Volume 44 Number 43

Appetite: 2 sodas for the epicure


I’ll get this out of the way: I am not a soda drinker. I stopped drinking Coke in high school when I was getting a lot of headaches, in an attempt to eliminate excess sugar from my diet, and not only did it help, but I never cared to revisit the habit. Of course, there are always exceptions and certainly I have tasted a number of worthy sodas over the years. Here are two of the best producers out there.

Almost savory, spicy, herbal, Taylor’s Tonics are newer, local sodas, and ones that truly stand out. I love the traveling sideshow, Vaudeville-like spirit to the website and packaging, which reflects the passion for performance art and flair of founder, Taylor Peck, who once even worked as ringmaster for small circuses in San Francisco and New York City. His tonics evoke an old fashioned, American medicine show vibe. Healing powers seem possible in the spicing. They also thankfully uphold a trend away from too-sweet or cloying.

Chai Cola has elements of a traditional chai but a soda effervescence and strong, pleasant bitterness. Mate Mojito is a brilliant refresher that takes the tart of lime and balances it with hints of vanilla, spearmint and Yerba Mate tea. Cola Azteca is a bold, spicy mix of coffee, cocoa and cinnamon bark. I recommend the entire line. Check out Imbibe magazine’s story of these unique sodas and their creator.

Taylor’s Tonics are available in the Rancho Parnassus cafe and at Whole Foods.

Another yesteryear presentation comes with Fentimans botanically brewed beverages, around since 1905. Fentimans covers a range of sodas from a Victorian Lemonade or Mandarin & Seville Orange Jigger (jigger being an old English word for “good measure”), the latter balancing various orange juices with fermented ginger and juniper. There’s a shandy, ginger beer, and popular Curiosity Cola, a more herbal, apothecary-style soda. I find Dandelion & Burdock flavor an intriguing, traditionally English soda, infused with dandelion leaves, burdock root, pear juice and a hint of ginger and anise.

Fentiman’s gains rogue status when you find out it were banned in the state of Maine to minors (read more on the company’s blog). Why? Because the sodas are just under 0.5% alcohol by volume, which even the FDA considers “non-alcoholic,” but apparently not Maine, which won’t allow minors to purchase a Curiosity Cola.

Email info@drinkfentimans.com for where to buy it in your area.

Check out Virginia’s culinary itinerary site, www.theperfectspotsf.com

Appetite: Smoothing out with Camus’ fabulous cognac


Cognac has a taste I’ve yearned to dive more fully into ever since I had my first cognac flight at Brandy Library in NY years ago. I have made attempts to learn more by attending cognac seminars at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans or the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. But where is the cognac equivalent to the excellent Ministry of Rum, which, thanks to founder, Ed Hamilton, has done much to educate the country on the complexities and range in rum? There is a stigma to cognac in some circles that it’s too elitist, expensive or unapproachable. As with any spirit, this is not true if you know where to sip.

I am smitten with Camus cognac, the last of the independent, family-owned cognac houses (since 1863) in Cognac, France. Though it’s the fifth largest cognac producer in the world, and readily known in Asia and Eastern Europe, it’s only just beginning to permeate the US market, and is, for the moment, only available in CA through Wine Warehouse (ask for it at your local liquor shop). I had the privilege of enjoying lunch with Cyril Camus, the president and fifth-generation distiller, after I tasted through the line beforehand. By the time I got to my second taste-through with Cyril, it confirmed my initial impressions.

There is much to love in any one of their cognacs, all blended, 80 proof, some with innovative screw-caps which double as a one ounce measuring shot, aged in lightly-oaked cognac barrels so there is less oak influence and a smoother taste.

Camus VS: I serve this one as an introductory cognac for those unfamiliar, and also as proof that cognac can be both exquisite and affordable. At a mere $25 a bottle, this lively cognac balances citrus fruit with subtle vanilla and is light and smooth, while being rich and full. Excellent on the rocks or in a cocktail, you won’t likely find a better deal for cognac at this level.

Lunch with Cyril Camus. Photo by Virginia Miller

Camus VSOP: With a little more oak and vanilla in the profile, this crisp, lively VSOP retails around $45 a bottle and works neat, on the rocks or in cocktails. As their best-seller, I actually prefer the VS, though you won’t go wrong with the VSOP.

Camus XO Elegance: Now we move to greater age and a $120 price tag, but the signature Camus taste of fruit with subtle vanilla, mild oak, even hints of liquorice, remains. This is a fine sipping eaux-de-vie blend that holds up for whisk(e)y drinkers like myself. I could sip it after dinner on a regular basis.

