My dear readers,
It has been incredibly hard to witness our SF community absolutely reeling and in such shock over yesterday’s horrific news of the sudden death of our drag icon and legend, Heklina. It seems unfathomable that Heckles would even die—she was a high-heeled Icelandic Viking, a punk Valkyrie, larger than life, unstoppable. Bold, brash, fearless, wildly inappropriate, the picture of tough love, with a knack for pissing people off and getting into your pants. She was an activist, a community creator and mobilizer, a fierce force armed with a microphone and searing wit as sharp as a stiletto.
My messages have been lighting up with so many notes of sadness and remembrance and gratitude for the safe space and protection and strong OUT presence and encouragement Heklina provided to so many young queers who would come to Trannyshack at The Stud every Tuesday night in the 90s and early aughts, diaphanous and edgy young moths fluttering to the club’s disco ball beacon.
My longtime friend Aaron Practice shared in a Facebook post: “You let me into t-shack when I was young hobosexual and chic and gave me two drink tickets to boot, you really cared for us queer kids who were down and out … You [were] a role model for sobriety, you gave me confidence to be better, even to perform doing go-go, being my silly sexy punk enby self, you always egged everyone on to be their loudest and proud selves … I give respect to Heklina, she was mother for many and ruled that new wave of drag that SF could be the punk, she gave space for weird and unusual to flourish with T shack and it was something special about gender play at the time.”
There is so much collective grief in this moment of mourning; whether you were close to Heklina or not, she represented so much, a zeitgeist of SF queerness. (She is the moment!) Like my writer pal Leo Herrera’s Instagram note astutely stated: “Feels like an entire community’s aunt just died.” Truly.
My bestie Ryan shared in a text: “Her force and contribution to our community was such a huge part of my early SF days, which ultimately shaped me to who I am today. It feels like so many important chapters were just ripped out of that book 💔. I honestly never imagined a world or community without her.”
I was messaging with my dear friend and forever stylist Mr. Anthony, and we were commenting that at least Heckles was in London, doing something fun and exciting (performing “Mommie Queerest” with Peaches Christ at Soho Theatre in London!). He wrote: “I am really happy as well that they were doing this big production and it was going to be so exciting and such a big deal and she was loved and respected on a global stage … He finally settled into his nice life down in Palm Springs. I was so happy for him and so proud that he finally just got to do the new one-woman shows that he was enjoying doing, relaxing and moving into early retirement. She chose the gigs that she loved, like doing shows with Peaches, and Daytime Realness once a month, and she could just come up from Palm Springs and still dazzle San Francisco for one sunny Sunday afternoon dance party. It’s just such a fucking shame.”
Thank you to my friends for letting me share these personal notes of remembrance, it’s so important for everyone to not feel alone in their grief and nostalgia. (This piece on KQED is one to read.) Heklina leaves an indelible legacy as a towering pillar of our drag and queer community, as a fighter, mother, and a loud-mouthed legend. A true San Franciscan. We’re going to miss but never forget that cackle.
I think Heckles would tell you that your ass better be at the march this Saturday April 8th: DRAG UP! FIGHT BACK!, a rally, march, and live show in protest of recent anti-drag and anti-trans legislation. From the listing: “Now is the time for all LGBTQ people and allies to unite and Drag Up! Fight Back! Legislation has been proposed and passed in states nationwide, targeting gender-affirming care, drag performers, and queer culture. Our stories are being banned from public libraries, our trans kids and their parents are being criminalized, and any acknowledgment of our existence is being outlawed in classrooms.”
The rally on Saturday is at 11am at San Francisco City Hall, and the march is 12pm to Union Square, where the live show will be held at 12:45pm. Let’s come together, make signs, make some noise, and send Heklina up with ferocity and strength. Grateful to The People's March, Oasis, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and the San Francisco Democratic Party for organizing this event.
Today’s column has been difficult for me to write and focus on, and there are other sad goodbyes with some longtime restaurant closures happening as well. Rough week for SF. I also didn’t plan on spending over an hour with the PG&E guy trying to track down a gas leak in my building yesterday—what a day, seriously. I would have loved more time to fine-tune my column, but the clock doesn’t wait. Oh, deadlines.
The clock is also ticking on the muffuletta deal at Cafe Zoetrope for you early subscribers (thanks again)! You have until April 15th to dig up that email in your inbox (just search “muffuletta”) and head over for some sandwich nirvana.
