John Waters at the 2009 Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
One of the reasons why celebrities like cult-film maker John Waters love San Francisco is that the Bay Area tends to not fawn and make a big deal of their presence. The film director, writer, conceptual artist and Pope of Trash Waters may have fallen for our hometown enough to call it home (if only on a part-time basis). Two years ago, he decided to buy a place in Nob Hill, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report by Catherine Bigelow in January this year. Bigelow described Waters first visit to the Jeannette Etheredge owned North Beach watering hole, Tosca. Waters went to Tosca after he attended the 75th anniversary of SFMOMA with artworld-celeb friends who are also his neighbors here. Sightings of Waters have also been documented on the Mission Mission blog–among other places–last year. There are reports on Mission Mission of Waters hanging out at an art show opening party, as well as the Polk Street post office (from Cooking with Amy’s Amy Sherman), Borderlands Bookstore, and doing his grocery shopping and riding buses and MUNI are sited.
We don’t have any sort of real paparazzi here like the movie hub Southern California (SoCal) does, and instead resort to various ways of noting and communicating encounters and occasional contact with famous types. The bounty of natural beauty, cultural heritage, middling to decent public transportation (which Waters reportedly enjoys using), and of course food culture ranging from street food to California cuisine and white table cloth establishments make the deal of Bay Area living that much sweeter. Northern California is generally a more relaxed environment versus the hustle-bustle-do-you-know-who-I-am? aggression and cheesiness that smacks you in the face constantly in L.A. My first job out of UC Berkeley in the mid-1990s was working for Nancy Hayes Casting, which was then located in Russian Hill. Through that line of work, I was able to work on movie and commercial projects and meet a rash of actors, directors, and related celebrities and creative types in from other parts of the country and world. They often wanted to learn about our city’s bookstores (Green Apple and City Lights remained among the go-to spots that they are today), nightclubs (DNA Lounge ring a bell?), restaurants (everything from Perry’s to Swan Oyster Depot and Rose Pistola to even the now-thankfully-shuttered Planet Hollywood), hikes, and historical places just like any other visitor, famous or not.
Waters’ presence and activities here has been noted frequently in traditional print media, as well as on blogs and other social media including Yelp. He is one famous visitor who decided to take up residence in San Francisco. Although Waters is mainly based out of Baltimore, he also has a home in New York City and a summer home in Provincetown. Waters has been making, writing, and directing films for forty years, and his long body of almost always controversial film work includes Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Pecker and two film versions of Hairspray that later became a Broadway sensation. If the names Dawn Davenport, Prudy Pingleton, and Tony The Tickler ring a bell, then you are familiar with Waters often times gross out material that famously includes the scene in Pink Flamingos where Waters’ muse and childhood friend Divine (a drag persona by Harris Glenn Milstead) eats dog feces on camera. The dog-doo poo-poo scene was for real sans cuts, edits or effects, and was ground breaking in the pre-YouTube and Internet era. Censors and prim and proper types may consider Waters, who has long been confirmed as a gay man, to be pushing the boundaries of good taste and decency. Others, who are fans, await his next film or art project with baited breath. His trademark pencil thin mustache is as much a part of his public identity as are his ties to Divine and the Dreamlanders group of Baltimore area actors, Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Johnny Depp, one time porn queen Traci Lords and the now freed purported criminal and heiress Patricia Hearst. All have played roles in Waters’ work, and show how he creates and uses characters that may already have inherent shock value with the public.
In 2008, Waters was in San Francisco to put on a one-man vaudeville show at the Castro Theater, to benefit the Frameline film festival, which is definitely LGBT friendly. The Castro was a favorite of Waters because Pink Flamingos has played there. Waters vaudeville act was one that he originated with his pal and muse Divine decades ago. He said that he thinks of himself as a “Filth Elder” more so than the “Pope of Trash” nickname he received from William Burroughs. Waters’ elder reference is perhaps his way of acknowledging that he is in his sixties. I emailed The Filth Elder last week to find out the food-centric spots he likes to frequent when he lives in San Francisco. Aside from his picks below, you can also plan on catching Waters at his City Arts & Lectures appearance happening on May 25th for his Role Models book tour…San Francisco is the first stop on the tour.
