Photograph by Michael Amsler
This & Tatts
'Best of' local everyday stuff (Staff Picks)
"A man's best things are nearest him."
--Richard Monckton Milnes
Best and Most Inviting Iron Gate
Iron gates can be so imposing. They tend to be big. And they're also so . . . made of iron. The vast iron gate that protects the courtyard of the Erickson & Elins Gallery, however, is far less imposing than it is inviting. About 10 feet tall, the gate is adorned, at the top, with a kind of decorative metal grapevine sculpture. It draws the eye, first to the gate itself, then to the space beyond it, an elegant building with enormous rectangular windows. Then the eye is pulled in even further, past the window and into the gallery, where a magical spiral staircase stands waiting to be ascended and where untold treasures hang waiting to be seen. 324 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 431-7073.--D.T.
Best Place to Unleash Your Mutt
He's really friendly and good with children; she always comes when she's called. But that won't save you from a fine if your dog gets caught leashless in most public parks. If you want to give Champ the full-tilt workout he so desperately needs, you'll have to venture further afield. On days when schlepping all the way to the beach is too much to ask, try the tranquil alternative of the footpaths on Willowside Road, located a few miles west of downtown Santa Rosa between Guerneville Road and Hall Road (aka Third Street). You'll know you're there when you see cars parked on the shoulder near a bridge. On either side of the creek run seemingly endless aisles of gravel bordered by bucolic fenced pastures where horses canter, ducks quack, and the occasional wild pheasant ululates in the underbrush. Dog heaven.--Y.B.
Sonoma County's own little piece of San Jose, the Petaluma Auto Plaza sign is just as crass today as it was when first erected years ago. Towering over the freeway, the monolith blares an unceasing flow of pixilated shuck-and-jive into the eyes of commuters, with a malign authority no meek Clover-Stornetta billboard could hope to command. The idea that this monstrosity might actually compel someone to purchase a new automobile, rather than flee the scene in the one they already have, seems absurd. And yet the sign endures; it is, as popsters Ace of Base would have it, demanding without understanding.--Y.B.
Best Old-School Graveyard
Conventional motives aside, there are several reasons to visit graveyards. Most of them have to do with the perennial desire for solitude, and a graveyard is one of the few outdoor places left where one can reasonably expect to find it. If you want to brood about your own mortality (or someone else's), there's no better place. Then again, it's a perfect setting to celebrate your own survival. Under the right circumstances, it can even be an appropriate picnicking spot. The key word is respect; leave things as you find them, and recognize that if there are other visitors, their grief outranks your introspection. One particularly beautiful graveyard is up on Sullivan Road, just west of Graton off Graton Road. It was photographed last summer for a Rolling Stone article on local mad hatter Tom Waits, but apart from that, the place is usually deserted. Bring a journal, a pillow, a harmonica, or just yourself.--Y.B.
Best Place for Angling While Getting Sheared
Well, Vicchi and Michelle probably won't be too happy if you do go fishing during your hair appointment, but watching the 44-gallon pond (resplendent with goldfish and trickling fountain) in the display window at Two Women Doing Hair is an excellent way to relax while getting the great cuts and colorings. One of these two talented hair goddesses will scrub, condition, and style your tresses with Aveda and other natural products while you gaze up at the 30-foot Baroque-style ceiling. They're such wonderful women that when your session of fashion is over, you won't want to leave. Both 'dressers have packed schedules, so expect a two- to three-week wait. 309 D St., Santa Rosa. 544-5250.--S.L.