So, I decided not to chop up today’s column into two versions (for free or paying subscribers). I feel like it’s important to the businesses and people I wrote about to have everyone be able to read their stories. But guess who spent hours writing, researching, interviewing, and editing this column? Yeah, this tired lady. Which is why I’m asking you folks on the free plan to please consider becoming a supporting subscriber—today would be a great day to say thanks for my work. (Or even tomorrow, I can wait.) It also means you’ll receive my upcoming and subscriber-only Hopper Notebook post on my favorite sushi counters in SF. (There won’t be a free version of that one.) Thank youuuuuuu!
Wishing you a happy Passover, Easter, and Ramadan. FYI: the Jewish Food Society just posted a bonus Passover episode of their Schmaltzy podcast, featuring Nopa’s chef-owner Laurence Jossel, who took the stage live at the JFS’s first San Francisco Schmaltzy event that I helped produce last year. You gotta listen to his matzo ball story, it’s such a good story (of course). Now we need to beg Laurence to make that epic matzo ball soup for us again! Pllllllease. I think we could all use a bowl of it right now.
With so much love,
Raise Your Boot of Beer: Leopold’s on Polk Reopens This Month with New Owners
Back in October, I reported some early news that Leopold’s—the Alpine gasthaus (tavern) on Russian Hill from Albert and Klaus Rainer (Cafe Metropole)—was reopening under new owners: Michael Lamina and Carla Anne Suntjens. Leopold’s has been closed throughout the pandemic, but after working on the interior and making some repairs for the past five months, the new owners tell me the reopening is slated for Wednesday April 26th. Prost!
Lamina was the opening chef for two-plus years at Leopold’s when it first opened in 2011. Last summer, owner Albert Rainer decided to retire and reached out to Lamina to see if he wanted to take over the restaurant (there are still nine years on the lease). Lamina loved Leopold’s, and after 20 years of cooking in SF, he decided to take the ownership plunge with his girlfriend (Suntjens is a longtime industry veteran, previously working at Balboa Cafe for 20 years, as a part-owner of Minx Bar, and at Amber).
Since Lamina developed the original menu—and recognizes how Leopold’s holds a specific appeal and legacy—he wants to keep things pretty much as they were, and just add some technique, ingredient upgrades, and fine-tuning. Dishes like the käsespätzle (Austrian “mac and cheese” with crisp onions), crispy pork trotters, duck crépinettes, Wiener schnitzel, pan-fried trout, tagliatelle, beef goulash, and the choucroute garni platter (smoked pork loin, pork ribs, housemade bratwurst, sauerkraut, caraway potatoes) will all return (and more!). Lamina’s extensive, housemade charcuterie program will remain a prominent feature on the menu (I was so impressed with his charcuterie when I first met him at Cav Wine Bar many years ago—he’s got mad skills).
He’s also going to be adding some daily specials to the menu, like Austrian regional dishes (he mentioned an Austrian fried chicken he’s excited to serve: sour cream–brined, semolina fried chicken, with potato salad, lingonberry sauce, and horseradish tartar sauce; and there’s a juniper-smoked duck breast with braised Belgian endives, spätzle, and duck jus). The couple took a three-week research trip to visit gasthauses throughout Austria, so they have a number of dishes and touches to add to the experience.
There will be eight beers on tap, with at least 20 in bottle, and the wine list will feature Austrian, German, and Eastern European selections (mostly organic or biodynamic). The tavern was known for its lively crowd, with communal tables laden with steins and boots of beer. After being closed for three years, the time feels right to gather once again and break pretzels together.
The cheery, butter-yellow space will look essentially the same, but they sanded, re-stained, and shellacked the furniture, so the knotty pine is looking spiffy. Albert wanted to take back a few family heirlooms, but otherwise, the traditional Austrian décor and cozy interior remain intact.
For the first month, Leopold’s will be open Wed–Sun 5pm–10pm (until 11pm Fri–Sat), and then they plan to scale up to nightly service and bring back brunch when they can. I’ll remind you when the opening is here. Congrats to the couple on this welcome new chapter for the restaurant. 2400 Polk St. at Union.
The End of an Era for Some SF Old-Timers: Just for You Cafe Has Closed, Plus Don Ramon’s, Mums, and More
I swear, these longtime SF restaurant closures are the hardest things to write. I’m grateful for some tablehopper readers who wrote in to let me know that Just for You Cafe in Dogpatch sadly closed yesterday (Monday April 3rd), after being in the neighborhood since 2002 (but it dates back to 1980!).
I was lucky to still have owner Arienne Landry’s number in my phone so we could talk about the closure. It ends up she retired at the beginning of the pandemic and moved back to her beloved Louisiana—she sold the business to Reid Hannula, who managed to steer the cafe through the pandemic, but current conditions made it impossible to keep going. Landry said she came back to SF a couple weeks ago to try to find someone to take over the business, but it didn’t work out—as she said, “The business climate is atrocious.”
