February 2019 Issue


District Supervisor discusses 2019 goals



Rafael Mandelman Photo: Anthony O’Donnell



Rafael Mandelman’s first eight months as San Francisco’s District 8 Supervisor have been fruitful, and he looks forward to accomplishing even more during his first full term.


Elected in June 2018, Mandelman’s long history in San Francisco and his comittments to affordable housing and public transportation align with the interests of many District 8 voters.


Mandelman said those same concerns will continue to guide his office over the next four years, along with his other main focus, homelessness.


The supervisor’s personal history with the issue affects him, as his mother became homeless when he was only eleven years old.


“It’s important never to lose sight of the humanity of homeless people. Any of these folks could be you or me or someone we know very very well,” he said during a recent interview at his apartment.


Mandelman volunteers regularly at St. Francis Lutheran Church’s Sunday Morning Hospitality Hour, or as he put it, “I’m Jewish, but once a month I go to church.”



“I’m hoping that I’ll be able to continue representing folks for a long long time — and make ‘em proud.”



St. Francis Pastor Bea Chun, reached by telephone, said the supervisor’s usual position as a greeter is a crucial one at the breakfast at which all are welcome.


“We serve people restaurant style, so we can’t seat all our guests at once, like at a restaurant. Most guests are happy to wait, but some people can get a little anxious, so it’s helpful to have a friendly person at the door,” she said.


“He’s been doing that for eight or 10 years. People miss him if he’s not there.”


The supervisor is also the sponsor of an upcoming measure for local implementation of the controversial SB 1045, which expands the ability of municipalities to gain legal guardianship over individuals with severe mental health and addiction problems.


“It is a modest expansion in our ability to conserve some of these folks ... a very narrowly tailored bill that is applying to a really tiny fraction of the folks you see on the street,” Mandelman said.


Mayor London Breed, the supervisor pointed out, is in agreement with the Board of Supervisors about the pervasive crisis of homelessness.


“I think she knows we’re going to be judged by our constituents and by history based on our ability to craft an effective and compassionate response,” he said.


A large part of that response, he added, will be spending the lion’s share if not all of the city’s unexpected $180 million “windfall” on creating affordable housing.


“Building, buying and leasing,” Mandelman said, are the concrete steps to take, giving examples such as the two recent LGBT-friendly senior affordable housing developments at 55 and 95 Laguna Street, built by non-profit organizations.


Buying, according to the supervisor, might happen through the city’s Small Sites Acquisition Program, although he emphasized he’d like to see the program scaled up.


“There are a lot of large apartment buildings in my district where there’s some risk [of eviction] and I’d like to see them permanently protected and under nonprofit ownership.”


Leasing could mean continuing the city’s policy of “master-leasing” SRO properties and making them available at affordable levels.


“But all of them cost money,” he said.


Public transportation affects a large number of District 8 residents, as Mandelman is well aware.


“Muni is driving my constituents nuts,” he said, “particularly train service. It’s part of the daily frustration of living in San Francisco: Spending way too much time underground to get moved a relatively short distance.”


He’d like to see the entire fleet of light rail vehicles replaced as soon as possible.


Mandelman’s legislative aide Tom Temprano adds reducing general traffic congestion in the city as one of the office’s goals.


“We want to make it easier to get around San Francisco,” he said in a recent phone interview.


Another major issue in District 8 is retail vacancies, a problem plaguing most of San Francisco, for which Mayor Breed and District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown have introduced citywide legislation. Mandelman has ideas of his own.


“We’re going to be introducing legislation to change some of the zoning in Upper Market to make it a little bit easier to open up, for example, restaurants and other uses that might liven up the area -- and wouldn’t probably be opposed by neighbors.”


In addition, he co-sponsored District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer’s December 2018 Vacant or Abandoned Commercial Storefronts ordinance strengthening the enforcement of the vacancy fee system of the Building Code which he says is not being collected efficiently.


Mandelman is proud, he said, that his office has created a streamlined constituent response system, to build on the highly responsive supervisors District 8 has elected in the past. It seems to be working.


Longtime District 8 resident and parent of two Tara Kini described Mandelman as “Very responsive to his constituents. I really appreciate it, because I think that’s the first order of business for a local district supervisor— these and other concerns, he said.




 Also in the February 2019 Issue


Discover these delicious destinations in Castro

Swirl on Castro owner Casey Bowers (Image used by permission)


Looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day date night? Or perhaps you want to enjoy a sit-down meal with friends before a night of dancing? Casto offers a flavor for every fancy.


Whether you’re visiting the area for the first time, a recent transplant, or a long-time resident, we’ve rounded up a few must-visit places to check out this month.


