a hotel with a name so Anglo-Saxon and situated in an upscale neighbourhood like Nob Hill, would draw its main design language from the heritage of Peranakan or Straits Chinese from Southeast Asia. But not so much when the owners behind it are the Singapore-based Grace International, which went with ForrestPerkins, designers specialising in the luxury hospitality space, a firm used to injecting individualistic character to hotels against swathes of luxury. The nods to Peranakan’s inherent hybrid culture everywhere is also reflective of the growing diversity of San Franciso’s racial make-up and is an apt statement of worldly inclusion. The hotel’s onsite restaurant is the much-beloved Big 4 Restaurant, which, with its dark green leather banquettes, mahogany wood paneling, 18th-century photographs lining the walls, and a live piano player, is more a tribute to the halcyon days of the Westerns.
THE CLIFT ROYAL SONESTA HOTEL
Philippe Starck modernist interpretation of Art Deco chic has to be interesting if not for anything. Sitting whimsically by Union Square, this hotel serves up a lesson of who's who in design and visual arts and sleeping in and with (not on) the lesson is what we love best.