Pittsburgh’s Pub

Grab a cold one at Pittsburgh's
Grab a cold one at Pittsburgh's

There are days when you just want an icy cold beer, some TVs with sports on, along with a few pool tables, dart boards, pinball machines, and video games for good measure.  

Pittsburgh’s Pub will satisfy all these needs, and the jukebox isn’t too shabby either.

Named in honor of the owner’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (adulation which has finally paid off with the Steelers over the past few years), Pittsburgh’s is a good place to get a drink and sit at the bar peacefully solo or with pals.

When you’re sitting at the bar, you’ll generally have an interesting conversation or two with the area residents who frequent the establishment. The management’s also kind enough not to eject you from the premises if you and your friends happen to be wearing random hats when you call on Pittsburgh’s at midnight, a degree of openness which is always good to know about a place.

Sometimes, a brewski while shooting pool is all you need. Especially when wearing funny hats.  

Check Pittsburgh’s out for some day drinking or lates at 4207 Judah (at 47th Avenue).

Scoma’s San Francisco Seafood

Scoma's Seafood Restaurant, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
Scoma's Seafood Restaurant, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

Sometimes, you just want some fresh fish, perfectly cooked, without all the oddball extras some San Francisco hipster joints tend to layer on plates (chamomile chardonnay reduction with fudge nibs on swordfish).  And, if you live in SF and have out of town guests, you’re probably desperate to find a place where you can meet your friends and family at the Wharf, where you won’t feel like you’ve fallen through the looking glass into a tourist circus.

Scoma’s is just the place. With boats still delivering catch straight to Scoma’s, it’s one of the last relics of when the Wharf was a more authentic place: where fishing and crab boats, and not chain restaurants, were justifiably king.

When in season, this is one of the best places in the city to sample locally caught Dungeness. Other times, you can try sand dabs and petrale sole, 2 San Francisco classics. Ask for whatever’s fresh and you won’t be disappointed.

The area outside Scoma’s has one of the best views of the Golden Gate bridge, and the view of the fishing docks from Scoma’s bar is a great place for a pre-dinner cocktail. Great wine list, featuring several of California’s best wines, to complement your meal as well.

As always in life, getting to Scoma’s is half the fun. You take a turn off the main drag– a tourist laden goldmine of gift shops and chain restaurants– and instantly, everything’s bustling in a different way or just quiet. You’re in a working port, where real fishing boats ply their trade, and seagulls swoop over boats to see if there are any scraps.

See it, and taste it, for yourself at Pier 47, Al Scoma Way, SF, CA. Online, check Scoma’s out at: http://www.scomas.com/

The Last Straw – Unique Jewelry & Gifts

If your grandmas were like mine, they had jewelry boxes that looked like treasure chests with multiple drawers stuffed with costume jewels and a few real ones. If you were like me as a kid, whenever you got the chance, you dug into these drawers, festooning yourself with as many beads, pins, rings, bangles, and earrings as your body could support. (Or, until you got yelled at for playing with the good jewels.)

Flash forward to your adulthood. You can now purchase things you admire, but shopping isn’t half as fun as when you pilfered your grandma’s jewel boxes. You go to a place that’s white or beige. Select from some over-hyped, carefully packaged items. Stand in line, as everyone’s items are duly scanned by a computer. Exit through a white or beige doorway.  

If that kind of shopping experience annoys you, visit The Last Straw, in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset. Tucked inside a cozy, adorable cottage is a great shop full of interesting, beautiful jewelry and one-of-a-kind gifts. You get to search through well-organized jewelry boxes and drawers to peruse the well-edited collection of necklaces, earrings, and bangles. Just like my grandmas’ jewel boxes, but with much funkier, contemporary jewelry.  

Gift selections are beautifully displayed throughout the store, making you feel like you’re actually in the home of a great collector. (In a way, you are, as there seems to be a residence behind the cute cottage.) The glass and pottery, in particular, is always beautiful and interesting to look at.   

You can get a necklace at a chain store. You can buy a gift for your friend from another chain store. Or, you can visit a one-of-a-kind shop and select something lovely that has a story behind it, at a place that makes the experience of the search fun again.

Check out The Last Straw at 4540 Irving Street, past 46th Avenue. Open Tuesday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

fiona’s sweetshoppe

In case you haven’t noticed, candy for grown-ups is officially beyond trend. It is a fact of the grown-up landscape. 

Maybe it’s the punch of the face of the recession. Maybe it’s the mortgage you can’t pay for. Maybe it’s the realization that you may be sitting in a beige cube for the next 30 years (or longer, given what has happened to your 401K).

Whatever grim grown-up news you face, candy takes you away from that. Particularly a little nook like fiona’s sweetshoppe with old-fashioned, glass apothecary jars showcasing their sweet contents: chocolate-covered nuts, gummies, sour candies, licorice, and more delights from all over the world. The special focus is on candy from Britain, home of one of the world’s best candy bars, most notably the Cadbury Flake. (Findable at fiona’s.)

For some reason, the Brits are way ahead of us on mass market candy bars. Perhaps it’s their wise decision to provide flavorful chocolate instead of loading a bar with wax for shipping purposes. (This is readily apparent in all mainstream chocolate candies, but very very obvious if you have a malt ball taste-off between Whoppers & Malteasers. Malteasers win every time. Less or no wax taste. Also findable at fiona’s.)

