In San Francisco when the play’s the thing, think:
LOCATION! LOCATION! LOCATION!
By Antoinette May
When I ran into an old friend that I hadn’t seen in years, five minutes before show time, I expected to miss the first act. Not so. Jane and I chanced to meet in the foyer of the Cortez Restaurant just as our parties were leaving. Ten years is a long time; there were husbands to introduce, pictures to show. She and her guy were headed for an A.C.T. production at the old Geary.
My husband and I had tickets for Jersey Boys at the Curran. Our foursome enjoyed more than handshakes and hugs and still managed to be in our seats by curtain time.
Our saving grace was the Cortez’s location—550 Geary—across the street from both theaters. It’s was an excellent dinner too, served by a staff dedicated to getting patrons to their theaters on time. Two weeks later my husband and I were leisurely finishing our dinner at Kuleto’s on Powell. We’d felt comfortable ordering desserts knowing that the theater was just around the corner.
That was before Charles looked up from his strawberry shortcake and asked casually, “You’ve got the tickets, don’t you?” “No!” My fork plopped into the crème brulee. “I thought you had them.” Turned out neither of us did. Our tickets were on the dresser back at the hotel. Once again location saved the day—or evening.
The Hotel Diva, is around the corner from Kuleto’s and exactly across the street from the theater. No credit to us, we had plenty of time to retrieve the tickets and amble to our seats. These true confessions can be topped.
The building where the Kensington Hotel is located at 450 Post also houses the Post Street Theater and Farallon Restaurant. You’d have to work awfully hard to miss the opening curtain there.
Though fine productions are based throughout the Bay Area, the city’s dynamic drama scene is dominated by four theaters, A.C.T., Curran, Marines Memorial, and Post Street, located within three blocks of one another. Clustered around them are a variety of hotels and restaurants within easy walking distance. The area sizzles with excitement and fun. Cheap it’s not, but just how many San Franciscos are there?
A must-see is the historic old Geary, now home to the American Conservatory Theater. The building, at 415 Geary, opened nearly one hundred years ago and remains an outstanding example of theater design, philosophy, and architecture in the early years of the 20th century.
It’s fun to imagine Sarah Bernhardt emoting there, but that’s just for starters. In 1967, A.C.T. launched its first San Francisco season at the Geary. Recognized nationally for groundbreaking productions of classical works and bold explorations of contemporary playwriting, A.C.T. has performed to a combined audience of more than seven million people and serves 3,000 students each year. Famous alums include Annette Bening, Denzel Washington, Danny Glover and Winona Ryder.
The Curran Theater three doors up is another golden oldie. When Homer Curran opened his theater on Sept. 11, 1922, the Jazz Age was in its heyday. Curran dreamed of rivaling Broadway. Hollywood moguls proved he’d more than succeeded when they chose the Curran for their New York theater scenes in the classic All About Eve.
The construction at 450 Post is another historic venue. In 1924 the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks commissioned architect, Anthony Heinsberger, creator of San Francisco’s Orpheum, to build a palace. His 15-story Spanish-Gothic design built at a cost of l.5 million contained 100 rooms (now the Kensington Park Hotel) for resident and visiting Elks. The second floor assembly hall (today the Post Street Theatre) was designed with a seating capacity of 1000, a maple stage and a pipe organ. The main floor today houses the famous Farallon Restaurant.
What’s Playing in SF ACT (American Conservatory Theater)
The Rainmaker—When a charismatic con man comes to the drought-stricken Curry farm, he promises to make it rain—for a price. An American romance classic, The Rainmaker demonstrates the way love can override cynicism against the toughest odds. Huckster Starbuck and Lizzie, the lone daughter of the family, discover the chemistry of which miracles are made.
Oct.25-Nov. 25. A Christmas Carol—the immortal story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who over the course of a long Christmas Eve is visited by four ghosts (Christmases Past, Present, and Future) who guide his transformation from cold-hearted miser into open-handed philanthropist. Dec. 5-23.
