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2011: A year in preview

Edited by Nan Wiener | December 21, 2010 | Story

1. The whole town will be playing “spot Clive and Nicole”
Anyone who likes movies for grownups (plus all you Hollywood rubberneckers), take note: The new HBO film Hemingway & Gellhorn that starts shooting here in February has a certain ineffable hipness written all over it. First, it's got famous people playing famous people: Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman star, respectively, as Ernest and his war-correspondent wife, Martha. Second, the whole film will be shot here, so San Francisco will stand in for places the couple visited or lived in, presumably including Key West, Spain, and Cuba. And third, James “Tony Soprano” Gandolfini is one of the producers, and the director is local class act Philip Kaufman, who has a fine track record as a movie matchmaker of strong, sexed-up literary personalities (think Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller in Henry & June) and a generous habit of keeping his productions local. If nothing else, San Francisco's reigning deity of film criticism, David Thomson, will be excited because he likes Kaufman and has admitted to having a crush on Kidman—he even wrote a whole book about her. Jonathan Kiefer

2. Design aficionados will scramble for a seat at this chair
Historically, the chair has been the fetish item that every architect and designer wants to create. (Eames, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe all designed sofas too, but it's their chairs people remember them for.) This year, San Francisco design firm One & Co is unveiling its own contender, the Winter Lounge, at two of the world's most prestigious furniture expos: Salone Internazionale del Mobile, in Milan, and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, in New York.

The thing about the maple lounger is that you don't expect a shape like this from wood, which doesn't naturally bend. The chair is sleek and devoid of sharp edges, which gives it an aerodynamic quality—especially when viewed from the side (hence the name, which is meant to evoke a sled). The play of proportions is another wink at the status quo, as is the unexpected way the seat wraps down the side. Within days of the two expos, you can bet that San Francisco design editors and manufacturers will be parading this chair all around town—and waiting lists for it will fill up fast. Joanne Furio

3. Everyone who's heard her is rooting for her
It's a crowded Sunday night at the Dogpatch Saloon, a cozy neighborhood bar that once a week becomes one of the Bay Area's best pick-up jazz jam sessions. Hopeful up-and-comers fork over a $5 cover and the price of the two-drink minimum, then wait—sometimes for hours—to play just one song with the Bay Area's bebop masters. The vibe is friendly, but the music is serious, and if you can't keep up, you won't be asked back.

A tall young woman steps to the mike. She whispers instructions to the quartet behind her, then shuts her eyes and croons the opening verses of “Les Feuilles Mortes”—a cappella, and in perfect French. The entire room hushes. Even when the saxophone and then the rhythm section pipe in behind her, all you hear is her voice, low and husky. She finishes up with a surprise three-octave scat, and the crowd erupts in applause, cheers, and the ultimate accolade in a venue where the musicians outnumber the patrons: spoons on glasses.

But jazz musicians aren't the only ones who admire Tara DeMoulin, who lived in the Haight and then Berkeley as a young girl. Novelist Leonard Gardner and gossip columnist Leah Garchik are fans, and Tom Luddy, the Telluride Film Festival codirector and Gladwell-esque “connector,” who first brought the 27-year-old DeMoulin to Dogpatch, thinks “she has all the makings of a great jazz singer.” And yet, how long has it been since San Francisco has produced a genuine star? Our brightest talents often fade away, or sign the wrong contracts, or, worst of all, discover surfing. But DeMoulin is hungry, and she has a proven history of overcoming obstacles: childhood poverty, the early death of her mother, a bout of homelessness as an adult, and a recent accident that kept her out of commission for months. “I've got dozens of original compositions ready to go,” she says. “I just need the money to record them and get a band together. But first, I need to figure out how to pay this month's rent.” Sheerly Avni

4. A dining emporium to rival 18th Street's culinary power corridor
When a restaurant is so popular that not even Steve Jobs can get in, you know it's time to expand. So Flour + Water—which in a little more than its first year was nominated for a James Beard Best New Restaurant award and received a Rising Star Chef award (for Thomas McNaughton) from San Francisco and positive reviews in the New York Times and the Washington Post—is getting ready to quadruple its operation. The result will be something bigger than a bigger restaurant.

