Monday, March 8, 2010

GDC Attendee's Guide to San Francisco

By Kirk Hamilton & The Gamer Melodico Staff

This week, our lovely city of San Francisco (well, most of ours, anyway - Somebody still thinks she's auditioning to join the cast of Singles) opens its doors to game creators, writers, studio executives, and journalists from around the world for the annual Game Developer's Conference. Welcome one and all!

The GM crew and I know that you're planning on spending most of the week safe inside the Moscone Center, bathed in the warm glow of LCD monitors and PR spin, but we love our town enough to at least try to suggest a few spots around the city that you could check out.

All the links below lead to directions from the Moscone center to the best food, beer, and nightlife we can recommend. Also, if you're using the bus, we recommend using NextMuni to plan your schedule, or even better, downloading iCommute SF, a hella-useful MUNI app for the iPhone.

1. Food!

Man, San Francisco has some pretty outstanding food.  Trouble is, none of it is going to be the stuff you'll find in Moscone South.  Actually, those lunches they're serving sound pretty damned depressing.

But okay, during the day, you're far more interested in hearing whatever three amazing presentations are simultaneously going on than you are with eating a lunch that doesn't make you sad on an existential level. But what about dinner? May we recommend the following establishments.

In the Moscone area, you can't go wrong at Mehfil Indian Cuisine, Supperclub (a trippy dinner experience where they serve you on beds--make a reservation), and the Samovar Tea Lounge.  For beautiful drinks with "beautiful" people, there's also the lobby of the W Hotel.  Which is sort of like a Marriott, reimagined by Derek Zoolander.  And if drunken vanity is not your style, there's open skating at the Yerba Buena Center next door.

(Fun Fact: Twitter HQ is right across the street from the Moscone! If you tweet a picture of it, we're pretty sure there's some sort of meta-tweet achievement you can unlock).

Papalote Mexican Grill has some of the best burritos in the city (though, of course, debating the best burrito in SF is like debating the best pizza in NY - an endless, heated back-and-forth that always ends in deliciousness). Bobby Flay recently showed up to challenge their head cook in a salsa-off, so the place has gotten really popular, but all the same, their burritos (always order "Super, with spicy salsa inside") and their super fish tacos are outta sight. Protip: If you call ahead, you can get your burritos to go, which is way better than dealing with the cluster-fuck inside.

If you're not from NY, you'll also probably enjoy our pizza. (If you are from NY, skip this paragraph).  Tomasso's in North Beach might be SF's "best" pizza, but if you're looking for something a bit different, try a deep-dish at Little Star.  Their pizzas have cornbread crust and they also serve some really delicious...

2. Beer! 

We have so many amazing kinds of beer in SF. Anchor Steam is the most well-known, but it's sort of the Budwiser of the Bay Area - it'll do ya fine, but the smaller breweries are where it's at. Speakeasy beers are amazing, their Big Daddy IPA is one of my personal favorites, but Prohibition Ale is on tap at lots of places and is also delicious. Bear Republic, another small brewery out of Healdsburg, makes an amazing IPA called Racer 5 that's rightly heralded as one of the best beers you can get in SF.  It's also on tap just about anywhere. A particularly great place to hit, if you're a fan of trying various brews, is Toronado in the lower Haight.  They have like a hundred different brews on tap.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can head up Haight to Magnolia, where they brew some seriously strong stuff (and have a pretty killer menu, too).

3. Nightlife!

Eschewing those overplayed stereotypes about gaming types not ever wanting to go out, I'm gonna go with my gut and guess that y'all are alright with seeing some of San Francisco's nightlife. So, when the convention lets out for the day and you unclip your nametag and set down your laptop, allow me to suggest some clubs and bars you might enjoy.

Great American Music Hall, Slim's, and the Rickshaw Stop are all three cool places to see a show.  On Thursday, some of my buddies are playing at the Bottom of the Hill in the baltic brass band Brass Menazerie, which I've heard is a super-fun time. If you're more in the mood for some yhazz music, Yoshi's SF is a great local spot for jazz, or you can hit up Amnesia in the mission, if you'd like something less sterile (and more fun). Also in the mission is the absolutely lovely Red Poppy Art House, where they have great acoustic music in a listening room with a wine bar.  It's friendly and cozy, and if you want a "real" SF experience, the Red Poppy is as good as it gets.