Camus XO Borderies: In a stunning, perfume-like bottle (for the XO Elegance the bottle is clear, for XO Borderies, it’s frosted), this the only non-vintage, single estate cognac in existence, made from 100% borderies grapes in Camus’ vineyards. With a raisin-like sweetness, this silky cognac still remains light, complex with citrus and a robust floral quality balanced by hazelnut and dried fruits. An exquisite imbibement.



Welcome to the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Best of the Bay 2010! This is our 36th annual celebration of the people, places, and things that make living here such a ridiculous joy — from Best Burrito and Best Amateur Sports Team to Best Strip Club and beyond.

Thousands of our readers voted in our 2010 Best of the Bay Readers Poll for their favorites in more than 200 categories. You’ll find the results inside — as well as 150 Editors Picks that highlight some Guardian favorites, old and new, that we think deserve special recognition for lighting up our lives this year.

This year our theme is “A Celebration of Local Heroes.” We’ve chosen eight individuals who we feel embody the current spirit of the Bay Area and its unique values. We hope you’ll be as inspired by their stories as we are. But really, our readers and everyone who contributes to making the Bay Area a better place to live are our local heroes. So throw on that magic cape, hop on your pedal-powered Batmobile, and let’s do it!

In 1974, Esquire magazine asked us for ideas for its Best of the USA issue, which led to us publish the original Best of the Bay. Made by the people of the Bay Area for the people of the Bay Area, it’s our annual opportunity to celebrate the people and places that make this city great. We were the first weekly paper to publish a regular “best of” issue. Thirty-six years on — and 44 years after we opened our doors — we’re still going strong.

Editing this year’s installment was a hoot. I shower grateful smooches on all my collaborators, especially my right-hand amiga Caitlin Donohue, creative wiz Mirissa Neff, amazing Local Heroes photographers Keeney + Law, the totally rad Blue Sky Studios, photographer Ben Hopfer, and the ever-supportive Hunky Beau, my own personal Best of the Bay. But most of all I thank you, dear reader, for your generous participation, for making the Bay Area such an astounding place to live, and for turning us on to some great new things this year.

Marke B.




The Guardian’s free annual Best of the Bay party is legendary — and you won’t want to miss this one. Schmooze with all the winners at Mezzanine! Rock out with Chuck Prophet, Stephanie Finch and the Company Men, and The Bitter Honeys. Thrill to the hip-hop improv of The Freeze! DJ Ome, Polite in Public photobooth, Burgermeister truck, and more!

Thursday, Aug. 5, 9 p.m., free

Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF.





Marke B.


Mirissa Neff


Caitlin Donohue


Ben Hopfer


Keeney + Law


Blue Sky Studios


Rebecca Bowe, Bruce B. Brugmann, Kimberly Chun, Paula Connelly, Caitlin Donohue, Cheryl Eddy, Nicole Gluckstern, Johnny Ray Huston, Steven T. Jones, Virginia Miller, Tim Redmond, Paul Reidinger, Charles Russo, Amber Schadewald, David Schnur, Diane Sussman, Stephen Torres


Ben Hopfer, Mirissa Neff


Caitlin Donohue, Diane Sussman


Liz Brusca, Michelle Neville



Michael Keeney and Jasmine Law met at the Brooks Institute of Photography. It didn’t take long for them to realize that their approaches complemented one another. Together they are Keeney + Law, a team that successfully balances being both professional and life partners. In photography, their shared vision is based around the idea of a vignette, where every photo is a short story with an emphasis on good light. Always striving to connect with their subjects, Keeney + Law’s collaborative process was a perfect fit for this year’s Local Heroes portrait project.



The Guardian’s Local Heroes portraits were shot at Blue Sky Studios in San Francisco (with the exception of Vernon Davis, who was shot on location by Peter Bohler). We used Blue Sky’s state-of-the-art Light Grid, which is the first fully robotic lighting mechanism of its kind.


City Hall standoff



Backroom politics, vote-trading, threats, and tricky legislative maneuvering marked — some would say marred — the approval of the city’s 2010-11 budget and a package of fall ballot measures.

For weeks, Mayor Gavin Newsom had been threatening to simply not spend the roughly $42 million in budgetary add-backs the supervisors had approved July 1, mostly for public health and social services, unless they agreed to withdraw unrelated November ballot measures that Newsom opposes (see "Bad faith," July 14).