The new food temple (at 3000 20th St., two blocks from the mother ship), helmed by McNaughton and his partners, David Steele and David White, will be home to a 1,500-square-foot commissary kitchen that will supply a second restaurant as well as a new catering arm and deli. McNaughton plans to stock the deli in part with international charcuterie and cheeses from an upcoming trek across France, Italy, and Spain. He'll also offer spit-roasted whole animals (sold by the pound). In keeping with the group's uncomplicated naming strategy, the deli is tentatively titled Salumeria; the commissary, Central Kitchen. But the name for its new holding company is perhaps the most apt—Ne Timeas, from White's family crest: Latin for “fear not.” And with Humphry Slocombe opening a bakery café in the same courtyard and cocktail consultants the Bon Vivants starting a bar, that advice shouldn't be hard to follow. Emily Kaiser

5. An architectural crown jewel ramps up
Builders have long considered handicapped-access ramps a necessary evil, but at Berkeley's just-completed Ed Roberts Campus, the red ramp that rises up boldly in a skylighted, two-story lobby is the defining architectural feature. Fifteen years and $36 million in the making, the campus is the first of its kind in the nation—and a stunning example of one of architecture's hottest movements: “universal design,” or buildings intended to be used by everyone, no exceptions allowed. The 80,000-square-foot complex, designed by San Francisco firm Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, houses 14 agencies for people with disabilities. It will be an urgent trip for Bay Area designers and architecture buffs, because it delivers on the movement's promise with an aesthetic panache worthy of the most renowned contemporary architecture.

The ingenuity on display is beautifully logical. For example, “blind people like curbs, but wheelchair people hate them,” says Dmitri Belser, the president of the campus, who is legally blind. So, instead of installing a sidewalk, the architects introduced textured concrete, which creates a different sound when tapped with a walking stick, to guide the blind to the building's entrance. Elevators open up on both sides so people never have to turn their wheelchairs around, and at every quarter turn on the red ramp, the concrete segment is flat, so users can rest on their serpentine journey to the second floor without fear of rolling back down. Joanne Furio 3075 Adeline St., near the Ashby BART station, Berkeley,

6. Google, tweet —what will be the verb this time?
San Francisco-born iPhone app Instagram may well become the biggest thing to happen to photographers since Flickr burst on the scene in 2004. In each of the first three weeks after its launch late last year, it grabbed around 100,000 users, and any shooter can tell you why: It reduces the process of taking and sharing photos to a few simple steps. You take the picture, geotag it, and just click a button to send it to your Instagram network or upload it to Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and more. Not only that, the app includes 11 photo filters that allow you to give your digital pictures more of a retro, filmlike look. And this year, the company will add localized features that allow you to search for photos of a particular sight and track the most oft photographed subjects in your city. Just how popular will Instagram be? Digg founder Kevin Rose recently said on Twitter, “Facebook or Google should buy @instagram.” It's certainly taking the right first steps: At press time, Instagram had just signed a lease to move into the old Twitter office. Monica S. Lee

7.They'll do for the heritage-brand set what Andy Warhol did for pop artists at the Factory
In the time it takes most recent college grads to find a job in a new city, Michael Maher, Mike Armenta, and Barrett Purdum, three lacrosse-playing friends from Maine and Philly, moved to San Francisco and started Taylor Stitch, a custom and ready-to-wear button-front shirt line. Fast-forward a year to 2011, and they're at the helm of what promises to become the gathering space in town for the heritage-brand set—that would be anyone devoted to Red Wing boots, Wm. J. Mills bags, and farm-to-table food, like Four Barrel coffee's Jeremy Tooker, Andrew and Adam Mariani of Sonoma's Scribe winery, chef David Elias of Berkeley's Dine@, and Patrick M. Horn and Bryan Hermannsson of Pacific Brewing Laboratories. “There's really nothing else like the Common,” says Tooker.