Best Place to Savor the Saving Grace of Rock on a Sunday
JONATHON LIPSIN HAS A PASSION for music that won't be denied. Since relocating to Sebastopol two years ago, after 17 years in Toronto, the proprietor of Incredible Records has transformed his store into a shrine dedicated to the saving grace of rock 'n' roll. Virtually every inch of his shop--countertops, walls, ceiling, and floor--is packed with rare rock memorabilia, some for sale, some not. Randy Bachman's 1966 Fender Jaguar, the same one he used to record the solo in the Guess Who's No. 1 hit "American Woman"; a black-and-white photo of an exuberant John Lennon and Paul McCartney coming off the plane in London (and shot from behind the mop-haired pop stars)after conquering America in 1964; a tattered Bruce Springsteen & the E. St. Band tour jacket (only a few were made for the band; this one was hauled out of a dumpster by local musician Stu Blank); collectible copies of such seminal rock and folk periodicals as The Axe, Broadside, Sing Out!, and Distant Drummer; an autographed Eddie Van Halen guitar pick; Steve Miller's fringed suede vest (circa 1967); and, of course, the Grateful Dead--rare records, ceramic busts, dolls, rare photos, posters. You can rub elbows with the likes of Carlos Santana and Tom Waits, both of whom shop there from time to time. Or catch free music shows--40 bands played in four days at the shop's first anniversary party; Sam Andrews of Big Brother and the Holding Company performed at the second anniversary bash. 112 N. Main St., Sebastopol. 824-8099.--G.C.
Best Place to Shop While Waiting for the Train That Never Arrives
While recovering from a traumatic breakup, I decided to hit the vintage boutiques with a friend. While trying on items, I got a wonderful impression of Look Fashion and Finery's owner, Mandy Finneran. "Hey, it's Marilyn Manson!" she yelled as a sullen-looking girl in black lipstick and lace skulked in. "I have just the thing for you!" Mandy pulled out a bracelet made of iron skeletons from the display case. "I got it on the Net," she quipped. A fleeting smile crossed the sullen girl's face, and Mandy whispered to us, "I just love knowing what my customers will like!" After I declined a sequined cashmere sweater from the '50s (way too cheerful for right now), Mandy offered to hold it back for me, giving me a tank top and hair clips because "you look like you need a present, sweetie!" This is the kind of place where the longer the time spent inside, the more treasures found. 6761 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol. 823-6288.--S.L.
Best Bathroom for Deep Thought
You've got to see it to believe it. Check out the women's restroom at Hank's Creekside Restaurant. (Hey, even if you're male! The loo is one-person occupancy, so don't worry about walking in on someone.) We won't ruin the surprise by saying anything more than this is the best bathroom in Sonoma County for serious contemplation. Instead, let's talk about some of the other stuff that Hank's offers: great service (Hank Vance and his wife, Linda, own the place, and the entire wait staff--we think--is made up of their kids), some of the best breakfasts available, and a wonderful, homey ambiance. One entire side of the restaurant is windowed, offering the diner a lovely view of Santa Rosa Creek in all its glory, rushing amid the greenery 30 feet below. 2800 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 575-8839.--S.L.
Best Place to Pick Up a New Best Friend
It's easy to go gaga over the baby critters in the pet store as you pass by the window. But when was the last time you really checked out the local animal shelters? The grim reality is that many unwanted shelter animals, if not adopted, face a tragic fate. According to the Humane Society of the United States, between eight and 12 million animals enter the 6,000 shelters nationwide each year, and between 30 and 60 percent of those animals will be euthanized. Of the 4,141 animals brought to the Santa Rosa shelter in the fiscal year 1997-98, 2,235 were euthanized, another 952 were reclaimed by owners, and 954 were adopted, say shelter organizers. Meanwhile, animals tend to live in banks of stacked cages, often in old shelters where there's no space to bathe or groom them or full-time staff to provide any extra attention. Older animals are often ignored by visitors. You have the power to end an animal"s heartbreaking situation--and find yourself a new best friend in the bargain. Call your nearest shelter.--P.H.