Sophisticated sipping


Swirl on Castro (572 Castro St.) is perfect for saddling up to the quaint bar for a glass of crisp bubbly or robust red. Want to impress someone special with a gift? The knowledgeable staff will guide you through their vast assortment of international wines and spirits. (swirloncastro.com)


Flavors of Spain


If a night in Barcelona is out of the question, the charming Spanish tapas restaurant Canela Bistro & Wine Bar (2272 Market St.) is equally satisfying. Order the cocido of chickpeas, chorizo, fish fume and bacalao a la romana with a glass of godello. (canelasf.com)


Intimately Italian


Dining at Poesia (4072 18th St.) is like stumbling upon a restaurant within an Italian piazza: warm, familial, and delicious. Paired with a glass of Nerello Mascalese from Sicily, the purple cauliflowers in butter and sage are worth writing home about. (poesiasf.com)


Sweets for a sweety


Satisfy your sweet tooth at Finn Town (2251 Market St.). The Blum’s coffee crunch cake parfait paired with Da Mayor cocktail — Vodka, Kahlua and vanilla, paired with wine — is the perfect sugar rush to kick off a night of disco dancing. (finntownsf.com)


Thanks to Canela Bistro & Wine Bar chef and owner Mat Schuster, who is also a Castro resident, for these suggestions.



Also in the February 2019 Issue

Heartwarming musical Violet addresses self acceptance


Violet cast: Jon-David Randle, Juliana Lustenader and Jack O’Reilly. Photos: Ben Krantz Studio




Bay Area Musicals, now in its fourth season, is thrilled to present their production of Violet, the heartwarming musical tale of self discovery and self acceptance that received nothing but the highest acclaim for its earlier incarnations, both on and off Broadway. BAM, whose Founder and Artistic Director, Matthew McCoy, had been interviewed by Castro Courier in its early stages, has quickly grown to be recognized as one of the Bay Area’s foremost purveyors of rewarding musical theater. The production opens on February 16th to the general public, and runs through March 17th, at Alcazar Theater (650 Geary Street, San Francisco). 


Wendy: The last time we talked was just before the opening of La Cage Aux Folles, at the very beginning of Bay Area Musicals’ history.


Matthew: That was the closing show of our very first season.


Wendy: Now you’re four seasons on, and are presenting Violet. It sounds like such an uplifting production, which follows Violet, from her initial place of adversity, where she has some physical scars that she seeks to remove, through to her discovery of the much deeper meaning of who she really is.



“I believe everyone should have the opportunity and the experience of going to see a musical. There can be a point in your life when you see a certain show and it can make an extraordinary impact on your life.”




Matthew: It’s a really beautiful and touching story, and the score is phenomenal. Jeanine Tesori is the composer, who did Fun Home, [Thoroughly Modern] Millie, and a bunch of other stuff. The score is also so eclectic, because it goes on her journey when she’s on this bus, as she goes to different states. The music follows that as well, with this huge array of blues, folk, and gospel. Then, to have this love story between her and an African-American soldier in 1964 - spoiler alert - they end up being together at the end of the show, which is lovely to see.


Wendy: And the soldier is played by Jon-David Randle?


Matthew: That is correct, yes.


Wendy: Let’s talk about the team you have working on Violet. You’re doing the choreography, and are the set designer for the show. You’re also Founder and Artistic Director of BAM, but you take on different roles for each production.


Matthew: Yes. We have, now, a lot of resident designers. Brooke Jennings does all of our costumes for every show; Eric Johnson does lighting for every show. I have a production manager, Cat Knight; I have a full-time technical director, Stewart Lyle, who builds all our sets, and then Clay David does all of our props; he’s extraordinary, and also is an actor. He was in La Cage; he was in our Hunchback last summer, and now he’s in Violet. Jon Gallo is my right hand man. I owe that man a lot. He’s our resident music director; he has music directed every single show since the beginning, except for one. He also sits on the board and brings in major sponsors for us, so he’s a huge asset to BAM and is one of my best friends. So, we have a really great team now, which is good because it helps with that foundation, having people that know what to do, and they’re fantastic at their jobs, [and it’s] definitely less stress on me. With Violet, I decided to do the set design, and I’m working with Dyan McBride, who’s the director, who’s fantastic. She’s been in the Bay Area for many years, and has directed at 42nd Street Moon, and Lucky Penny Productions. She’s an actress as well and has performed at Woodminster, and [with many other repertory theater companies]. This is my first time working with her as a director, and she’s just a joy in the room, and the cast loves her. She’s putting together a really beautiful story.


Violet, the heartwarming musical tale of self discovery and self acceptance, opens February 16.


Wendy: That you have built the scenic backdrop for.