Speed the Plow—Movie producer Bobby Gould’s buddy has pitched him a crass action blockbuster, but Gould’s gorgeous new secretary is pushing for an arty conscience flick. She’s got after-hours access, so who’s the real showbiz player here? Taut plot turnarounds guaranteed. Jan. 4-Feb.3. ACT (formerly the Geary) Theater, 415 Geary; www.act.sf.org; 415 749-2250
Based on "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum, The Wiz is a
major re-envisioning for the 21st century. When The Wizard of Oz met the urban beat of
the 1970s, history was made to the tune of seven Tony Awards. Now the young Dorothy
travels to the strange and spectacular land of Oz once again in a re-imagined musical
phenomenon for a new century. New orchestrations and an environmental theatrical
approach combine to make a timeless story resonate for a contemporary audience. 445
Geary; www.shnsf.com; (415) 551-2050.
Marines Memorial Theatre
The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)—an affectionate, irreverent roller coaster ride from fig leaves to Final Judgment. Nothing’s sacred as the Reduced Shakespeare Company tackles great theological questions such as did Adam and Eve have navels and did Moses really look like Charlton Heston? A triumph of good and silly over evil.
Completely Hollywood (abridged)—the Reduced Shakespeare Company explores the wacky world of the movies—silents, talkies, indies, blockbuster noisies. Lights! Cameras! Reduction! Repertory runs Nov. 6-Jan. 6, 2008. Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter; www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com; (415)-771-2910.
Post Street Theatre
Blues in the Night focuses on the relationships between three delicious females
and one lonely guy, their interweaving stories told through the music of Benny
Goodman, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and other blues and jazz legends of the 1920s
and 30s. The Broadway production was nominated for the Tony Award for the Best
Musical. Post Street Theatre, 450 Post; www.poststreettheatre.com; (415)-771-6900.
Playhouse Theatre The Playhouse Theatre, at 553 Sutter, is a small, intimate theater dedicated to edgy, innovative “off Broadway” productions. Prices are reasonable and sometimes one comes away with the sense of seeing tomorrow’s stars today. Check the Chron’s pink section to see what’s upcoming. (415) 861-1710.
For location, it’s hard to beat the Hotel Diva, a sleek and sexy hostelry across the street from both the Curran and Geary theaters. Check out 440 Geary. (800) 553-1900. But then there’s also the lovely Kensington Park that houses its own theater, the Post Street, plus a world class restaurant. Visit 450 Post. (800) 553-1900. www.personalityhotels.com. These two charmers are only the beginning:
Adagio Hotel, 610 Geary; (888)723-0083; www.thehoteladagio.com Clean, affordable, short on frills but inexpensive enough to allow an extra theater splurge.
Clift, 495 Geary; (800) 606-6090; morganshotelgroup.com; the ultimate address. The Clift blends old San Francisco elegance with contemporary energy and glamour. It’s also home to one of SF’s best loved bars, the Redwood Room.
Hotel Adante, 550 Geary; (800) 228-8830; www.adantehotel.com. Built in 1929, the Hotel Adagio is a landmark Spanish Colonial Revival building in the heart of the theater district. Amenities include a complimentary state-of-the art fitness center.
Hotel Beresford, 635 Sutter; (800) 533-6533; www.beresford.com. Victorian elegance with a cozy, friendly feel to it. Well located and surprisingly reasonable.
Hotel Monaco, 501 Geary; (415) 292-0111; www.Monaco-sf.com. A true original. Besides complimentary morning coffee and evening wine, guests can have a tarot reading and a gold fish companion.
Hotel Union Square, 114 Powell, (800) 553-1900; www.personalityhotels, offers the authentic San Francisco experience. Guestswake up to the sounds of clanging cable cars. A boutique hotel with connections to Dashiell Hammett and colorful speakeasy days.
