G. Martinez-Cabrera

Back to school


› culture@sfbg.com

Let’s face it: 2008 was not great. Two wars, lots of political BS, and an economy that’s seen better days. But if our president-elect is to be believed, things are about to change. Why not bring some of that change to your personal life by learning a new skill? Here are some of my favorite offerings in our fair city by the Bay.


Perhaps you love those old Robin Hood movies or actually know the names of all three Musketeers. Or maybe you just think it’d be fun to hit someone with a steel stick. Whatever your attraction to fencing, Golden Gate Fencing Center is the place for you.

On the day I visited, a number of young fencers were working out. Some were junior national champions; some were just out to have fun. And that is the vibe that permeates the place, which has been serving fencers of all ages and levels since 1997. Although the sport is physical, coach Paul Soter says strategy is equally important. In fact, some fencers have been known to compete and train well into their 70s.

As for gear, the expense is minimal. Aside from the cost of the class, the only thing you have to buy is a glove that will run you about $20. Golden Gate will provide the rest.

Golden Gate Fencing Center, 2417 Harrison, SF. (415) 626-7910, www.gofencing.com


More of an artist than an athlete? Get yourself down to Public Glass in the Bayview. Founded 12 years ago as "the Disneyland of glassblowing," this organization is the only one in the city that teaches novice glassblowers. The space is ample, as is the curriculum. But classes are small, with a ratio of three students to one carefully screened instructor.

The experience of making glass is magical, and almost spooky. The heat coming off the glory holes — the giant furnaces that heat glass into liquid — reminds you that the beautiful orange glow is powerfully dangerous. But it might be the danger that keeps people coming to Public Glass. "It’s a primordial rush," says Manigeh Bridget Khalaji, the operational manager.

But another part of glassblowing’s appeal seems to be that it requires teamwork. Though glass in liquid form shifts shape easily, it only stays malleable for a few moments. Thus, it takes more than one set of hands to perform all the tasks necessary to shape a glass piece.

When I was there, I saw two men working in tandem — almost as if they were one person with four hands — sculpting, cutting, blow-torching the glass before it hardened. One of the artists called the process "controlled chaos," and he wasn’t exaggerating.

Glassblowing isn’t cheap, and learning the skills necessary to make a decent piece requires a real time commitment. The staff recommends four four-week classes to get you up and running, and the classes are a little on the expensive side. But if you can get the money together, and if you want to experience something truly unique, creating glass objects fits the bill — and then some.

Public Glass, 1750 Armstrong, SF. (415) 671-4916, www.publicglass.org


Take a trip to Buenos Aires — via Potrero Hill — on the first three Fridays of each month, when Gary Weinberg and his partner teach two walk-in tango classes — one for beginners and the other for more advanced dancers. Afterward, he hosts a milonga (or dance social) where you can practice what you learned. And you get all of that for $15.

The Monte Cristo is just one of many places in the city where you can learn tango, but there are few places as friendly to newbies. During the week, it’s a social club for Italian Americans, and it’s been around for more than 100 years. As you might imagine, the vibe there is old-school, with an emphasis on old. There’s a lot of fake wood panels, black-and-white photos on the wall, and plastic tablecloths like you see in North Beach’s older, "locals only" cafés. That said, tango at the Monte Cristo attracts dancers of all ages.

Unlike other styles of dance, there is no basic step to the tango; you just walk. So beginners can get a real taste for what the dance is like after one lesson. Still, tango ain’t easy. If you’re leading, this means walking without stepping on your partner’s toes; if you’re the follower, then you’re walking backward, often in heels. From there, things get increasingly complicated. Think mobile, upright Twister and you start to get a feel for how difficult the dance becomes.

Maybe because of its complexity, tango lends itself to overachiever types. Gary is a retired English professor, and many of the people I met at his class were engineers, doctors, and teachers. That said, tango is not only an intellectual exercise. If you like a physical challenge, and if you like to surround yourself with interesting, passionate people, you won’t go wrong spending a Friday night at the Monte Cristo.