The café/diner originally opened in 1980 on Potrero Hill (in a tiny space that later became Chez Maman)—Landry and Julie Campbell of Crescent City Café took it over from “a couple guys” in 1990, and a year later, Landry became the sole owner. When the neighborhood started to get popular, the landlord wanted to triple the rent, so Landry found a long-closed Chinese restaurant space in Dogpatch and moved the business in 2002.
Landry’s Cajun roots played a big part on the all-day menu and the upbeat but down-home vibe (Just for You was famous for its fluffy, ethereal beignets), and they made so much from scratch, including the baked goods and fries. (You always felt like you were getting more than you paid for there.) Brunch would draw people from all over town for their quality dishes and famed huevos rancheros and sausage gravy—I always remember so many people hanging around outside, waiting for a table. It had a great mix of folks, with so many longtime servers and such a friendly staff.
But Landry observed that it’s hard for a diner to raise their prices the way a higher-end restaurant can to cope with the cost of doing business in SF right now, let alone grapple with inflation and staffing issues. She remembers when you could put an ad on Craigslist for a server and you’d get 50 replies—now, she says, you’re lucky with even four.
During our call, she was reminiscing about their many customers, from the ones who brought their kids who she’d watch grow up over the years, to the regulars who would come every month for a specific dish. She also shared so much love for her amazing, longtime staff who was there for years—what a family. She said, “Please tell everyone thank you and how much I appreciate the memories—thanks for the ride, I had so much fun.” Thank you for bringing that Louisiana spirit and hospitality to SF for so many years. 732 22nd St. at 3rd St.
Last Friday March 31st, I was so dismayed to read in SFist that Don Ramon’s Mexican Restaurant in SoMa was closing that day, after 40 years of business (since 1982!). It was a legacy business and longtime family restaurant from the Ramirez family (most recently operated by the second generation). They had such an awesome chile relleno that saved me many times after bar-hopping (or beer busting) in SoMa—I knew that as soon as I saw that shiny red-tiled exterior and neon sign, I was going to my happy place. Those enchiladas! The refried beans!
The family posted a heartbreaking farewell note on their homepage; this follow-up piece from the Chronicle mentions their landlord raised their rent, and includes some quotes from the family (as well as the tidbit that the family is looking at other spaces for a potential relocation, here’s hoping). Thank you for the years of hospitality and kindness. 225 11th St. at Folsom.
After 44 years, Mums, the shabu-shabu restaurant in Japantown (one of the first in the city) closed on Sunday April 2nd (as reported by ABC7 News, via Eater). (I just had a fun moment revisiting my review from 2007, Mums was such a wild scene.) So sad that yet another multi-generational family business and legacy restaurant is closing—73-year-old owner (and father) Isidore Tam decided it was time to retire in light of these extra-challenging times. They have a farewell note on their homepage you can read. 1800 Sutter St. at Buchanan.
Just before post-time, my friend Aaron sent in a pic from the window at Tacorgasmico in the Castro, announcing their closure after eight years: “We have weathered many ups and downs together, and, with a heart full of love and gratitude, we sadly announce the closing of our beloved Tacorgasmico. Tacorgasmico began as an immigrant’s dream, and it will continue being our symbol of hope and triumph. We are riding the wave of changes in our beautiful city, and, with our lease coming to an end, we are excited to welcome new adventures coming our way. For the time being, if you are missing us too much, our delicious menu will still be available on our usual delivery platforms DoorDash and GrubHub beginning next week. Also, please come visit us at our sister Restaurant, Santería, one block away at 2251 Market St. With much appreciation and love, Eduardo and team.” 2337 Market St. at Noe.
New Openings Include La Sarrasine on Divis, Fox and Lion Bread, Heartwood
Some quick opening notes: my Nopa neighbor Julia Spiess let me know the doors to La Sarrasine opened today, the new crêperie and Mediterranean restaurant in the former Zaytoon. SF Business Times previously reported that owner Kamel Bouzidi was behind the short-lived Tunisian Dar Fatma that replaced Cafe Med in the Financial District (which I mentioned last year). If his last name sounds familiar, his nephew is Rafik Bouzidi, who was featured in last week’s column (he’s opening Gola on Valencia).