The board’s July 20 meeting included a flurry of last-minute maneuvers interrupted by an hours-long recess during which Newsom, Board President David Chiu, and their representatives negotiated a deal that was bristled at by progressive supervisors and fiscal conservative Sup. Sean Elsbernd.

Ideological opposites Elsbernd and Sup. Chris Daly voted against motions to delay consideration of several measures — including splitting appointments to the Rent, Recreation and Park, and Municipal Transportation Authority boards; revenue measures; and requiring police foot patrols — until after approval of the city budget.

"What is the connection between [seismic retrofit] bonds and the budget?" Elsbernd asked as Budget Committee chair John Avalos made the motion to delay consideration of the $46 million general obligation bond Newsom proposed for the November ballot.

Avalos made an oblique reference to "other meetings" that were happening down the hall. Daly then criticized the maneuver, noting that "vote trading is illegal," later citing a 2006 City Attorney’s Office memo stating that supervisors may not condition their votes on unrelated items.

But that didn’t stop supervisors from engaging in a complex, private dance with the Mayor’s Office and other constituencies that day. In the end, the board approved the budget on a 10-1 vote, with Daly in dissent. Then Chiu provided the swing vote to kill the progressive proposal to split with the mayor appointments to the Recreation and Park Commission, with Sups. Daly, Avalos, Ross Mirkarimi, David Campos, and Eric Mar on the losing end of a 5-6 vote to place the measure on the fall ballot.

A measure to split appointments to the Rent Board was defeated on a 10-1 vote, with Daly dissenting, although that seems to be tactical concession by progressives. Campos, who sponsored the measure, said landlord groups were threatening an aggressive campaign against the measure that would also seek to tarnish progressive supervisorial candidates.

Removal of an MTA reform measure from the ballot, another mayoral demand, was also likely at the July 27 meeting (held after Guardian press time). Chiu told his colleagues July 20 that he was still negotiating with the mayor on implementing some of its provisions without going to the ballot this year.

Chiu rejected the notion that he cut an inappropriate budget deal, saying he was concerned the split appointment measures would be portrayed as a board power grab, noting that community groups need the funding that Newsom was threatening to withhold, and saying the board’s threats not to fund Newsom’s Project Homeless Connect facility and Kids2College Savings program were also factors in the deal.

"We were engaged with a number of conversations, they all took time, and we didn’t finish until very late," Chiu told us.

Even Daly acknowledged supervisors had few options to counter Newsom’s threats, but told us, "It’s just not the way we should be doing things."

The decision on three revenue measures (a parking tax increase, property transfer tax, and business tax reform) was set for July 27, with sources telling the Guardian that only one or perhaps two would make it onto the ballot. Newsom opposes all of them. Also hanging in the balance was Mirkarimi’s ballot measure requiring police to do more foot patrols, as well as another version in which Chiu added a provision that would invalidate the Newsom-backed ordinance banning sitting or lying on sidewalks, a retaliation for Newsom inserting a similar poison pill in his hotel tax loophole measure that would invalidate the hotel tax increase that labor put on the ballot if it gets more votes.

But most of the action was on July 20. The Transportation Authority (comprised of all 11 supervisors) voted 8-3 (with Chiu, Avalos, and Mar opposed) to place a $10 local vehicle license fee surcharge on the ballot, which would raise about $5 million a year for Muni. A Daly-proposed ballot measure to create an affordable housing fund and plan failed on 4-7 vote, with only Campos, Mar, and Chiu joining Daly.

There were some progressive victories as well. A charter amendment by Mirkarimi to allow voters to register on election day was approved 9-2, with Elsbernd and Alioto-Pier in dissent. A Chiu-proposed measure to allow non-citizens to vote in school board elections was approved 9-2, with Elsbernd and Carmen Chu voting no. And a Daly-proposed charter amendment to require the mayor to engage in public policy discussions with the board once a month was approved 6-5, opposed by Dufty, Alioto-Pier, Elsbernd, Maxwell, and Chu.

But the busy day left some progressives feeling unsettled. "How do you do this and not be trading votes?" Campos told us. "In the end, we’re saving programs, but what does it say about the institution of the board?"

Newsom spokesperson Tony Winnicker denied that the mayor made inappropriate threats, but confirmed that a deal was cut and told us, "Yes, the Mayor made his concerns about the budget clear. Yes, the mayor made his concerns about the charter amendments clear."

The mayor’s horrible deal


EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom put the supervisors in a terrible position — and showed the worst kind of political arrogance — when he held $43 million worth of critical services hostage to his desire to continue packing commissions with political hacks. The deal he presented to the board was shameful, and the supervisors should have rejected it. And now they should pass legislation to make this sort of logrolling illegal.