Monte Cristo Club, 136 Missouri, SF. www.sanfrantango.com


One of the things people tend to lose as they get older is the ability to play. So imagine a place for adults where the whole point is to rediscover that part of you that’s been buried under all the worries you carry around. That place exists right here in San Francisco, at the Clown Conservatory.

When you enter the building, which was once a boy’s gymnasium for a now-defunct high school, you forget the world outside. It’s a bit like Willy Wonka’s factory, without the calories. There are rainbow-colored lockers and some of the students do wear clownlike clothing. Most notable, though, is that everyone brings a real earnestness to what they do.

The biggest surprise to me was this: clowning is not only fun, but an art. Jeff Raz, the Clown Conservatory’s founder and a professional clown, has developed a curriculum that trains every level of performer, from the recreational trapeze student to people who want to go on to careers in Cirque du Soleil.

But it’s the students who work tirelessly at their craft that make the space come alive. The cost is a few hundred bucks for a 12-week class, but learning to be a clown might just be the thing to make your 2009 a year of wonder. *

The Clown Conservatory, Circus Center, 755 Frederick, SF. (415) 759-8123, www.circuscenter.org

Feast: 6 Seoul foods


Even among foodies, Korean cuisine does not get its due — and that’s even more the case in San Francisco. As I searched for ways to get my kimchi on, I can’t tell you how many people told me to look elsewhere. Some even said I had to go all the way down to Los Angeles if I wanted the good stuff. Well, naysayers, behold: these six eateries will help you put a little Seoul in your disbelieving bellies.


The Richmond is like the mecca of Korean food in this city, and Brothers is one of its better known eateries. Unlike some of the other Korean restaurants in SF, Brothers offers a no-frills environment. It’s a bit like a diner seen through a Korean lens. Though the kalbi (barbecue short ribs) is quite popular, I would recommend the fried beef dumplings. If you dip them into the accompanying sauce (a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, and scallions), you won’t go wrong.

4128 Geary, SF. (415) 387-7991


Not far from Brothers geographically, Namu is on the other side of the universe in terms of vibe. Its minimalist decor and predilection for playing Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass provides a little bit of hipness — and dare I say, sexiness — to an otherwise sleepy and seemingly sexless block on Balboa. Namu is billed as an Asian fusion place, but don’t let that stop you. The bibimbap (a Korean stew made of veggies, rice, and egg served in a clay pot) is tasty and the ingredients are wonderfully fresh. (Local and organically grown veggies are used when possible.) And if that didn’t sell you, try one of the desserts — the bean paste/chocolate cupcake gives new meaning to the word goodness.

439 Balboa, SF. (415) 386-8332


If you want a more traditional Korean eating experience, complete with a variety of delicious banchan (the side dishes that traditionally accompany every Korean meal), then Korea House is a good place to start. Located in the heart of Japantown — for some reason, a number of nicer Korean restaurants are located there — Korea House has an old-school formality to it. It’s the type of place where plush carpets encourage hushed voices, which is too bad because the bulgogi (barbecue beef) is so good that it’ll make you want to holler. Please don’t.

1640 Post, SF. (415) 563-1388


Until about three years ago, if you were slogging away in the Financial District, you were out of luck when it came to Korean food. But then John came to the rescue. For less than ten bucks, he and his mom — who works right next to him at the counter — provide you Starbucks-loving folk with some pretty fine Korean fare. The menu is limited, but each dish comes with rice, a salad topped with a snappy ginger dressing, and a side of kimchi. And for those of you who just want to snack, there’s kimbap (Korean-style vegetarian sushi roll) for around $3. You go, John!

