Best of the Bay 2009

Pub date November 9, 2009

Best of the Bay 2009: Rediscovery 

By Marke B.

The perfect journey is

no need to go …

— A. R. Ammons, The Snow Poems

Welcome to the San Francisco Bay Guardian‘s Best of the Bay 2009! This is our 35th annual celebration of the people, places, and things that make living here such a ridiculous joy, a behemothic shout-out to everything Bay-you-tiful — from Best Jazz Club and Best Asian Restaurant to Best Burlesque Act and beyond.

As usual when putting this tribute together, we couldn’t help thinking about how the Bay has changed, yet how resilient its remarkable denizens have remained. Times are rocky, y’all. Local businesses, charitable nonprofits, and arts institutions — already the “little guys” fighting against the onslaught of big-box blanding, intellectual dumbing-down, and commercial cynicism — are more endangered than ever. And we don’t need to tell you that stretching a dollar has become a whole new exercise regimen. We call it “subprime yoga.” Look for our infomercial on the HGN network.

But economic reality can’t quash our native creative spark. That ebullient Bay ingenuity bubbles up no matter what — evidenced in the recent gourmet food cart, street fair, and spontaneous party explosions. You can find someone “doing their thing” on almost every street corner these days, and local businesses are pulling out the stops in terms of specials, outreach, and overall friendliness. Forget those odiously snobbish buzzwords like “staycation” and “funemployment” — for anyone but the still rich, the current squeeze is nothing to laugh about. But in typical Bay Area spirit, citizens are ingeniously rediscovering all the vast, affordable pleasures available to us in our own shared backyard, embarking on a journey of rediscovery, relishing the comforts of home with renewed vigor and determination.

The Guardian has been celebrating that special brand of dynamism for years. In 1974 Esquire asked us for ideas for its Best of the U.S.A. issue, and the we responded by publishing 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 chance to celebrate the people and places that make this city great. We were the first weekly paper to print a regular “best of” issue. Thirty-five years on — and 43 years after we opened our doors — we’re still going strong.

Inside this issue you’ll find the results of our Readers Poll — more than 8,000 people voted this year, and there were a few surprise upsets in some of the categories. Also within are our Editors Picks, where we shine a little light of recognition into some of the bay’s more brilliant corners. And our Local Heroes single out people and organizations that inspire awe and remind us that we can all work to make the world a better place.

Editing this year’s installment was something no one could possibly do alone. I had the extreme privilege of working with the marvelous Guardian staff and an amazing smorgasbord of local talent to get 2009’s Best of the Bay out the conceptual door.

I shower grateful smooches on them all, especially my right-hand cheese puff Molly Freedenberg, creative wizard Mirissa Neff, amazing illustrator Barbara Pollak, our steadfast advertisers, and the ever-supportive Hunky Beau, my own personal Best of the Bay.

But most of all we thank you, dear reader, for pouring your unique pluck and zing into this great community, for keeping the doors of hope open, and for forging ahead in the quest to keep the Bay an incredible place to live. Happy trails!



Marke B.


Mirissa Neff


Molly Freedenberg


Ben Hopfer


Barbara Pollak


Jake Balakoohi


Bruce B. Brugmann, Kimberly Chun, Paula Connelly, Sam Devine, Deia De Brito, Cheryl Eddy, Rita Felciano, Cecile Lepage, Nicole Gluckstern, Johnny Ray Huston, Billy Jam, Steven T. Jones, Justin Juul, Danica Li, Mayka Mei, Virginia Miller, Amy Monroe, C. Nellie Nelson, Scott Owen, Laura Palmer Peach, Sarah Phelan, Tim Redmond, Charles Russo, Joe Sciarrillo, Karen Solomon, Scott Steinberg, Diane Sussman, Stephen Torres, Juliette Tang, Andre Torrez, Susan White


Constance Smith


Pat Mazzera


Scott Steinberg, Diane Sussman


Barbara Pollak’s colorful, whimsical depictions of people and objects have been featured in publications including Seventeen and Time, in various games, and in her children’s book Our Community Garden (Beyond Words, 2004). When not creating a line of personalized wall art for kids or contributing images to the Guardian, she enjoys traveling, collecting Japanese fashion magazines and ’70s kitsch art, making toys, and cooking at her home in Potrero Hill, where she lives with her husband, two young children, a cat, and some resilient tropical fish. You can see more work on her Web site at