In their 4,300-square-foot lease on Mission and Seventh, the Taylor Stitch boys are constructing a social, retail, and gallery space inspired by the town commons in many New England cities. The look is SoMa gallery meets woodsy Maine lodge, and the cavernous rooms are populated with reclaimed materials the guys foraged and shaped with their own hands (and a little help from friend David Pierce of Mission-based design company Ohio), such as clothing racks made from discarded pipes and lamp shades fashioned from old maple-syrup drip pails. So far, they've held art openings and pop-up markets for the lines they stock, which include Pierrepont Hicks ties and Cause and Effect leather belts, and now they're dreaming up events as fast as they can type them into Twitter messages. Communal dinners are on the way, and this month they'll be hosting ice cream-social rock concerts for the under-21 crowd with the San Francisco Rock Project. Jenna Scatena 1077 Mission St., S.F.,

8. The entire dance world will be at this wake
Merce Cunningham, one of modern dance's towering forces, decreed that his company would disband two years after his death (no perpetually touring Count Basie Orchestra for him), a moment that is now at hand. In what it calls the Legacy Tour, the troupe will dance its second-to-last California performance at UC Berkeley, a venue Cunningham and his partner and collaborator, John Cage, first visited in 1962 and revisited several times thereafter. The program offers a last chance to see Cunningham's signature style in action: one gorgeous episode after another, as he fills the stage with expressive movement sequences that bear no causal connection to each other or to any external conceptual scheme.

The Berkeley performance will feature music by Cage, Brian Eno, and David Tudor and sets and design by artistic giants Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein. Most exciting will be the valedictory revival of the 1983 Roaratorio, a meld of jigs, readings from James Joyce, and bouncing movement that should leave fans—and local choreographers influenced by Cunningham, such as Margaret Jenkins—with blissful memories. Allan Ulrich Mar. 3-5, Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, 510-642-9988,

9. S.F. Opera takes on the big kahuna

Does Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung matter in today's world? Well, consider the number of critics who have rightly compared the ruthlessness of the protagonist in The Social Network to the unearthly ambition of the dwarf Alberich. (Another time the Ring was performed in San Francisco, the Chronicle music critic compared it to Star Wars. Times change.)

The new production that debuts here this summer makes the cycle even more culturally relevant. Director Francesca Zambello finds parallels between characters from Norse mythology and archetypal plutocrats and proles from American history, so you won't find any breastplates and winged helmets in her theatrically arresting version—more like three-piece suits, miners' lamps, and denim. And by the way, the whole world will be watching, as it does anytime a complete performance of the Ring is mounted. It's an enormous undertaking—it costs a fortune ($23 million this time), requires a cast of 165, and plays for 18 hours over four days—and proclaims the importance of any opera company that attempts it. Allan Ulrich Jun. 14-Jul. 3, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F., 415-864-3330,

10. Finally, a stylish green line for the fashion set
Elizabeth Brunner couldn't stand seeing designers haul expensive remnants to the landfill, a practice she observed daily during her internship at S.F.'s Isda & Co, so she decided to turn this landfill fodder into avant-garde fashion. Her new clothing line, Piece x Piece, promises to be the must-have green label of 2011.

Each item in her collection of jersey tanks, vests, and flirty A-line skirts is hand-blocked, but not with a kitschy patchwork of hippie-style, oddly assorted fabrics. Designs stay within color families, the silhouettes are clean, and some items include raw edges that will fray over time. Using this technique, Brunner has created the ultimate layering piece perfect for the region's seasonless climate: a chic crop vest that looks like the upper half of a tank top, fits over the head, and buttons below the arms. Brunner, whose labor-intensive ideas were turned down by the factory she approached, found three local seamstresses to make the clothes, which was in line with her vision of her brand as “a San Francisco label, not a name label,” she says. Jenna Scatena; clothing available at 440 Brannan, 440 Brannan St., S.F., 415-348-0000; Eco Citizen, 1488 Vallejo St., S.F., 415-614-0100,

