On one of my first nights out after moving to San Francisco nearly three years ago, I went to Martuni’s piano bar, where I first happened upon the singular singing phenomenon known as Jason Brock. Brock can pull off a serious, jazzy rendition of The Glory of Love (Video at the end of this post) rock out on a campy, hilarious version of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart (almost, but not quite, as hilarious as this version). He’s got a dynamic, singular performance persona that strikes me as utterly San Franciscan—he’s a one man Beach Blanket Babylon. If I was answering the Insider Tips questionnaire, I’d definitely recommend him as an SF must-see. But today, it’s Jason’s turn to answer, letting tourists and locals in on his SF faves…
What’s your favorite cultural institution in the city?
Wow, this is a tough question. There are so many great places here, but I’d go with Japantown. I am a huge fan of Japanese culture – from food to fashion to language to men! Japantown has all of these (more or less) and I can feel Japanese for a little while while I’m there.
My favorite view is at a tiny little place called Grand View Park, at 14th & Noriega. It can be a little tricky to find, and there is a huge set of stairs to climb, but once you get up there, it’s incredible! You can see the city in every direction. This spot isn’t well-known, so there aren’t tons of people there. At the very top is a little bench you can sit on and watch the city. So beautiful! You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll be one of the lucky ones who knows about this treasure of a place.
Where’s your favorite area to shop?
I still love shopping in the Castro. I go there, first of all, to get my comic books at Whatever Comics. Then I usually get coffee at La Taza and a thing or two at Rock Hard (depending on my mood). I’ll have lunch with a friend at Harvey’s or Thai House Express and pick up some gay-themed gifts at Wild Card.
What’s one thing a visitor shouldn’t miss eating in San Francisco?
You should technically go have a sourdough bread bowl at Fisherman’s Wharf, because if you’re visiting, that is what everyone does. While you’re over there, you should also go to Ghiradelli and get a sundae with hot fudge – OMG!! [Editor's note: This answer feels as campy as that Bonnie Tyler cover]
Martuni’s at Market & Valencia. First of all, they are like family, because I sing there. Second, even before they were like family, I loved the drinks and the atmosphere. It became my favorite bar almost immediately. The drinks are well known for being tasty, big and strong. Tell Skip I sent you! [Ed.: Martuni's is the first establishment chosen as a favorite by multiple respondents to the Insider Tips questionnaire. It was also selected last month by novelist Lewis DeSimone.]
Cliff House is my favorite restaurant in the city. The food is top notch and the view is relaxing (you can even see whales passing at the right time of year). They have extremely fresh seafood and delicious drinks, too. Finally, you can check out the history before you go – very interesting. And you can take a digestive stroll down to the old Sutro baths—more interesting history.
I’d go to China First in the Inner Richmond. It’s so cheap, yet so delicious! I’ve been there many times. You can eat for $7 per person if you and two others share three or four dishes. I’m not kidding, some of their large dishes are only $5! Plus, the hot tea comes with the meal. And I would try the chicken porridge – yum!
What would you tell a visitor that they absolutely must do while in San Francisco which they probably wouldn’t find in a guidebook?
I don’t know how much guidebooks emphasize this, but you must go to the Legion of Honor! Even if you don’t go inside, it’s such a beautiful space outside. Then, you should make sure that you take the road adjacent to the bay on your way out (or on your way there), because you will some more of the most fantastic views in the city there.
See Brock in action! Video after the jump