Best Use of an Awkward Lot
Call it entropy, call it urban blight, call it a landscaping emergency and dial 911. Whatever you want to call it, the presence of unused, awkwardly shaped empty lots can be a real problem. "As is" at least they offer weedy flowers and frogs. All too often they just attract firework stands and cars for sale. Such seemed to be the fate of that wedge-shaped parking lot that always startles new drivers as they turn right onto Mendocino Avenue from College Avenue. Fronted by a battered building, whose layers of signage boasted both ice cream and Chinese/American cuisine, that lot was difficult to miss and utterly forgettable, but somebody finally did the right thing and made an honest, functioning piece of property out of it. Airport Express made the site its downtown pickup point. The transformation would be complete if they'd fill the currently blank-faced storefront with a nice, atmospheric cafe. Something with milk shakes and fortune cookies, perhaps.--M.W.
Best Conversion of Naturally Occurring Railcar Formations
They're everywhere along the rails of America: abandoned cars sloughed off like dirty, dead cells from an organism that evolved, moved on, and went high-speed autobahn. These railcars will rust for decades unless you do something with them, which Gravenstein Station in Sebastopol did this year to great effect. It put thriving businesses in the cars--an arty salon and, appropriately enough, a travel agency--laid down some good floorboards and cafe space for Coffee Catz, and even added bathrooms that have doors on the stalls. Maybe it takes a new hotel nearby to get this kind of upgrade, but who cares. Everyone benefits. Now if only they could do something like that with the tracks full of detritus around Railroad Square. 6761 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol--M.W.
Best Place to Eat Muffins While Your Car Is Being Lubed
Loyal Freeman Toyota customers know the drill. You want to get your oil changed first thing in the morning while the muffins from Muffin Street Bakery are still warm and available. A generous tray of aromatic baked goods usually arrives around 7:30 in five flavor incarnations. And there's nothing stripped down or underequipped about these muffins. They come fully loaded with chocolate chips, poppy seeds, or blueberries. Wash them down with free coffee, hot chocolate, or cider and you're set till noon. Freeman offers a basic oil change and all the muffins you can eat for $24.95, and if the job isn't done in 29 minutes or less, your next visit is free. There's no appointment necessary, and the lube bay is open seven days a week. Drop in for a pit stop from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. 2875 Corby Ave., Santa Rosa. 542-1791.--B.E.
Best Place to Get Your Baseball Leather Tuned
THERE'S NOT ENOUGH ROOM in Fran Fleet's tiny Cotati shop to play a decent game of catch, but she's been retooling baseball gloves at her workbench there for the last 20 years. At Sandalady Glove Repair you can bring in that treasured Mickey Mantle outfielder's mitt from your youth and have it repadded, cleaned, and totally reconditioned for between $30 and $90. Fleet works on the mitts with the aid of an industrial-sized 1914 Singer sewing machine that was new when Babe Ruth was a rookie. While you're there you can gaze at walls festooned with rare and vintage baseball gloves. Just hanging out at this place on a winter's day can rekindle the National Pastime flame for any fan going through baseball withdrawal. 8201-A Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 795-3895.--B.E.
Best Place to Zone Out While Contemplating the Passage of Time
Ticktock, ticktock. For almost 25 year's, Simoni's Clock Shoppe, on the boulevard in downtown Petaluma, has been quietly servicing timepieces of all kinds, shapes, and sizes (well, not too quietly; there are all those clocks inside, chiming and timing away). For many of those years, the Simoni family tried to gain permission to erect a giant clock above the shop, to no avail; the city refused. About six years ago, however, a compromise was settled upon, and the shop installed four smaller, battery-operated clocks just above the door on the exterior wall, calibrated to reflect the time zones in New York, Denver, Chicago, and (of course) Petaluma. Eye-catching without being obtrusive, the quadruplet of clocks is as charming as the interior, a veritable museum of clocks. If you've never noticed the place (it is kind of small), it's, um, high time you did. 171 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 763-9300.--D.T.