11. All hail the new Headlands of the South, the Tam of the Peninsula, the Presidio times two
“Imagine hiking the Bay Ridge Trail along Skyline, dropping into a new campground in Denniston canyon, and finishing on the coast,” says Brian Aviles, Golden Gate National Recreation Area senior planner, as we stand atop Montara ridge. This isn't some outdoors fantasy. This month, GGNRA will start creating a massive trail network on its brand-new property, Rancho Corral de Tierra, one of the largest stretches of wildland on the Peninsula. The full trail system, which will open up Montara Mountain's entire western slope to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, is many years off—but in the meantime, you can hike in a eucalyptus grove or climb 1,200 feet to points overlooking Denniston canyon for views of the ridge and the ocean. Some local residents, from Montara to El Granada, may be less excited (trailheads equal more traffic), but we promise to be quiet, drive slowly, and give thanks that your backyard is now ours too. Michelle Hamilton

12. Dogpatch tries again, this time with style
Dogpatch has been a neighborhood-on-the-verge longer than Gavin Newsom has been in politics. Design types have been attracted to its large industrial loft spaces, but its urban sprawl lacked the central hub necessary for that cozy, in-the-hood feel. (The tanking economy didn't help, either.) But this month, its fabled promise as San Francisco's next Hayes Valley might finally be realized, thanks to a new shopping emporium that houses the second location of San Francisco design dream factory Modern Appealing Clothing; Dig, the specialty wineshop; Blue Bottle Coffee; and an expanded version of the restaurant Piccino (the current location is closing).

The original space, a 170-year-old converted horse stable, was right up MAC proprietors Ben and Chris Ospital's eclectic alley: “When we first looked at the place, it still had a feeding trough!” Ben says. Their new store, in addition to expanded men's and women's selections (which will be all mixed up, in their signature “gender chaos” approach), will revive the lines of their concept home store, Chez MAC, so customers will have their pick of exclusives from the fabled Boulettes Larder apothecary, Mollusk, and Sherry Olsen ceramics. But the real draw will be the made-to-order services, offered by the likes of clothing designer Ryan Roberts. Ben notes, “You'll be able to get a made-to-measure canvas jacket for $500 instead of $5,000, which matches the more proletarian sensibility of the neighborhood.” Franklin Melendez

13. Technology that has channeled the hands of God
Imagine being in a wheelchair for 20 years, then suddenly—without a medical cure—being able to take the stairs. That's the stunner Berkeley Bionics has performed with the introduction of eLegs, a battery-powered suit that lets people with paralysis get up and walk. The device is astonishingly simple to use: Sensors located inside two hand crutches communicate with two onboard computers that, in turn, mechanically move the legs (and may also work as de facto physical therapy by getting joints moving). The suit can run for up to six hours before needing a charge and will debut in clinical trials and rehab centers in 2011, with a home model to follow (see this month's Back Story). Colorado resident Amanda Boxtel, who's been in a wheelchair for 18 years, is one of the first to walk in the suit and hopes one day “to get onto mountain trails and sandy beaches.” Whatever deity you happen to believe in, Boxtel says, eLegs is nothing less than miraculous. Nic Buron

14. An art history-altering art collection
There will be plenty of “there” there in SFMOMA's world premiere of the Stein family art collection, which brings together the legendary works amassed by this esoteric clan, which lived for a time in Oakland and was spearheaded by poet, critic, and patron saint of expats Gertrude Stein. Along with her brothers, Leo and Michael, and Michael's wife, Sarah, Gertrude championed some of the century's most iconic masters, including Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne. It was the Stein siblings' gumption that transformed Matisse's scandalous Woman with a Hat into one of the most important break-throughs in modern painting.