Matthew: The set that I designed for this show is using a turntable, so we have this constant idea of movement throughout the show. They’re on a bus constantly, and the idea of being on a bus, and travel, and movement, was on my mind when I was thinking up the set design. It’s working out to be really, really good.


Wendy: Of course you’re a musical theater company, but there is also a radio show featured within Violet, so that seems especially fitting.


Matthew: Yeah! They’re in a motel at one point, and she falls asleep listening to the radio, and the radio comes to life in the story. On the set we have these panels, that are old wooden panels, that you can actually see through. A lot of the play also deals with memory, so we have these flashbacks to her as a child with her father, what that relationship was like. Part of the [theme] is also forgiveness, and what it is like to forgive her father for what he did to her, even though it was an accident. So, you see these images and these flashbacks in the background, through these slats in the walls.


Wendy: You had spoken of your team, who have joined you through the seasons, but some of the cast are also returning, like Jack O’Reilly.


Matthew: Yeah, he was in La Cage, and Hunchback as well, and now he’s back with us for Violet. We have Andrea Dennison-Laufer, who is now doing her second show with us; she did Seussical two summers ago, and now doing Violet, so we’re happy to have her back. Clay David is with us, whom I mentioned. Everyone else is actually new to us. We don’t precast or hand out roles; we have auditions and callbacks for every single show, but it’s always great to have people return to us. It’s also a good sign and good news that people want to keep coming back to work with us. Since last time we spoke, the word of mouth and the reputation has definitely grown within the acting community, so we have a lot of interest and a lot of buzz, and actors that are coming out to our auditions in pretty heavy numbers.


Wendy: Violet garnered a Tony nomination for its ٢٠١٤ Broadway run, and won multiple awards for it’s first appearance Off-Broadway in 1997.


Matthew: The version that we’re licensing is the Broadway version. I know that the authors made quite a huge change, going from the Off-Broadway version to Broadway, when they revisited the piece, and made some different changes. It went from two acts to one act, so it’s only one act that’s an hour and forty minutes; there’s no intermission. They did some lyric changes as well.


Wendy: BAM as a company tends to change things up a bit too. Will you be making any changes to the Broadway version?


Matthew: As far as the script and the music go, we don’t touch anything, because that is illegal. Our version, as far as choreography, and staging, and set design, and costume design, and the design elements - all of that is original to us. The Broadway version did not have a turntable; all of Dyan’s staging is different, like in our version, when they’re on the bus, they’re gonna be using their suitcases to sit on as the seats, and for the Broadway version they had chairs. We’re definitely doing our own take on the piece.


Wendy: It’s great that Bay Area Musicals makes your productions so accessible to such a wide audience too, financially speaking.


Matthew: Our goal is to do a high production value, but at a low cost to the consumer. You can pick your seats for 35 dollars; there’s 20 dollar rush tickets at every single performance, and then we also have two nights where you “pay what you can,” so if someone walks up and they only have five dollars, then we’ll give them a ticket for five dollars. We don’t turn anyone away for lack of funds.


Wendy: That is really lovely of you. There are so many people for whom that’s a big consideration obviously, who might otherwise not have the opportunity to experience theater. Plays can be so costly.


Matthew: Right. SHN handles Hamilton for instance. Hamilton is fantastic, and if you can afford the ticket, it’s worth every penny, absolutely, but there’s so much hype around it, and so much expectation. People are just spending so much money on it, and not everyone has those funds, but I believe everyone should have the opportunity and have the experience of going to see a musical. There can be a point in your life when you see a certain show and it can make an extraordinary impact on your life, and the way that you see the world. It can make a difference in the way you think on a daily basis, and to have money be the reason that they can’t go through that experience is just a horrible thing, so every show that we do, we have the two pay what you can nights. You can show up with however much money that you’re able to give; we give you a great seat, and you get to still see the show. That’s always been part of our mission from the beginning and I’m happy that we continue to do it, and have not strayed away from that as we’ve gotten bigger.



Also in the February 2019 Issue


After 41 years, legendary Aardvark Books shuttered and their neighbor, Il Casaro pizzeria, is expected to open soon. Photo: Tony Taylor

Castro’s commercial real estate shuffle continues



The Castro’s commercial real estate shuffle continues as new restaurants and fitness centers arrive, legacy businesses are nominated, and a legendary business shutters.


Construction near the southwest corner of Church and Market streets is expected to begin soon for Gramercy Park Brasserie & Wine Bar (216 Church Street) — the former home of Crepevine for 18 years — that will open in April. The 1,900 square foot eatery will also occupy neighboring address 212 Church Street, formerly Church Street Flowers, to operate a takeaway business, Gramercy Park To-Go, Hoodline reported.