Best Famous Local Dog
Sonoma County has had its share of famous dogs. There was Rocky, the heroic Petaluma police dog, beloved by children throughout the county, who died three years ago and is memorialized in Petaluma's dog park. For years, a dog named Barndor was the companion of homeless activist and inventor Roger Montgomery, who conspicuously rode around the county with Barndor perched on a platform in front of his bike. When Barndor sadly passed away last year, his memorial service was well attended by people from the local homeless and business communities. Of the county's dogs who are still with us, however, perhaps the most remarkable is Ron Salisbury's dog Post, so named because the dog is completely deaf--as in deaf as a post. Post, in fact, is the very same deaf dog for whom the popular Deaf Dog Coffee empire was named. Salisbury, who started the Deaf Dog cafe chain seven years ago, was smart to name his burgeoning operation after so photogenic and charming a critter. By now, Post's picture has appeared on thousands of coffee cups, T-shirts, baseball hats, signs, and billboards around the county. As they say, "It's a dog's world." We say woof to that.--D.T.
Best Shop Cats
From Cloverdale to Agua Caliente, the county is more or less rife with cats that have taken up residence within some storefront emporium or other business. Downtown Petaluma has two notable shop cats: first, there's Kibby, the former alley cat that adopted Linda Hamm, mainly by staking a place outside Hamm's Early Work Learning Tools on Kentucky Street. Since becoming an official resident of the store, Kibby has become the shop's official greeter. Kibby's favorite hobby is knocking Beanie Babies off of the shelves. Just down the street, in Reade Moore Books, a friendly nap-addicted longhair named Lilly has for years been the store's leading draw among the younger set. Kids love to sit beside Lilly on one of the store's many comfy chairs and say hello with a good friendly pat. Lilly wouldn't have it any other way. Early Works, 141 Kentucky St.; Reade Moore Books, 1 Fourth St., Petaluma.--D.T.
Best Giant Ongoing Local Garage Sale
Everyone's been to a Salvation Army thrift store, right? Of course. But the average S.A. store is nothing compared to the jaw-dropping spread of merchandise that can be bought for a song at the site of the S.A.'s Adult Rehabilitation Center. This is where the trucks first bring all those donations left at the county's numerous drop-off points. With three on-site thrift stores, including one devoted to collectibles and antiques, and a massive yard full of couches and tables and skis and exercise equipment and sleds and tents and what-have-you, plus an enormous "as-is" lot, with used appliances from big-screen TVs to washing machines, this is surely the largest seven-day-a-week garage sale in the North Bay. 200 Lytton Springs Road, Healdsburg. 433-3334.--D.T.
Best Local Road Sign
At 3495 Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, in the gorgeous midst of the town's rolling vineyards, there suddenly appears this hand-painted road sign: "Dry Creek General Store, population 4, elevation 14 feet, welcome's you to God's country: Please don't drive like Hell on your way through."--D.T.
Best Off-the-Wall Point of Historical Interest
As one weaves and bobs along Healdsburg's Rio Lindo Drive, a quaint, bright-yellow house appears, with a large historical marker planted in front, near another sign declaring, "No Trespassing." Over the years, numerous motorists have stopped to ponder the sign, often making so bold as to have their pictures taken alongside it. Healdsburg Museum historians are just as stumped by its significance. The sign reads: "Al Anderson's 'No Pressure Inn' Est. 1939. This site, founded by 'Big A,' was the gathering spot of local scoundrels, ne'er-do-wells, imbibers of liquor and other unmentionables--and it still is." --D.T.
Best Puns in Hair Salon Names
What is it about beauty parlors that tends to inspire such audacious and flamboyant punsterism? Frankly, we don't care why. We just like. Here, then, David Letterman style, are our Top 10 favorite names of Sonoma County hair salons.--D.T.
10. Mane Event (Sebastopol)
9. The Cutting Edge (Sebastopol)
8. Sheer Genius (Healdsburg)
7. Hair We Are (Rohnert Park)
6. Hairistocrat & Co. (Santa Rosa)
5. Lions and Tigers and Hair (Petaluma)
4. A Permanent Solution (Sebastopol)
3. Hair Razors (Petaluma)
2. Eclips (Petaluma)
1. Bushwackers (Forestville)
Best Puns in Nail-Salon Names
Haircutters, it seems, aren't the only ones with a good sense of humor. A number of local manicurists seem to have a pretty good grasp of the punster's art as well. Here are our choices for the top five best local nail-salon names.--D.T.