If you happen to be downtown and in need of cheer, although I typically recommend visiting a bar to remedy your troubles, candy is a nice change of pace. (And, there’s no hangover!) Or, if you need to bring a hostess gift and want to forego the candle or soap you have tucked away in your closet, fiona’s is also a good stop, as every offering is beautifully wrapped.

 Swing by at 214 Sutter (right next to the entrance of Claude Lane), or check it all out online @ www.fionassweetshoppe.com

Norway Day Festival, SF

Discover your inner Viking at this unique festival
Discover your inner Viking at this unique festival

On my father’s side, I come from a long line of Norskes. After moving to San Francisco, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few more links to Norwegian culture here than I expected. (Not sure why I was so surprised since San Francisco is on the water and Norwegians are a notoriously sea-faring people.)

However, the best and biggest surprise is the Norway Day Festival at Fort Mason, where you can enjoy some great open-faced shrimp or salmon sandwiches and drink a few beers, all while taking in some fine musical performances and cooking demonstrations for things like lefse (a crepe-like item that you roll in butter and sugar). In addition to lefse, be sure to try some kringle for dessert.

Even if your ancestors didn’t roll with the Vikings, you can have a great time at this unique and fun festival. It usually takes place in early May. For more info, along with schedules for music and performances, take a look here: http://www.norwayday.org/

Beach Chalet/Park Chalet

Example of beautiful WPA project at the Chalet
Example of beautiful WPA project at the Chalet

After a day of walking through Golden Gate Park or hanging out on the beach, the Chalet is a great place to wet your whistle with the great beer made on site. (Of course, the cocktails and the wine aren’t bad either.) The Chalet encompasses 2 restaurants, each with its own vibe and menu.

When you first enter the building, you’ll notice the beautiful murals that cover the walls, a WPA project. (Back in the day, to help take the sting out of Depression-related unemployment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration employed artists to beautify public buildings. The Chalet is one of the best examples of such art in San Francisco.)

On closer inspection of the murals, however, you will notice some interesting details, which seem to imply that, perhaps, not everything was as it should be with the local denizens. One creepy stand-out is the mural section as you head over to the bathrooms (on the right side of the passage to the bathrooms). Once you start looking for strange, symbolic things in the murals (think: sausages, fountains, and cylinder shapes at odd angles), you’ll find the oddities right in plain sight. (Much like San Francisco itself, but I digress.)

The Beach Chalet, upstairs, has a menu that’s more steakhouse-focused, and the steaks are great. There’s a lot of music (particularly jazz) played up there throughout the week, which makes it pretty enjoyable. The view of the ocean is tremendous for dinner when you can watch the sunset. For breakfast, while you sip a fine bloody mary, you can watch the surfers and other ambitious aqua-athletes (kiteboarders, skimboarders, and more) hit the frigid ocean in the morning.

The Park Chalet is downstairs in the back, and has a different food menu, though the same great libations. Pizzas are great. Burgers and other grilled stuff are also good, particularly when you eat them outdoors at the weekend BBQ on their lawn (only available during certain months). Studded with cheerful Adirondack chairs where you can get service, the lawn’s a perfect place to watch some great music outdoors in the summer. (The Mermen swing by from time to time.) You’re also welcome to throw a blanket down on the grass when the comfy chairs fill up, and you can even get service from your own blankie. Sunny Sundays are very popular here, and you’ll see a great cross-section of San Francisco folks massively enjoying the weather, tunes, and beer.    

If it’s too chilly for all that, as it often is in San Francisco, they’ll do the music indoors at the Park Chalet, which is just fine. The entire indoor area is glass, which opens and closes in different configurations to make you feel like you’re always outside.  There’s a stone fireplace that is nice to sit and sip next to on cooler nights, of which there are many in San Francisco, particularly in July.  

Check out their site for special nights, special deals, and music schedules before you go @ www.beachchalet.com Or, just get surprised and head over to the end of Golden Gate Park at 1000 Great Highway.  If you have only one day in San Francisco and the weather happens to be nice, this is a must-visit.

Tiki in the Tonga Room

In between rainstorms, one of the world's best tiki bars
In between rainstorms, one of the world's best tiki bars

The tiki bar is a sadly dying breed in the surviving American kitsch scene, and the Tonga Room is the Graceland of tiki bars. Scurrilous rumors are currently circulating around San Francisco that the Tonga will be closed at some point to make way for luxury condos, and this has only heightened the Tonga’s popularity.

Situated in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel, the Tonga Room is a San Francisco institution, most notably for the hangovers it cheerfully administers, but also for its kind staff and amazing decor. Did I mention the rainstorm, replete with thunder? Yes, it rains indoors at the Tonga.

You can even conga in the Tonga when the band plays, which is usually Thursday through Saturday evenings. The musicians come out on a barge on the old swimming pool and play the most rocking of disco beats from the 1980s.

You can shake your tiki goodness on the dance floor, which resembles the deck of a schooner.

Though it can be fun to go dancing here as a couple, the Tonga Room is the most fun when you’re with a group of friends, all devoted to worshiping the Gods of Tiki, Mai Tai, & Scorpion Bowl.

Tiki it up at the Tonga. Before you go, check on hours and musical schedules: http://www.fairmont.com/sanfrancisco/guestservices/restaurants/thetongaroomhurricanebar.htm

For your one-way trip to Polynesia, take the cable car or cab up to 950 Mason Street, right off California.