Their competitiveness helped the cause, too, as family members tried to outdo each other, snapping up one avant-garde masterpiece after another. It may be one of the few times that an acute case of sibling rivalry has helped change the course of art history. “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde” is being organized in conjunction with New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Paris's Réunion des Musées Nationaux, but San Franciscans will get to see it first. Franklin Melendez May 21-Sept. 6, 151 3rd St., S.F., 415-357-4000,

15. Sidewalks will bloom
Last year the city went gaga over parklets, the mini-oases that transform parking spaces and stretches of pavement into gathering spots—but 2011 promises to be the year of the sidewalk garden. You could call Jane Martin the idea's earliest adopter: Since 2004, she has been working from her nonprofit, PlantSF, to transform the concrete on public sidewalks into something green. But this year, the San Francisco Department of Public Works (along with the S.F. Botanical Gardens and Parks Trust) plans to flex some civic muscle on behalf of residents looking to do the same. The three groups just received their first grant (of $80,000) to host free classes, build a demonstration garden in Golden Gate Park, and help interested parties design their own tiny slice of Eden. And it's not just about beautifying the city. Sidewalk gardens also reduce storm-water flooding—an ongoing San Francisco problem—by replacing impenetrable concrete with soil and plants that soak up rainwater. In fact, Martin got herself a grant, too, this year, to create demonstration gardens in Noe Valley, where letting storm water soak into the ground will help the Mission, which is downhill. Victoria Schlesinger, (online soon)

16. The Bay Area becomes the Detroit of electric cars
This year, our clean tech-fancying region, spurred by $19 million in new federal, local, and private funds, will lead the nation in making the electric car a way of life. The innovative Palo Alto company Better Place will install the country's first battery-swap stations for electric cabs, in downtown San Francisco and San Jose. Twelve Nissan Leafs (the company's electric model) will be added to San Francisco and the East Bay's City CarShare fleet. More than 400 new electric-vehicle charging stations are now being mounted around the Bay Area as part of an Air Quality Management District pilot program; another 2,050 public charging stations are on deck for later this year. Foster City-based SolarCity (with UC Berkeley and Tesla Motors) will be researching and testing revolutionary software for an EV battery charger that will use solar power when it's sunny, while monitoring the price of electricity and pulling it from the grid when that's cheaper. Coda is planning a move to Benicia, which would make it the largest mass-producer of electric cars in California.
Jenna Scatena

17. Women of a certain page
Chabon, Eggers, Wolff, Lewis—the Bay Area's modern men of letters are routinely hailed with fanfare and Sunday Times reviews. But our lit scene gets much of its oomph from wordslinging women, including a trio of established authors with distinctly local voices and new books out in 2011. All three have aged gracefully into midcareer success without the boon of a genre-defying debut or an Oprah pick. Narrative editor Carol Edgarian, 48 (“Guess I won't be in ‘20 Under 40,'” she jokes), had the foresight to launch (with her husband) her online magazine eight years ago, when digital publishing was an outlier move for serious literature; today, Narrative boasts 1.5 million page views a month and a shiny new iPad app. Edgarian's timely second novel, Three Stages of Amazement, about a troubled San Francisco marriage during the recent financial crisis, hits bookstores in March. In April, two-time bestselling novelist Ann Packer, 51, will publish her first story collection since 1994, Swim Back to Me, which includes a novella. And the kid sister in the mix, Michelle Richmond, who just joined the 40-plus club with an international bestseller under her belt, will start accepting submissions this month for her new indie press, Fiction Attic. We'll also see her fourth novel, California Street, land in the fall. (Look for a cameo from Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, plus a host of familiar city roads.) “It imagines an outlandish circumstance that's not really that far-fetched,” Richmond says. Like, say, a Time cover for each of these deserving ladies in the coming year? Mia Lipman

18. A new welcome mat for San Francisco
This summer, a spectacular new sight will force 17,000 Caltrain commuters to look up from their iPhones as they leave or enter San Francisco. Local artist Brian Barneclo plans to cover the looming, 600-foot stucco wall in Mission Bay with a mural (the largest in the city) that's a schematic mapping of San Francisco's neighborhoods and natural environment, in a style that's part Dr. Seussian jungle and part cubist skyline.