5. Fingerpaints (Santa Rosa)
4. First Hand (Petaluma)
3. At Your Fingertips (Santa Rosa)
2. Queen of the Nail (Santa Rosa)
1. Get Nailed by Tiffany (Santa Rosa)
Best Puns in Church Names
Sonrise Christian Church (Windsor)
Sorry, there's only one. When it comes to naming their churches, Christians seem to have no discernible sense of humor. We are pleased to report, however, that one Southern California church has offered an exercise class for Christians titled Firm Believers. We pray the trend moves northward soon.--D.T.
Best Place to Study Up on Anything Medical
There's an old stupid saying that goes, "What you don't know can't hurt you." The good folks at the Petaluma Health Care District have a better saying. Roughly paraphrased, it goes, "What you don't know could kill you, or at least make you worry a lot." Thus was the Redwood Health Library created. The neat, efficiently organized library is a medical researcher's dream. Designed for regular people who want as much information as possible about any particular malady or health issue, this unique resource library was established four years ago--and has seen a steady stream of business. The library contains books, medical texts, health newsletters, medical journals, clipping files, audio/video cassettes, computerized national health databases, and a CD-ROM database. It's open to the public, and fee-based memberships are available as well, giving you access to advanced research services. Here's to your health! 314 Western St., Petaluma. 778-9114.--D.T.
Best Place to Score Your Dream Wheels
MAYBE YOU'VE GAZED longingly at the Showcase of Motor Cars from your innocuous minivan as you drove by in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Set enticingly at the junction of Highway 101 North and Old Redwood Highway, the place has the allure of lost youth: an oasis of automotive fantasy. For here is a showroom and parking lot filled with over 100 vintage cars and trucks. The selection can satisfy even the most jaded of car nuts. Owner John Mohar has been fulfilling the four-wheel fantasies of people all over the nation for the last 13 years. Mohar says the general public is now buying classic Mustangs and Chevies for everyday driving. With the high cost of new cars, a restored vehicle from the '50s or '60s can be a real bargain. Not to mention the sheer pleasure of recapturing your youth in a muscle car from your high school days. Hey, you know you want that GTO. Why not pop the clutch on your car lust and burn rubber into your golden years? 5101 Montero Way, Petaluma. 795-4000.--B.E.
Best Fundamentalist Christian Retreat Ready for a Pagan Invasion
About four miles from downtown Sebastopol, hidden among the towering redwoods, lies Mt. Gilead Bible Conference, a sprawling complex of rustic cabins and classrooms that is often used as a retreat by various church groups. There's a sweet little chapel on the premises. Signs with Bible verses and cute admonitions about godliness pepper the grounds. There's a pool, a basketball court, a horseshoe pit. There are wonderful hiking trails (if you walk far enough, the Bible signs eventually stop). One can't help but think that with the wondrous sense of solitude, this would make a great Buddhist retreat. And the overpowering beauty of the natural surroundings is flat-out perfect for pagan nature worship. Fortunately, the place is rentable for schools and other organizations. 13485 Green Mountain Road, Sebastopol. 823-4508.--D.T.