Thanks to Julia (and my sis!), I got a peek at the menu, which includes nine kinds of galettes (made with buckwheat; $15–$17) and sweet crêpes, plus breakfast dishes (from omelettes to eggs Benedict), a couple salads, sandwiches (croque madame, housemade merguez; $16–$17), a cheeseburger, and shakshuka; dinner will bring roasted chicken ($18) and steak frites ($22). There’s wine, beer, and French cider, as well as coffee drinks.
The space has classic bistro chairs and café tables (with a number of tables outside in the parklet), and you can’t miss the bright yellow awning. Hours are 9am–4pm for now; they’re hoping to expand with evening hours if they can find more servers and cooks. 607 Divisadero St. at Hayes.
SF baker Xan Devoss of Fox and Lion Bread just opened a storefront and café in the Mission. You can pick up loaves of sourdough made with natural starter (levain) or whole wheat (around $7, thanks!), as well as “bagels, pizzas, salads, sandwiches, soups, and more,” plus coffee from Proyecto Diaz (according to this Hoodline story, originally reported by Eater). Open Mon–Thu 8am–3pm, Fri–Sat 8am–8pm. 3350 18th St. at Capp.
I broke the news about Heartwood’s upcoming opening a couple weeks ago, and it’s happening today, Tuesday April 4th. It ends up the bar from Tristen Philippart de Foy, Arnold Eric Wong, Phil West, and Steve Werney will also be open for lunch during the week (12pm–3pm), with bar bites until close (Mon–Sat). Chef Byron Gee’s menu includes a patty melt, Korean fried chicken, Vietnamese-style tofu lettuce wraps, and more to go with your cocktails. 531 Commercial St. at Sansome.
the sugar mama
San Francisco Restaurant Week Returns April 14th—Enter to Win TWO Gift Certificates to Dine in Style!
Attention all food lovers! Get ready for San Francisco’s most exciting culinary event in the spring: San Francisco Restaurant Week (April 14th–23rd, 2023)!
Celebrate the flavors of the City and enter to win TWO gift certificates at participating San Francisco Restaurant Week restaurants: $100 for dinner or brunch at China Live AND $100 to Cassava!
Delectable weekend brunch? Indulgent five-star dinner? SF Restaurant Week brings you lunch and dinner options from over 150 restaurants, including Delfina, ROOH, Merkado, Señor Sisig, The Vault Steakhouse, Villon, and more!
Restaurants will offer special prix-fixe menus at one or more of the following price points:
- brunch or lunch (2+ items or courses): $10, $15, $25, $30
- dinner (3+ items or courses): $30, $45, $65, $75
Visit sfrestaurantweek.com to see all participating restaurants and to make reservations.
To enter to win the giveaway, visit this @tablehopper post on Instagram! Good luck!
Check Out the "Hopper Chopper,” My Favorite Knife from New West KnifeWorks
Last year, I received some really unexpected and great mail: the kind folks at New West KnifeWorks (they have a shop in St. Helena) sent me a gorgeous, seven-inch Teton Edge santoku, and they even engraved “tablehopper” on the blade! Awwww! Behold: the hopper chopper!
This santoku quickly became a fave over here at Hopper HQ, and it wasn’t just because I love the colorful peacock handle (which always makes me happy). This thing kicks ass! It’s super-sharp—it slices through tomatoes without hesitation. (You’ll notice the “Teton Edge” on the blade, which keeps it from sticking to food as it slices—it’s also how founder Corey Mulligan pays homage to Jackson Hole, the company’s home.) One year later, and it’s still sharp AF. (It’s made with high-carbon, alloyed steel, and made in the USA.)
The knife is well-balanced, and I like the longer blade for chopping up leafy or cumbersome vegetables with ease. My pizza slicer recently bit the dust, and this knife had my Prince Street spicy pepperoni pizza handled, no problem.
Right now, their annual spring sale is happening through April 16th, with up to 30 percent off. Check out their selection of well-made knives, which come with free sharpening and a lifetime guarantee (and you can return them within 30 days, but I don’t imagine you’ll need to do that). Show me what you’ve got cooking if you get one! Chop to it!
The world-famous Finocchio’s Club was a North Beach nightclub known for its cabaret-style entertainment with “female impersonators” (this was way before “drag” became a known term). The club first started as a gay speakeasy (the 201 Club at 406 Stockton Street) in 1929, later opening as Finocchio’s Club at 506 Broadway in 1936. It stayed open until 1999, for 63 years (oh, the stories)! There is some incredible history to learn about this groundbreaking club that paved the way for drag shows and queer visibility and community and so much more—watch this segment from ABC7 from last year, with more in this Hoodline piece. You can also read some past articles and see pics on the Finocchio’s Facebook page. When do we get a documentary? Seriously.