Arts & Culture » Culture

Life is a warm staycation

by Roberto Friedman

Ruth Asawa sculptures in the Hotel Zoe Fisherman's Wharf lobby: Kids, don't swing em. Photo: Courtesy HZFW
Ruth Asawa sculptures in the Hotel Zoe Fisherman's Wharf lobby: Kids, don't swing em. Photo: Courtesy HZFW  

As part of our ongoing quest to sample every cute little new boutique hotel that opens in San Francisco, Out There recently decamped to a two-night stay at the Hotel Zoe Fisherman's Wharf, ground zero in SF's primo tourist zone. It turned out to be a warm, hospitable refuge for our urban-weary selves.

The Zoe reopened following a complete renovation in July 2017, reinvented as a small hotel (221 rooms) with gracious service and pleasing amenities. In the lobby, enticing with its fireplace hearth, we found "welcome beverages" and organic coffee in its Bar Zoe. Also available to us were iPads, bike rentals, and access to the 24-Hour Fitness across the street.

Lobby, the Hotel Zoe Fisherman's Wharf. Photo: Courtesy HZFW  

We took a site tour with the hotel's Director of Rooms Sandi Riemer, duly noting the property's 3,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, complete with a conference room open to natural lighting, what a concept. From Riemer we learned that the hotel was given a feminine name, Zoe, in the tradition of the dubbing of yachts. The d├ęcor, too, is yacht-inspired, with its streamlined design in neutral colors. No anchors, no seashore themes!

A small courtyard boasts fire pits for outdoor gatherings and a "Zoe" mascot statue. Inside the lobby, three genuine Ruth Asawa wire-mesh sculptures hang close by the elevators. You can find the great 20th-century Japanese-American artist's newly restored "Andrea" mermaid fountain not far away, in Ghirardelli Square. HZFW has a social consciousness, too, striving for energy-efficiency, and sponsoring a donation program to its philanthropic partner, UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Our 4th-floor room, though smallish, was stylish and comfortable, with a good firm bed. The shower had a feature we'd never seen before, an aperture in the glass door to reach through for a bath towel so you don't wind up flooding the bathroom floor. Clever! The WiFi was fast and dependable, the better for us to edit these Arts pages for you, Dear Reader.

We had dinner at Pescatore, the hotel's warm, intimate trattoria: Caesar salad, crab cakes for Pepi, pizza Blanca, chicken parm, blackened tuna for P., pear bread pudding and gelato. Every table was full on a Friday night, but the staff was calm, cool and collected. Two glasses of good California wine took the editorial edge off.

OK, you're saying, but: two days in Fisherman's Wharf? Every SF sophisticate's "no-man's-land?" Truth is, there are some worthy places tucked away amidst all the tourist infrastructure. We had fun playing with the antique penny-arcade games in the Musee Mecanique, an attraction with no admission fee but plenty of change machines. The Maritime Museum in Aquatic Park is also free to visit, and boasts interesting exhibits on San Francisco sailing and mercantile history. The museum building itself is a small gem in streamlined-moderne Art Deco. In the morning the neighborhood smells of sourdough rising at the Boudin Bakery, heavenly scent that surely triggers most San Franciscans, even the gluten-free.
Great thing about a staycation is that you get out of your usual routine, let hospitality professionals take good care of you, then have only to step onto the F Market to get back to work, to home, or to your usual scene. Staycation recommended.

Dr. Lorna James (Susi Damilano) administers the first dose to Connie Hall (Ayelet Firstenberg) in  

Big Pharma

San Francisco Playhouse is presenting the West Coast premiere of acclaimed playwright Lucy Prebble's "The Effect," directed by SFP co-founder Bill English. OT attended opening night, and found the play a provocative and compelling exploration of the place that pharmaceutical neuropsychology holds in modern life, for pros and amateurs alike.

Connie and Tristan are volunteers in a clinical trial for a new antidepressant that involves their isolation in a sterile experiment space while they are monitored by psychiatrists. Steadily their dopamine levels are increased, Are they really falling in love, or is that just a side effect of the drug? As presiding clinician Dr. Lorna James reminds a colleague, there actually is no such thing as a "side" effect.

Though there are some leaps of faith in the plot that require willing suspension of disbelief (would corporate pharmaceutical doctors really jeopardize an important study for basically sentimental reasons?), the play kept our interest throughout two longish acts. SFP co-founder Susi Damilano convinced as the conflicted Dr. James, as did Robert Parsons as her corporate overlord. As the young lovers and Big Pharma guinea pigs, Ayelet Firstenberg and Joe Estlack gave totally committed performances, bringing life and nuance to the piece's naturalism as well as to its flights of fancy. Performances continue through April 28. .

Big Tech

Thanks to tech mega-company Salesforce for inviting us to the second annual Salesforce Equality Awards ceremony last week at the Masonic. We love this venue, all temple grandeur high atop Nob Hill. Truly it was glamorous bordering on the surreal seeing the immortal Stevie Wonder, an awardee, perform his great hits, mere feet away from our perch in the VIP slip. "Living for the city" indeed. If we lived in a bucket, this'd be on that list. Thanks to Salesforce for caring about human equality, and thanks to Salesforce luminary Monica and her personal assistant for sharing her table, whether she wanted to or not.


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