“We are working with Supervisor Mandelman to try to address issues that often present multiple headaches for new businesses.”




Gramercy owner Mark White told the outlet he’s leased both spaces for a decade with the option for an additional five years.


According to a representative of Veritas Investments, a San Francisco real estate firm with multiple Castro properties including the aforementioned Gramercy Park, Il Casaro pizzeria (235 Church Street) will begin serving pies as soon as February. Il Casaro’s North Beach location opened in 2014.


Though tight-lipped about details, a source confirmed via email that new owners just acquired 242 Church Street, formerly 24-hour diner Sparky’s, which closed in 2016.


“The impending openings of Gramercy and Il Casaro,” said Justine Shoemaker of Veritas Investments in a statement to the Bay Area Reporter, “are the latest validation of Veritas’ work with our brokers, retailers, Supervisor [Rafael] Mandelman, the merchants group, and neighbors to reinvigorate commercial activity in the neighborhood despite the challenges of soft-story improvements, PG&E coordination, city approvals, and in finding strong retailers who make a great fit for the community.


“We know it’s an ongoing, combined effort and appreciate the cooperative approach of those seeking a thriving, energized Castro and Upper Market,” Shoemaker added.


As the B.A.R. noted in a recent article, there are two new tenants on the ground floor of Maitri Compassionate Care AIDS hospice at Church and Duboce streets. The Veritas-managed retail space formerly housed Out of the Closet thrift store. The Castro Animal Hospital (100 Church Street) opened January 7 and CorePower Yoga opened January 31.


Another fitness center will have locals breaking a sweat soon. Barry’s Bootcamp opens at 2280 Market Street in late February, Barry’s managing partner Adam Shane confirmed.


With over 50 gyms worldwide, the popular fitness studio acquired a conditional use permit last year allowing the formula retailer to reconstruct the former CVS pharmacy location.


Of the new location, Shane said, “Barry’s Castro will not only be one of the company’s largest studios in the world, but it will be one of our coolest spaces yet, with sleek and edgy design including contemporary furniture, stylish lighting, and more, resulting in a stunning social space where the whole community can hang out before and after their workouts.”


On January 30, the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District took over the former location of Snowbright Launderette (693 14th Street at Market), which served the Castro for nearly 55 years before closing in January 2018.


CBD Executive Director Andrea Aiello told the B.A.R., “We are working with Supervisor Mandelman to try to address issues that often present multiple headaches for new businesses, particularly around rethinking some of the zoning controls on upper Market Street.”


Despite new additions to Castro’s business corridors, the closure of legendary retailer Aardvark Books is a loss for the community. After 41 years, the 3,125 square foot building — which sold last year for $2.43 million — turned its final page in January.


Within a business corridor that’s equal parts active and abandoned, Mandelman, who represents District 8 on the board, is taking action to revitalize Castro’s commercial real estate climate.


“Even prior to my election last June, I had heard from many neighbors concerned with the increasing number of vacant storefronts in Upper Market,” Mandelman said. “Addressing these retail vacancies has been a major priority for my office and we have been working for the last several months with neighbors, businesses, and other stakeholders to develop zoning changes that will make it easier for restaurants, arts organizations and nonprofits to come into the neighborhood.”


Mandelman confirmed that in addition to co-sponsoring District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer’s legislation that closes a loophole property owners use to avoid paying vacancy fees, he’s also working to secure long-standing neighborhood businesses.


Recently, Mandelman’s office nominated floral arrangement boutique Ixia (2331 Market Street) and For Your Eyes Only Optometry (552 Castro Street) to the city’s Legacy Business registry, giving them access to city resources that will help them stay in their locations. Both businesses have operated in the neighborhood for nearly three decades.


“It feels wonderful to be part of this community,” said Ixia owner Cheri Mims. “I first came to San Francisco in 1995, then moved to Castro in 2006. It’s an honor to be part of the community and continue to sustain what has been built.”


This story was originally published in Bay Area Reporter.

© Castro Courier 2019 No part of this website or artwork portrayed may be redistributed or republished without the express permission of the Castro Courier. Opinions expressed are strictly those of the writers and do not reflect the opinions of the publisher or staff.

Violet cast: Jon-David Randle, Juliana Lustenader and Jack O’Reilly. Photos: Ben Krantz Studio

and it can make an extraordinary impact on your life, and the way that you see the world. It can make a difference in the way you think on a daily basis, and to have money be the reason that they can’t go through that experience is just a horrible thing, so every show that we do, we have the two pay what you can nights. You can show up with however much money that you’re able to give; we give you a great seat, and you get to still see the show. That’s always been part of our mission from the beginning and I’m happy that we continue to do it, and have not strayed away from that as we’ve gotten bigger.