*Guest blog post by Ross Portugeis of Colliers International
I am fortunate in so many ways. I was born and raised in San Francisco. I lived and traveled the world in a fast-paced media career for a quarter century, and I have great friends from around the world, many of whom come to San Francisco to visit. It’s always my pleasure to show off the City to them. If it’s a clear day I like to start at the top of Twin Peaks so they can enjoy the grand panoramic view and point out places we will visit. And, of course, always included in my tour is a visit to Union Square where they can see some great architecture and art, enjoy libations at swanky bars, have a fine meal and take advantage of a unique shopping experience.
Recently a friend from Rome visited, and we decided to spend an afternoon in Union Square for a good catch up. Our first stop was Michael Mina’s sleek and intimate Clock Bar at the Westin St. Francis. Not only is the Westin an incredibly impressive historic hotel that is wonderful to point out to visitors, but the Clock Bar has a seasonal menu of delicious cocktails that is currently centered on nuts, spice and orchard fruits. I tend to stick to the classics, but my friend enjoyed an Orchard Fizz made with Rhuby, apple ice-wine, lemon, egg white and soda. It was a great spot to get our evening off on the right foot. Afterward, we decided to grab a bite at Scala’s Bistro. Being one of the hottest tickets in town, it was packed, but luckily we were able to snag a spot at the bar. We munched on Jen Biesty’s tasty Fritto Misto and Drake’s Bay Oysters and left refreshed and ready for more adventures.
The weather was fine, it was twilight time and so we decided to meander. I thought she’d enjoy seeing the flagship Apple store on Stockton Street, even though it was absolutely packed. We ooed and ahhed at the shiny iPhones and iPads and iwhatnots for a while, but then we had to get away from the crowd. Maiden Lane is the perfect destination for this, being a lovely quiet walkway and also a fun piece of San Francisco history (yes, it’s called Maiden Lane due to its pre-earthquake profusion of brothels). Our next destination was perhaps one of the most impressive and least known landmarks in the City – Xanadu Gallery at 140 Maiden Lane.
Why is Xanadu Gallery so impressive? First, it is the only commercial building by famed architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright to be built in San Francisco. The exterior is a simple but elegant windowless wall of fine brickwork. The arched entry leads to a brilliantly illuminated gallery with a circular mezzanine led to by a spiral ramp.
This circular motif is reinforced with curved cabinetry, built in circle shaped display cases and the brilliant luminous cast white plastic ceiling, which showers a feeling of sunlight below. Built in 1949 as the V.C. Morris Gift Shop, it became Xanadu Gallery in 1979, making it one of San Francisco’s most enduring galleries.
The gallery has an extensive selection of Asian, Oceanic and African art, antiquities, furnishings and other ethnographic pieces – from museum quality to home décor to affordable and easy to travel with, unique gifts. The exterior is so distinct, and yet, you cannot guess what lies behind that brick arch when seeing it from the street. I imagine many people pass it by not knowing the fantastic treasure they are missing out on. Luckily for my friends, I won’t let them, and they always leave feeling as if they’ve peeked in on something special and uniquely San Francisco.
We rounded out the evening with a stop at the speakeasyesque Otis Lounge just down the street on Maiden Lane. This place is a small hideaway in the heart of Union Square, and it’s bustling with beautiful, young people all the time We enjoyed unwinding with a drink, while taking in the chic décor and sophisticated ambiance. When we parted, my friend seemed just as in love with this City as I am, and I felt I’d done San Francisco and especially Union Square justice once again.
Ross Portugeis is a native San Franciscan who enjoyed an international media career with Time Warner/Turner Broadcasting for more than 25 years, living and traveling around the world. Having concluded that San Francisco is indeed a great place he returned home in 2001. Ross then became involved in commercial real estate and is currently a Senior Vice President at Colliers International, specializing in retail property leasing and sales, working with both landlords and tenants, which he finds tremendously enjoyable as it enables him to become more deeply engaged in the community and knowledgeable about the city he loves. If you want to read more of his reflections on the City you can find them on his blog www.sfretail.blogspot.com.