Also, the Mission is a great place to see Mass Affect in action.

On Friday, my good friend (and vocalist in my own band) Lindsay Garfield's folk group Or, The Whale is headlining at The Independent with The Maldives. It's gonna be a way cool show, and that venue rules.

Of course, there are other options, too - it wouldn't be a tech convention if there weren't some dudes going off to strip clubs, and we've got some good ones in SF (or so I'm told). You can hit up Larry Flynt's Hustler Club across the street from Tomasso's, and I'm pretty sure there's also a big one at Geary and Polk or something with an appropriately gaudy big sign out front. 

4. Don't Hate on the Haight

Man, I loved how they called the Haight-Ashbury "Hashbury" in GTA: San Andreas - I still can't believe that no one had come up with that before. Anyway, if you have the means, I highly recommend heading out to the Haight and hitting Amoeba Music. Amoeba is a legendary used record shop, easily of the biggest on the west coast.  Even the most dyed-in-the-wool online music convert can lose an hour or two (and a hundred bucks) picking up random used CDs and vinyl.  Also, head directly left from the cash register to get a look at the saddest game collection of any store ever. No, seriously. The last time I was there, I think they had like five copies of Iron Man and an some PS1 games.

Fair warning: Don't go to the Haight looking for historic summer of love crap, though - all you'll get in most of the neighborhood are clothing shops, British tourists, drifters with mean dogs, and weird hippies outside of the McDonald's offering you "Nugs and shrooms?" "Green Buds?" Do, however, take a stroll through Golden Gate Park - this is just the thing to do if you're still in town on Sunday after the convention - I'll go out on a limb and say it's the best city park in the country, hands-down.

Well. That's a pretty good list, taking into account that most of the places y'all will be able to check out are places you'll have to go after the convention lets out for the day. David and I will be there, too, most likely on Friday, so we hope to see you there. We'll be easy to spot - too goofy-ish tall guys camping out to get into the Composer Challenge on Friday.

Fellow San Franciscans - did we leave anything out? Are there perhaps some places closer to Moscone that you'd recommend?  Let us know!


Dan the Man said...
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Jay said...

If you're going make the trip out to the Haight, I recommend stopping in for a stiff drink at the alembic. It's only a block or 2 from Amoeba and, while it is a little on the pricey side, it's one of the few watering holes that's worth the splurge. Real bartenders (not mixers) who do it right, egg whites, bitters (some from exotic far-off places) and one impressive list of spirits. You're grandpa would love this place if it weren't for the neighborhood (darn hooligans!).

On the other side of the Haight lies the Toronado, the ONLY place you will ever need to go for a beer. It's a lil off the beaten path, but if you're looking for an insanely great selection (quality and quantity) of beers on tap, look no further. If you get hungry, grab a gourmet sausage from the place next-door and make a meal out of it. You're welcome to bring it in the bar.

Have fun and good luck in the contest!

PS - I think I'm in Annie's camp on the Singles front. If I could go back to a time when Soundgarden was still a metal band and DJs mixed Public Enemy with Elvis Costello, I'd be there in a heartbeat. What's so funny 'bout that?

Kirk Hamilton said...

We got Toronado in there - I've never been to the Alembec, but it sounds like good times.

We forgot to add Vega at Langdon, where they serve Blue Bottle coffee, but I bet everyone already knows about it, since it's like right next to the Moscone.

Jay said...

Snap! Sorry about that, but Toronado's probably worth mentioning twice :) I'm really stoked you guys included Speakeasy beers too. Our CEO is one of the investors there so we get the hook-up for work parties and the like (I'm a fan of the Prohibition Ale). Also, Racer 5, HELL YES. You've definitely got a brew-tastic list going on.

One suggestion: Chicagoans (like myself) can also skip the pizza section. Little Star is pretty good, but when it comes to deep dish, they can get in line behind pretty much every place in Chi-Town. Sorry, I get defensive when NY is mentioned like it's the only metro area that gets a pizza-snob pass. We get to be snobs too, dammit!

OK, 2 suggestions: If you make it down to the embarcadero, possibly to check out the Ferry Building, stop by Red's Java House at Pier 28 for lunch. the. best. fish. n' chips. EVAR. It was also featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations last year.