40 Battery, SF. (415) 434-4634


OK, so you’re thinking, yeah, Korean sounds good, but I want a hangout, too. Well, brothers and sisters, I hear you — and the answer is Cocobang. With Korean music videos projected on the back wall, Cocobang is a great place to get both your Korean food and liquor needs satisfied. There are two-liter bottles of Korean beer at the ready, and soju (think vodka) chasers to be had. And because the official closing time is 2 a.m., it’s a good place to end your night. As for the food, the fire chicken came highly recommended, but being more a lover of the cow, I opted for kalbi, which had a marinade nothing short of awesome — it was like Memphis meets Seoul, it was as though … I’ll just say it: the guys at Cocobang are truly bringing the world closer together, one barbecue at a time.

550 Taylor, SF. (415) 292-5144


Last, and certainly not least, there’s Seoul on Wheels. True to its name, this food truck combines two of my favorite things: the streets and the meats. Julia Yoon (the owner and mastermind) doesn’t stay in any one place too long, but you can find her route on her Web site. Once you do find her, though, you won’t be disappointed. For six bucks — by far the cheapest Korean on my list — you get a meat dish with rice and japchae (a vegetable and noodle dish). You can opt for the kimchi fried rice, one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. The food is made fresh to order — when not driving, Julia and her assistant are cooking up the goods, which makes Seoul on Wheels truly a movable feast worth finding.

Locations vary throughout SF. www.seoulonwheels.com

>>More Feast: The Guardian Guide to Bay Area Dining and Drinking

Bend Sinister


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With Litquake fast approaching and his new book hitting the shelves, the time is right to check in with San Francisco writer, comedian, and reluctant self-help guru, Bucky Sinister. Yes, you heard that right: self-help guru. Move over Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew and every other faux-folksy TV platitude-puss. Mr. Sinister has the kind of wisdom — and writing skills — that can only come from experience. Below, he talks about creativity, redemption, and Get Up: A 12-Step Guide for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos (Conari Press, 176 pages, $14.95).

SFBG How did you come to write a 12-step book?

BUCKY SINISTER I’ve been sober for six years, and I was doing shows about my experiences. One of the editors at Conari Press saw me and asked if I wanted to write a book.

SFBG How is Get Up different from other 12-step books?

BS When I was an addict, there were two things that kept me out of programs. One, I thought, "If I get sober, I won’t be able to write anymore." And two, I thought, "If I join, they’re going to try and make me believe in God." But I found out those things weren’t true. That’s what this book is about. You don’t have to believe in God and you don’t have to stop being creative to get sober.

SFBG As an atheist, how do you get around the higher power question?

BS My main thing is something I call the Ideal Image. A lot of the things we admire in people we don’t have in ourselves. But then you tell yourself these qualities are within your power. You’re going to have to work on it. But if you keep that Ideal Image number one in your mind, it’ll guide you. The same way that religious people have God.

SFBG Not to put you on the spot, but what are some Bay Area writers you think people should go out and read?

BS David Lerner, Eli Coppola, and Jack Micheline — he’s Matt Gonzalez’s favorite poet, by the way. You should probably also include Vampyre Mike Kassel — that guy was something.

Also, there’s Michelle Tea, Beth Lisick, Daphne Gottlieb, and Alvin Orloff.

SFBG Why do you like them?

BS They’re all different, but if you put them all in an anthology, you get a pretty good idea of what it’s like to live in SF.

SFBG Some of your short stories are compressed like poetry. Where did you learn to write prose that way?

BS I learned to write from Jon Longhi, a Bay Area writer. When I was younger, I wanted to do a pop transgressive thing, like Dennis Cooper’s [short story] "Hitting Bedrock." There’s no redemption in the kind of stuff I was reading when I was learning to write fiction.

SFBG How would that tie in with what you’re doing in Get Up?

BS Being in my 20s, I was looking to shock people. Now I’ve come to be at peace with myself more and I don’t just want to freak someone out. The goal of Get Up is to help people. Fuck, I never had that goal before.


Sat/11, 8:30 p.m.

Dog Eared Books

900 Valencia, SF

(415) 282-1901