Barneclo wants his mural to have intellectual backbone but also to be “nice to look at,” he says. “I don't want to be like Diego Rivera and cram something political down people's throats.” (For a taste of what it will look like, check out the walls of Nopa restaurant, Foods Co in the Mission, and the Bay Guardian building.) Since the wall abuts Caltrain property, Barneclo had to become a certified rail worker in order to paint it, which meant paying $17,000 for permit fees and flagmen. This July, keep an eye out for him in a helmet, safety glasses, and orange vest, 40 feet in the air. And consider making a trip to San Jose just to see what everyone will be talking about. Taylor Wiles

19. A music fest finds a bigger voice
“A lot of festivals have come and gone,” says Bryan Duquette, producer of the annual Treasure Island music extravaganza. But in its fifth year this fall, TI will be the Northern California party of the year for indie-rock fanatics, retail-working club kids, and anyone who is constantly checking Flavorpill or the weeklies to see what acts are coming through town. Even during hard economic times, attendance has skyrocketed, rising from approximately 17,000 during the first two years to 24,000 during 2010. “These are the tastemakers of the music scene,” Duquette says, and more and more of them keep showing up because of the event's unique formula—Saturday devoted to electronic dance music, such as LCD Soundsystem and MGMT, and Sunday to indie-rock bands like Belle & Sebastian and the Flaming Lips. This year's acts haven't been chosen yet, but the staff is already working on ways to gussy up the environment, which last year included the festival's signature Ferris wheel, a giant pirate skull, a three-story pink flamingo, and a silent disco, which allowed everyone to dance to a DJ via wireless headphones. There's certainly no better place to catch the sun setting from a Ferris wheel, while listening to the best in indie music. Dan Strachota

20. Mercy, what a top cop
Kamala Harris's unexpected victory over Steve Cooley as state attorney general is significant for reasons that go well beyond the obvious Democratic sweep. Come on, people—she's black (and Indian American). She's a woman. She has made her reputation as a national thought leader on criminal justice reform, bringing ideas to the table that aren't just progressive-leaning (i.e., sensitive to root causes and racial disparities), but also female- and family-centric. And now she's in charge of one of the largest—and one of the most repressive and inefficient—criminal justice systems in the world, where 74 percent of those incarcerated are minorities and 93 percent are male. Let's all stand back and think about what that means. An AG who believes in rehabilitation and “restorative justice” at least as much as in long prison terms. An AG who does not personally believe in the death penalty, or in prosecuting people just because she can. An AG who thinks that one way to prevent crime is to teach nonviolent drug offenders to become better parents and employees. If George Deukmejian and Dan Lungren were dead, they'd be rolling in their graves.

Tom Bradley is dead, but my guess is that if he were alive, he'd be smiling. The Bradley effect—the notion that white people will say they support black candidates, then vote white—was discredited in 2008 and proved irrelevant in 2010. This was the year of the Latino voter, and that multicolored bloc went for Harris in droves. And conservatives were too busy demonizing Nancy Pelosi and immigrants to worry about Harris. Well, now the right wing is paying attention, and Harris has a huge red target painted on her back. Good thing for her that she's smart on politics, not just crime. Nina Martin

21. A couture mega icon settles a raging local debate
When “Balenciaga and Spain,” curated by Vogue's witty fashion genius Hamish Bowles, arrives at the de Young this spring, it will be more than just the biggest in San Francisco's recent run of bold-name fashion exhibitions (Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood): It should silence the city's stodgy art critics who still question whether fashion belongs in art museums, despite the sprawling permanent collections at the Louvre, the Met, and London's Victoria and Albert. Of course the city's serious fashion mavens, who have included the likes of Nan Kempner and now count Danielle Steel and Vanessa Getty among their ranks, have always been able to recognize a masterpiece when they see one, so they can just sit back and gloat.

Bowles calls Cristobal Balenciaga “the most influential dressmaker of the midcentury” and says that the Spanish designer was a success from the moment he opened his atelier on Avenue George V in the late 1930s. Just as it does today, the fashion pack then swarmed toward new talent, and Balenciaga's admirers included Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, and Coco Chanel. Bowles's assemblage shows how the dress of Spanish laborers, matadors, and flamenco dancers influenced the designer (just as the uniforms of French soldiers and sailors inspired Chanel). In today's bare-it-all fashion culture, Balenciaga's voluminous silhouettes, asymmetrical gowns, sailor's smocks, and balloon and sack dresses bring sexy back to ankles, wrists, and necks. Elizabeth Varnell March 26-July 4, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F., 415-750-3600,