Best Bumper Stickers
Recently spied on the rear ends of local automobiles, these blatantly forthright, and somewhat offbeat, bumper stickers serve as a representative sampling of the wildly varied views and 'tudes of the citizens of Sonoma County: "Argue Often." "Do Not Wash: This Vehicle Is Undergoing a Scientific Dirt Test." "Please Be Patient, the Goddess Isn't Finished with Me Yet." "Mean People Suck." "Pleasure Heals" (for Sebastopol's Sensuality Shoppe). "Another Dopeless Hope Fiend." "Suck Mean People." "Lost Your Cat? Look under My Tires!" "Are You a Cannibal If You Think You're Eating Beef?" "Dog Is My Co-Pilot." --D.T
Best Reason to Support Chain Stores
Fans of homey downtowns bemoan the exodus of mom-and-pop businesses as the world gets Starbucked wall-to-wall. It's a crying shame. Then again, consider one recent midweek excursion to downtown Santa Rosa to see the 10 p.m. show of Galaxy Quest at United Artists on Third Street. Sorry, no late show, the projector's broken. No problem, we'll only miss 10 minutes of The Talented Mr. Ripley if we zoom over to UA on Mendocino Avenue. Whaddya know, seems that projector's on the blink as well. OK, well, how about some home entertainment from Video Droid on Mendocino? Oops, store's closed. Up the street to Blockbuster, the dreaded behemoth box store. The lights are bright and there are movies galore. To pump some life into its heart, maybe Santa Rosa should ask Costco to move a few blocks north.--J.W.
Best Place to Unload Your Y2K Stash
Be honest. When the turn of the century didn't bring the curtains of doom down on our computer-riddled modern society, you weren't just surprised. You were seriously depressed. For months you'd been stocking up, filling your basement with canned spinach and bottled water. All the while, you were laughing up your sleeve at those unprepared sods who'd be trampled under hoof when the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse came riding down Main Street under a confettilike shower of money spewed out by bank machines driven mad by the Y2K virus. Then 12:01 rolled around, and you began to have second thoughts, especially when you realized that polishing off your canned-goods stash would mean eating mixed vegetables well into 2010. Buck up! Sure, the world didn't end, but plenty of people have it rough anyway. Help 'em out by dropping your Y2K hoard off at the Redwood Empire Food Bank. 3320 Industrial Drive, Santa Rosa. 523-7900.--P.S.
Best Place to Buy Cookware That Makes You Look Good
NOTHING IS MORE TELLING on a first dinner date at home than a brand-new pot on the stove. It conveys a sort of gourmet-geek eagerness, no matter how impressive that quadruple-ply, platinum-handled saucepan. And it certainly raises doubts as to one's qualifications as a cook: If it's that clean, how often do you actually cook? To forestall that line of thinking, stock the kitchen of your bachelor pad with used cookware from Pots and Pans. Owners Steve and Emily Bokor get great cookware from good chefs and pass it on at prices that aren't quite Goodwill, but are considerably lower than an equivalent batterie de cuisine at new, retail prices. For example, a good Calphalon 2 1/2-quart saucepan sells for $52 or less, compared to $85 new. Well-loved knives of excellent brands can be had from $10 to $75 (the latter, a Henckel's professional series 10-inch chef's knife, would cost close to $180 new). All-Clad doesn't often make it to the shelves because people don't like to give theirs up, says shop assistant Torch: "It's like finding the Holy Grail." But hey, desperate daters don't need the Holy Grail, they just want to look as if they've been around the butcher's block more than once. 107 Fourth St. (near Railroad Square), Santa Rosa. 566-7155.--M.W.
Best Place to Shop for Campaign Panties
Dear Supervisor Tim Smith: For months, we were mesmerized by the epic struggle you waged with your scrappy opponent, Noreen Evans, over your seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. In debates, Evans made much of the fact that money from your campaign fund was for some unusual purposes, including a $37.63 purchase at Victoria's Secret. You explained that the campaign money was used to buy a harmless bottle of perfume at the famous underwear emporium, and we believe you. But we also have a suggestion. In the future, if a campaign does find itself in need of something soft and silky and a little bit saucy, forget Victoria's Secret and head for our local Frederick's of Hollywood, which offers an excellent deal on stars-and-stripes panties. After all, nobody ever lost a vote by wrapping himself in the red, white, and blue. 278 Coddingtown Mall, Santa Rosa. 528-8658.--P.S.
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From the March 23-29, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.