The mayor’s original budget plan included sharp cuts to a wide range of services. The supervisors’ Budget Committee found a way to add back more than $40 million in funding for things like psychiatric beds at SF General Hospital, violence-prevention programs, and public financing for the next mayor’s race.

But under the City Charter, the mayor can simply refuse to spend that money — and that’s what Newsom said he would do. That is, unless the board would agree to reject two proposed charter amendments to reform the Municipal Transportation Agency and the Recreation and Park Commission.

Let’s remember: the MTA and Rec-Park measures have nothing to do with the budget. The board wanted to overhaul those departments (and give the board some appointments) because they’re a mess; the Rec-Park Commission, appointed entirely by the mayor, is a rubber-stamp agency that votes with nearly 100 percent unanimity on every issue. The MTA has served as a slush fund for the police department at a time when bus lines are cut and fares keep going up.

Newsom told board members that he could, indeed, restore the funding they wanted; the money was there. But he wouldn’t. In other words, he would allow desperately ill people to be turned away from SF General for lack of a bed — if the board didn’t stand down on its reforms. And by a 6-5 margin, with Board President David Chiu providing the critical vote for the mayor’s agenda, the board went along with the deal.

Even worse: Chiu and his colleagues gave up their charter amendments. But the mayor didn’t give up his: a Newsom measure that would prevent elected officials (like Chiu) from serving on the Democratic County Central Committee is still on the ballot.

Five of the progressives on the board hung tough, and Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, Chris Daly, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi deserve credit for refusing to accept a bad, embarrassing deal.

But in the end, the board got rolled. The mayor played tough and a majority of the supervisors folded. If a supervisor proposes trading one piece of legislation for another, it would violate state law. That doesn’t apply to the mayor — but it should. The board should immediately pass legislation outlawing vote trading for all local elected officials, including the chief executive. Let’s see if Newsom wants to veto that.

Why is Pelosi killing ENDA?


OPINION Why is the Congressmember from the gayest city in America blocking legislation that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers from workplace discrimination? That’s the question LGBT workers across the country are asking, and why LGBT workers picketed her office in the Federal Building and delivered a letter demanding that she not kill the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Most LGBT workers have no protections from workplace discrimination. ENDA would provide legal protection against discrimination nationally. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire someone solely because they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. And in 38 states it is legal to fire someone solely for being transgender. The current version of the bill would outlaw discrimination on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi repeatedly promised that she would schedule a vote on the law, but repeatedly broke these promises.

A 2006 study by the Guardian and Transgender Law Center found that 60 percent of transgender people in San Francisco earn less than $15,300 per year, only 25 percent have a full-time job, and nearly 9 percent have no source of income.

Only 4 percent reported making more than $61,200, which is about the median income in the Bay Area. More than half of local transgender people live in poverty, and 96 percent earn less than the median income. Forty percent of those surveyed don’t even have a bank account.

What this study reveals is that even in a city that is considered a haven for the LGBT community, transgender workers face profound employment challenges and discrimination. If this is true in San Francisco, imagine the figures in less queer-friendly towns.

A 2007 meta-analysis from the Williams Institute of 50 studies of workplace discrimination against LGBT people found consistent evidence of bias in the workplace. The analysis found that up to 68 percent of LGBT people reported experiencing employment discrimination, and up to 17 percent said they had been fired or denied employment.

Public opinion polling shows that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of making sure LGBT Americans get the same employment opportunities as everyone else. In fact, the latest surveys show that nearly 90 percent of Americans support workplace fairness for LGBT workers.

In a few weeks, Congress will finish its legislative business for the year so members can return to their districts to run for reelection. Last month at a LGBT Pride event, Rep. Jackie Spier (D-San Mateo) announced to a stunned crowd that not only would we not get ENDA before the end of the legislative session but she doesn’t think we would get it for five years because we won’t have enough votes in Congress again to ensure passage.

That’s right, at this moment, members of Congress are planning on leaving town and going home to campaign for their own jobs — while leaving thousands of LGBT workers without protections for the next five years. When 90 percent of Americans support workplace fairness, it’s challenging to believe that Pelosi fears a backlash from the voters.

That said, it’s fair to say that Pelosi may get a backlash from LGBT voters if she continues to block ENDA from a vote. The time to pass ENDA is now. The American people support it; the politicians promised it. No more broken promises. We demand that the House speaker stop blocking ENDA and schedule a vote.

Gabriel Haaland is a member of Pride at Work.