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Raiders of the Lost Art
When you think of downtown, what comes to mind? Grizzly Stadium. Ok. The Security Bank. Makes sense. What about artists? Does that ring any sort of bell? Well, I won't hold it against you if it doesn't, but it should. As a matter of fact, the list of studios, galleries, and hang outs located below Belmont easily rivals that of any other district -- unfortunately, the urban landscape of the area can make it a bit difficult for out-of-towners and other folks to find them.
Let us examine the case of the recently renovated Pearl Building: when you first size it up, it looks like your average retail location. It's a brick and glass box across from a retirement home. Would you ever guess that it's full of starbucksy loft apartments and busy artists? While passing pedestrian traffic may occaisionally gawk at the mural of Marilyn Monroe on the north face of the building or sneak a peak of the parking lot cum sculpture garden in the rear, few are aware of the beehive of artistic activity underway inside.
The Bill Bruce Studio a block away, on Van Ness, is also an example of the dynamic renovations springing up in the neighborhood. The gruff exterior of the squat brick building lies in direct contradiction to it's elegant, track-lit interior. Just north of Arte Americas and the Metropolitan Museum, Bill's vast body of work (dating from the early 60's) and his slick studio are excellent additions to Van Ness's museum row.
On the western edge of this district (referred to by natives as either south of tower, "SOTO", or north of the fulton mall, " The Fu") lies Richard Silva's studio at the Army Induction Building on H street. The story of this place is a great example of the pioneering lo-fi aesthetic common to youthful artistic communities in metropoli like New York. "I found this place and no one wanted to rent it. I told the owner I could move in and find other people to fill up his vacancies -- like that." said Silva, with an emphatic snap of his fingers. This formerly vacant property is the home of his studio as well as the experimental ICCH collective and locals Ed Lung and Ronnie Zarigian.
The Kern Street Coffee House, an essential Art Hop stop, was basically the only place in central dowtown that kept hours after dark when it opened in 1996. The dynamic and friendly vibe is due in large part to the hustle and humor of the staff and management and the charm of the eclectic clietele. Located a block east of the mall and a block west of the convention center, parking is ample in the evenings and their coffee is great for staving off an early thursday night bed time.
Assuming you're not in bed already, and you still crave art, adventure, and possibly a beer or two (make that three), I would recommend you make the short drive down to the Full Circle Brewery in Chinatown. For the last four years, the converted warehouse has made great microbrews, mead and honeywine which they sell via the health food magnate Whole Foods and local swill seller Old Docs. The lofty ceilings and the roof's exposed beams lend the Circle's sitting area a bohemian beer hall atmosphere that is rustic and urban at the same time. The attached wine tasting room also makes a cozy gallery for a rotating cast of artists to display their work.
The Pearl Building
1841 fulton (a block south of Divisadero)
Bill Bruce Studio
1752 Van Ness (south of Divisadero)
The Army Induction Building
1828 H Street (south of divisadero, between amador and sacrameno)
Kern Street Coffee House
2134 Kern St. (a half block east of Van Ness)
Full Circle Brewing Co.
620 F Street (a half block north of Ventura)