The Inn at Union Square, 440 Post; (800) 288-4346; www.unionsquare.com. In the upper price range, this “away from the crowd, in the center of everything” hostelry has all the amenities and then some.
The Touchstone Hotel, 480 Geary; (800) 620-5889; www.thetouchstone.com. A true hidden treasure, this little gem also houses the famous David’s Delicatessen. The tiny 44-room hostelry, family run for more than 50 years, offers a complimentary American breakfast.
Warwick, 490 Geary. (800) 203-3232; www.warwickhotels.com. Elegant hotel, well located with all the amenities.
Restaurants in the theater district fall into two categories: big, bustling “get me to the show on time” eateries and intimate, elegant dining spots better attuned to post matinee tête-à-têtes. The afore mentioned Cortez at 550 Geary is a grade-A example of the former. The classic high energy bistro offers an exciting menu and excellent service. Open nightly from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Phone: (415) 292-6360.
Kuleto’s Italian Restaurant, a boisterous hotspot where both visitors and locals squeeze in to be part of the scene. 221 Powell; daily 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Phone: (425) 397-7220.
Moreton’s Steakhouse--high backed leather booths, dark paneled woods, and subdued lighting make for a warm, clubby atmosphere. Steaks are prime, the wine list varied and distinctive. 400 Post. Open nightly from 5:30 to 11. Phone (415) 986-5830.
John’s Grill is a quick stop with atmosphere. Framed sketches and sepia photographs of celebrities hark back to the restaurant’s opening in 1908. John’s is best known for its connection to Dashiell Hammett. (Sam Spade ate there in The Maltese Falcon.) 63 Ellis. Dinner served nightly from 5 to 10. Phone: (415) 986-3274.
Two For After The Show When one’s ripe for mega pampering or craves a super celebration, even a good theater night isn’t quite enough. That’s where a matinee kicks in to be followed by an evening of truly classic dining.
Dinner at Le Colonial is a trip to another time. Think twirling ceiling fans, lush tropical plantings and comfortable rattan furniture—the ambience of colonial Vietnam in the 1920s. Diners select from a menu showcasing Vietnamese cuisine with a touch of ooh-la-la France. Located at 20 Cosmo Place off Taylor between Post and Sutter. Open Sunday through Wednesday, 5:30 to 10; Thursday through Saturday 5:30 to 11. The jungle lounge opens nightly at 4:30. Phone: (415) 931-3600.
Dinner at Farallon is a trip to another world. Suspend belief. Step into a bar where kelp-twined pillars glow from within and luminous trailing tentacles drift from above. Ascend a staircase embedded with thousands of indigo marbles. See nautilus lamps, giant sea urchin shell chandeliers and a kitchen range covered with fish scales. All of these details set the scene for the “coastal cuisine,” an opulent array of fish from fresh and salt waters around the world. 450 Post; open Sunday from 5 to 11, Monday through Thursday from 5:30 to 10 and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to 11. Phone: (415) 956-6969.
Four More Fun Things To Do Have breakfast at the “longest running show on theater row” David’s Delicatessen (Scrambled eggs with lox? Blintzes?) 474 Geary, open from 7 a.m. to midnight daily. Phone: (415) 276-5950.
Enjoy a pastrami sandwich at Lefty O’Douls, the ultimate sports bar. 333 Geary. Open 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Phone (415) 982.8900.
“Do lunch” at Café Claude a cozy, lively neighborhood meeting place tucked between skyscrapers. Gallic waiters, Paris café type food. Fun! 7 Claude Lane. (Between Kearny and Grant at Bush.) Monday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30.
Enjoy “Unwind Hour” at the Westin St. Francis, a pairing of premier wines with fine hors d’oeuvres. Wines (and a wine expert) are provided by Icon Estates, 11 wineries representing the finest of California and around the world. From 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday in the tower lobby. The historic St. Francis is located on Union Square at Geary. Phone (415) 397-7000.