22. The rise of the unplugged
Remember the good old days, like 2008, when you were always looking for a wireless hotspot? We predict that 2011 will inaugurate the movement to unplug. The best productivity websites, from Lifehacker to local productivity expert Merlin Mann's 43Folders, now devote hashtags and full pages to strategies for disconnecting (yes, they're aware of the irony). At least two coffee shops (in the Mission, of course), Four Barrel and Borderlands Cafe, already make it a point to provide an Internet-free (and magazine-rich) experience. Some desperate professionals are now paying for wireless offices. Alissa Valles, an accomplished poet and translator, with exactly as much disposable income as you'd expect for a poet and translator, still commutes every day from Larkspur to a small rented office in SoMa that she calls her sanctuary. “I've got a book to write,” she says. “If I could get online, I wouldn't stand a chance.” And if you can't afford to rent your own pockets of silence, and don't know how to jury-rig your computer the way Jonathan Franzen has, you can download programs from the web that will lock you offline for anywhere from 15 minutes to 24 hours. One is called SelfControl. The other: Freedom, which just happens to be the name of Franzen's latest bestseller. Coincidence or coded message? You decide. Sheerly Avni

23. Trial run for a kite that could power our homes
If we could fly miniature turbines up where the wind blows harder, we might tap into a massive reservoir of power—perhaps the biggest concentration of power on the planet. That was the gist of a mostly ignored report back in 1980 that will go from theoretical what-if to working prototype, thanks to two Bay Area innovators.
Makani Power, located on Alameda's desolate air base and partly funded by Google, will test a device that looks like an 18-foot wing and flies in wide circles a few hundred feet off the ground, collecting potentially enough power to “fuel” five typical U.S. homes. With the same idea in mind, Joby Energy, nestled in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains, will try out a long-winged glider with eight propellers that faces into the wind, tethered to a long cord, and that could potentially fuel about 100 homes. The next step: raising enough money for a commercial application. Luckily, Silicon Valley and European utilities (so often ahead of those in the United States) are already keeping a close watch. Erik Vance

24. Cash and credit cards start toward their graves
When Google CEO Eric Schmidt declares that phones could replace credit cards, as he did last fall, you know a financial revolution is on the way. Google is introducing a phone that functions like a credit card, but Palo Alto's Bling Nation already has a big head start. Early adopters already know: Slap one of its PayPal-powered stickers onto your existing phone, and when you're out shopping, just tap it against the store's Bling sensor to check out. No signing necessary, and a text message confirms your purchase. You can lighten your wallet, too, since merchants are more likely to accept Bling for small purchases because of its lower fees (added bonus: You'll get to watch credit card companies scramble to catch up).

Bling Nation also includes some clever social-media bells and whistles. Walk into Coupa Café, for example, and Bling will check you in on Foursquare the minute you buy an espresso. And soon, when you talk up your local dive on your Facebook profile, the bartender may have your favorite draft waiting the next time you walk in. Now that's service. Timothy Kim 650-529-4101,

25. 2009's most toasted theater twosome is back with a thrilling encore
Leave it to Sarah Ruhl and Les Waters to collaborate on the year's most anticipated play (not musical; that honor goes to ACT's upcoming Tales of the City). The playwright and director's first joint venture at Berkeley Rep (Eurydice, in 2004) had local critics falling all over themselves, and it eventually went to off-Broadway. The following one, In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), drew so much attention that the New York Times sent a reviewer. He fawned, and eight months later, the play was on Broadway. Back in the Bay Area, the ribald portrait of late-19th-century politics—complete with a doctor who tries to treat hysteria with a vibrator—won over jaded local theatergoers with its cutting intellect, brisk humor, and clever staging.

