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chronicles of starting an art bar / cafe in san francisco

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November here and I have one thing on my mind: DRUGS. “Why?” You may ask. Well, because on November 2nd Californians failed to legalize marijuana. I’m not going to go into the politics of any of this, but I will tell you that it lead to me spending all week bidding on back issues of High Times magazine on ebay. And no, I wasn’t stoned.

'Sup Cheech & Chong

Certain things come to mind when people think of San Francisco and the Bay Area – the amazing food (the whole local and organic thing is sort of our trademark), the abundance of iPhones (techies for days), the gays, the liberals, the activists, and certainly, the hippies. In certain parts of the the US, people think that we are all homosexual vegan potheads wearing organic hemp tie dye outfits and sipping kombucha. That might not be quite accurate, but if you put the staff of The Summit in a blender…

some of us at The Summit are working the steps.

The point is – our little city has a reputation, a reputation that involves liberalism, free love, and red eyes, goofy grins, and the munchies. And we kind of deserve it, in the 60s San Francisco was the city of free love, hippies, and a whole lot of smoking pot. Not to mention dropping acid, eating mushrooms, smoking salvia, and let’s not forget peyote or mescaline, alcohol and quaaludes and hash. You throw all that into the mix and things are bound to get interesting.

These hippie babes look dazed and confused. Also, those are boobs. Almost. You're welcome.

Thankfully, all that drug experimentation was accompanied by a whole lot of amazing art, music, and literature. Some of my favorite writing is the beat literature that came out of our city in the 60s, and authors like Jack Keroac and Allen Ginsberg are some of the first that come to mind when you think about literature in San Francisco.

Jack Kerouac. Babe Alert.

But this city isn’t just happy hippies in a cloud of pot smoke writing novels, it’s also junkies on 6th Street and the corner of Turk & Taylor. It’s dealers hustling heroin on Mission Street and gutterpunks selling hits of acid on Haight Street. It’s club kids tweaked out on e and coke and meth. It’s AA, and NA, and MA, 12-step programs, and sober homes, and rehabs. Drug culture is as much about addiction as it is about experimentation, and the literature that is born from dependancy can be compelling. Think William S. Burroughs’ “Junkie” or more recently, Nic Sheff’s “Tweak” and James Frey’s (semi-fictional, but compelling none-the-less) “A Million Little Pieces.”

So, for November, with Prop 19 and marijuana on everyone’s minds, I decided to put together a collection of literature pertaining to drug culture. I’m titling the collection “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out,”  a phrase coined by Timothy Leary in the 60s to promote the benefits of LSD. Obviously the collection isn’t just about marijuana, and you should expect to see quite a bit of anti-drug propaganda (back issues of TIME magazine discussing the “menace of cocaine”, and guides for parents who suspect their children of drug use). I hope that it will peak the interest the people who wander over from a 420 session at Dolores to satisfy their munchies, and to the people whose drug of choice is the caffeine in their Blue Bottle Coffee.

Just scored this on ebay - pretty stoked.

There will be an opening reception for the collection on November 9th… more details to come!

You guys can use the front door, I promise.


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For most of the last month my whole apartment has been carpeted in zines, magazines, and books (see also: candy wrappers and clothes). There is a regiment to the madness, I swear. There are piles grouped next to other piles, and…. well, it’s all going to come together in the Library at The Summit. Probably a hell of a lot better than it’s come together on my apartment floor.

Even though I live alone, I still find myself looking at my messy apartment like it's someone else's fault.

I say “Library” but right now I’m working within the confines of a 10′ high by 3′ wide really, really nice magazine rack. I’ll have more space to work with in November, but it’s probably best that I start small.

A mock-up of the initial "Magazine Rack" placed between the coffee station & the ATM - can't miss it.

There’s a whole lot that I want to fit onto those 6 little shelves, and even more that I want to fit into the completed Library, but I have narrowed down the first collection of work to (mostly) fit within a theme.

The “theme” concept for the Library was Desi Daganan’s idea. Instead of jamming together a bunch of magazines randomly, wouldn’t it be neat to think of the collection as sort of an art show at a gallery? As someone who enjoys going to art shows and museums, I’ve had a lot of fun trying to translate the way an art curator puts together a show to a process that I can use when putting together written work for the Summit Library.

An art show at 111 Minna Gallery in SOMA.

...doesn't look so terribly different from this Library. Only those are books on the wall instead of paintings. And those are little kids instead of drunk hipsters.

This month, the theme for the Library is “Don’t Call it a Comeback” (taken from LL Cool J’s smash hit “Mama Said Knock You Out”, because all themes for Libraries should have ties to rap songs) I didn’t choose this theme because I love rap and Cool J’s sexy abs (I love both a lot though), I chose it it because I wanted the first installment of the Library to remind people of where The Summit came from.

That’s right “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.” Most everybody knows by now that The Summit has risen from the proverbial ashes of Poleng Lounge, a restaurant and nightclub, with strong ties to the Hip Hop community (The RZA once drank tea and played chess at Poleng until 3 in the morning). And with the doors finally opening to the public, Desi and many ex-Polengers (myself included) have made a comeback of sorts.

Poleng's last night was more fun and positive than it was sad.

So how exactly does this influence what’s featured in the Library? Well, I came up with a long list of people, companies, countries, etc who exemplify the tenacity it takes to climb from defamation back to success: Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Ford Motor Company, David Needleman of Jet Blue, Jack Bogle of Vanguard Funds, The Lakers, The Red Sox, Martha Stewart, China, etc. Then I began hunting down magazine covers detailing each of these subjects at their worst, and then back up on their feet. I learned pretty quickly that back issues of magazines can be expensive and difficult to obtain. Ultimately I determined that, within my budget, Ford Motor Company, Steve Jobs, and China were the best subjects for which I could find the two magazine covers I needed to demonstrate the Press’s conception of a downfall and then a comeback.

1993 issue of French Vogue featuring Nelson Mandela for $118? Can I use the company card?

So, like an art show centered around a few key pieces, this month’s Library will be centered around 6 really awesome magazines.

The Steve Jobs cover story from last post ties with this 1967 issue of TIME for my favorite pieces in this month's collection.

In the future, I want themes to be less restrictive (i.e. a whole bunch of drug related stuff for the November Marijuana ballot?). And there will always be a selection of reading material that doesn’t relate to the theme. In an effort to please the very eclectic group of people who work and spend time at The Summit, the Library will be pretty eclectic itself.

It looks like the doors to The Summit will finally be open this Thursday, and I encourage you to come by and check out The Summit mini-Library and give me some feedback on what you’d like to see included next month!

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