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Friday Feast: San Francisco Dinner Party

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Those of you who have reading my scrawlings since the days of the Examiner column will know this game by now. We have done this before, and it seems about time to send the hamster around the wheel, if for no other reason than I love reading all the responses about what I forgot to put on the list.

For those irregulars who are more recent, the game is this: A friend comes to San Francisco. You have one day to show them around town, and by that I mean our town, not the one the double-decker busses puttering around Union Square show to people. The real, crazy, weird, unreasonable, joyous places that make us all wake up in the morning and think, "Yes! Another day in San Francisco."

Well, that was the game. I am now altering the game, and you can all blame Strange de Jim for this. Strange and I go back a ways, back to the beginning when he first sent an item to my father. He also was one of the people who spoke at my father's memorial service, and I was holding it together pretty well until he pulled the pillowcase off his head, at which point the tears poured out and I couldn't stop.

Humph. I may have lost some of you there with the reference to the pillowcase. See, Strange felt that his relationship with my dad would work better if he didn't know who Strange was. So whenever he was out in public, Strange wore a pillowcase over his head. I can honestly say I never saw him without it until that memorial service. He finished his wonderful speech about my dad there in Grace Cathedral with the line "...and now he is gone, and I am no longer Strange de Jim... I am just Strange." And with that he pulled the pillowcase off in front of 4,000 people in a church.

Yep, that's San Francisco for you, because it all made perfect sense, and Strange and I have remained friends ever since. Which brings us back to the game (Yes, I am finally getting to the point... don't rush me). This week Strange's 70th birthday was responsible for the joyful mob at Café Flore on Monday. And as I was leaving, I thought "I should really see more of Strange." And then the new game hit me.

San Francisco Dinner Party. Your friend is now visiting San Francisco for one night, so you have a dinner party. Who do you invite? And just to be fun and ridiculous it's anyone dead or alive. Just to get people properly irritated with me, here's my first shot at the list.

The aforementioned Strange of course. And since we are in the land of the living and literary, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, representing everything beatnik and bohemian and encapsulating a lot of what people think of when they hear the word "San Francisco."

Newspapermen. I know, hard to believe when the Washington Monthly said this week that, "The local newspapers in San Francisco are a particularly listless bunch." But this used to be a roaring four paper town, where fights would break out over scoops. And the columnists ran the show back in the day, to the point where a particular pack at the Chronicle were known as the "Four Horsemen". Hoppe, Caen, McCabe, and Delaplane. That's a pretty good anchor for any table.

Restaurateurs, without which the former group would go starving. Plus if the dinner is going poorly they can quickly nip into the kitchen and get things back on track. Starting with Vic Bergeron, the infamous "Trader Vic." Any San Francisco dinner has to start with a pu-pu platter, which to this day my inner 7-year-old still finds wildly amusing. Today people just know the restaurant in Emeryville, but the original in San Francisco still remains as one of the great memories growing up in this town.

Taking a quick jog back into North Beach to grab Enrico Banducci, who was the rascally saloon owner who was responsible for many establishments that made North Beach, including the original landmark Hungry i. No, not the current flesh emporium that has the name. The comedy shop that launched a couple people you may have heard of. People like Bill Cosby, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Jonathan Winters... people like that. Oh, and a personal favorite, a quiet piano player with an evil sense of humor named Tom Lehrer. In my imaginary dinner party, Bergeron and Banducci are making our drinks, as Lehrer plays "The Vatican Rag."

And of course politicians. We have to invite some of them, and at the top of the list is "Sunny" Jim Rolph, who really is the model for many of the power brokers today. Rolph was stylish, ruthless, powerful, moving seamlessly between business, the voters, and the church during his unmatched 19 years at the helm of our town. The Roman Catholic church especially, since he was one of the first politicians to understand the concept of demographics, and he picked up the power of the church with the exploding immigrant population of Irish and Italians before anyone else did. A little bit of trivia to see if you earn a seat at the table: The official name of the Bay Bridge is... The James "Sunny Jim" Rolph bridge.

Well, then we invite the person who brings all the above together in one package: Ed Moose. Consigliere for local politicians, provider of liquid sustenance for countless journalists, model for people striving to make it in the restaurant world... if San Francisco had one person who embodied all of it, it's Moose. Last week Melissa and I went to dinner at Park Tavern, where Moose's used to be. The food was wonderful, the service impeccable, the crowd rowdy and stylish, including Willie Brown in a corner holding court. And all I could think of was Moose. Maybe that was where the game came into my head, thinking of all the great characters who make this town what it is, from Sunny to Moose to Strange. Making us all wake up each morning and say, "Yes! Another day in San Francisco."