Waters cites Zuni at the top of his list, adding “my old friend from Provincetown Billy West started it.”
Zuni Café 1658 Market Street (between Franklin and Gough) (415) 553-2522 Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 11:30 am to 11 pm Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to midnight Sunday 11:00 am to 11:00 pm | Closed Monday (415) 553-2522
The Big Four, where Waters swoons that it is “SOO Sunset Boulevard.” Big Four spokesperson Kellie Samson confirmed that “he usually comes in with a few other people (family and/or friends) and…is quite approachable and has a good rapport and is friendly with our staff. Since he lives in the neighborhood, he’s often seen walking in Nob Hill and on the cable car, etc.”
The Big Four Restaurant at the Huntington Hotel 1075 California Street (at Taylor Street) (415) 771-1140 Hours: Breakfast Monday – Friday: 7am to 10am Saturday – Sunday: 7am to 11am Lunch service at The Big 4 will be available on Thursdays and Fridays between the hours of 11:30am and 3pm, only. Dinner Nightly: 5:30pm to 10pm Bar Nightly: 4pm until midnight Thursday – Friday:
All day Piano entertainment Daily, 5pm to 11:30pm • Michael Parsons (Monday – Saturday) • Steve Klawiter (Sunday)
Foreign Cinema. Through representative Keelin Czellecz, chef-owner Gayle Pirie & Floor Manager Tracy Smyth commented that Waters “often orders fish” and receives “an amuse [bouche]” from the Foreign Cinema kitchen. Waters told me “I drink Stoli martinis,” and his friends enjoyed gin martinis — 209 Gin with olives. Waters is friendly to curious customers, and “is one of the few celebrities that have come in that people feel like they can go up to the table and talk to him. He is really sweet when he is approached.”
Foreign Cinema 2534 Mission Street (between 21st Street and 22nd Street) (415) 648-7600 Hours: Dinner Monday – Thursday 6pm to 10pm Friday – Saturday 5:30pm to 11pm Sunday 5:30pm to 10pm Brunch Saturday 11am to 3pm Sunday 11am to 3:30pm
Range Range Restaurant 842 Valencia Street (between 19th Street and 20th Street) (415) 282-8283 Hours: Monday – Thursday 6pm to close Friday – Sunday 5:30pm to close
La Ciccia. Sardinian Italian food in Noe Valley. According to La Ciccia spokesperson Eleanor Bertino, Waters “came in on a really busy night.” Wife-owner Lorella Degan told Bertino that “he was with two other men, and he ordered pasta and was very nice and warm… in no way demanding.”
La Ciccia 291 30th Street (at Church Street) (415) 550-8114 Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 5:30pm to 10pm (Closed Mondays and Major Holidays)
Nob Hill Café 1152 Taylor Street (between Clay Street and Pleasant Street) (415) 776-6500 Hours: Monday – Friday Lunch 11am to 3pm, Saturday & Sunday Brunch 11am to 3pm, Dinner Nightly from 5pm to 10pm
The lunch counter in Armani shop. Gina Chinchilla, who is General Manager of the Armani café would only comment, “Unfortunately, we are not allowed to give out any information about our clients that visit the Cafe. We may only confirm that he does indeed frequent our Cafe.”
Armani Café 1 Grant Avenue (between Market Street and O’Farrell Street) (415) 677-9010 Hours: Monday – Saturday, 11am to 4pm; Sunday from 12 noon to 4pm
See’s Candy: according to Sharyl Mitchell of See’s, “Mr. Waters used to visit our Union Square Shop that is now closed” at 350 Powell Street. He would buy all kinds of candy, and the manager at the store recalls seeing him “all the time.”