Ruhl and Waters' new work, a production of The Three Sisters, promises to be similarly intoxicating. Anton Chekhov's tale of the decline of an aristocratic family might well be the finest drama written in the 20th century. Too often, though, it can seem all samovars and sanctimony. Ruhl, though, has written a lean, conversational translation, stripping away any trace of mannered staidness, and Waters has enlisted his wife, Annie Smart, who brought a keen sophistication to the sets for In the Next Room. With these artists at the helm, gripping theater is merely show business as usual. Scott Hocker Apr. 8-May 22, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley, 510-647-2949,

26. The world discovers a new world-music star
Few musical groups can claim to have toured with both alt-rock god Les Claypool of Primus and Burning Man DJ icon Bassnectar, but Beats Antique is not a normal band. The Oakland trio, multi-instrumentalists David Satori and Tommy Cappel and belly dancer-producer Zoe Jakes, makes world music that's as dizzying as a whirling top, and they're constantly winning over new crowds, whether it's world music-loving hippies, Burning Man freaks, or funk aficionados. Their latest disc, Blind Threshold, features such unexpected guests as Blues Traveler's John Popper and world folk singer Eva Salina, and it's rumored that tracks on their forthcoming EP are being coproduced by a hush-hush big-name artist. In 2010, Beats Antique toured the Midwest and Canada and played festivals like Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza, and S.F.'s own Outside Lands, and they'll spend most of 2011 prowling the U.S. (with a three-week stint in Australia), including their first local headline show in a year, sometime this spring. The threesome's 2008 disc, Collide (which at one point was the top downloaded world dance album on, best demonstrates their sound, as they find common ground between bouncy Balkan Gypsy funk, sultry hip-hop rhythms, and thumping electro beats. But the group really excels at their live shows, which come replete with crazed drummers, horse-headed dancers, and the occasional manic horn player. Dan Strachota

27. 500 Bayview kids head toward college

A fascinating mix of old money (Dede Wilsey), new money (Ron Conway and Jennifer Newsom), business titans (Doris Fisher), and San Francisco's newest fashion family (the Mitchells, who recently bought Wilkes Bashford) is throwing its weight behind the transformative nonprofit cofounded by Laurene Powell Jobs (Steve's wife). This spring, College Track, the after-school program that has dazzled educators nationwide with its success in helping low-income kids get to—and through—college, will be breaking ground on a huge new building on Third Street. The group's audacious goal is to reach a third of Bayview's high school-age population, or about 500 kids. Given how few students in the neighborhood graduate from college now—one educator puts the number at 10 percent—that's not just beating the odds; it's smashing them to bits. Timothy Kim

28. Our once-in-a-generation chance to hear this magisterial music
Some people know the Vienna Philharmonic only for its controversial history: It didn't admit a woman to a permanent position until 1997, and she was, as you might have guessed, a harpist. But when musicians—and those who love them—hear the orchestra play, which they'll finally have a chance to do after its 24-year absence from the Bay Area, they'll be reminded why it's near the top of anybody's list of the world's greatest orchestras. The Vienna Phil's lush sonority, unique phrasing, and absolute technical mastery add up to an ideal instrument for interpreting the Central European classics. And there will be more than one woman on the stage when the orchestra has its Berkeley debut in February, the pièce de résistance of Cal Performances director Matías Tarnopolsky's inaugural season. The superb conductor Semyon Bychkov will lead three concerts, showcasing music by Schubert, Wagner, Bartók, Schumann, Brahms, and Mahler, whose brooding Symphony No. 6 will complete this historic engagement. Allan Ulrich Feb. 25-27, Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, 510-642-9988,

29. Hola to the best tequila in town
Julio Bermejo's margarita recipe, which calls for hand-squeezed lime juice and eschews triple sec in favor of agave nectar, is now the standard for bartenders all over town; by this fall, his tequila will be the one they build the recipe around. Bermejo, the proprietor of Tommy's, a family restaurant on 24th and Geary, is one of the world's foremost experts on the spirit. Five years ago, he even married tequila royalty: one of the scions of the Camarena family, which distills El Tesoro, considered by many to be the greatest of all tequilas. Now he plans to add his own stamp to the family legacy with his new tequila, L & J, which promises to be one of the finest and most traditional (and therefore most flavorful) on the market. Jordan Mackay 5929 Geary Blvd., S.F., 415-387-4747,


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