Best of Local Culture

[ 'Best of' Index ]

Staff Picks

Doc's Sweet Shop in West Side Story has nothing on Tama Rama's Corner, except perhaps Rita Moreno in a silky head scarf. However, this Cotati store, opened almost 12 years ago by owner Judi Bailey and named for her daughter Tamara, does have "hangout" written all over it. Originally intended to simply be an ice cream and candy store, Tama Rama's has become the kind of place where you can spend half the day playing pinball while nursing ginseng and a ginger ale; strategizing chess over StressTabs and a Snickers bar; and slapping a rummy hand down between an espresso and a comic book. And they still scoop a mean cone. Frequented by high school and college students, Tama Rama's fortunately suffers few problems that Stephen Sondheim could rhyme. Bailey reports that she has "a good time" with her teen patrons and allows with a chuckle that "sometimes they even talk to me." She assures that swearing's not a problem and that items thought to be shoplifted are "usually just misplaced," but expectorating is another matter. "I prefer no spitting on the sidewalk or on my plants," Bailey says with the kind of parental understatement that has earned her the nickname Coffee Mama Judi. "I just tell them to take a walk and get some of that energy out," she offers. Tama Rama's Corner, 8252 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati; 795-1425. --G.G.

Best Place to Avoid on a Joy Ride

Turn 19. Drink to excess. Procure car (either from nearby auto plaza or from unsuspecting residential neighborhood). Go to Petaluma. Tear off northbound on Liberty Street at Western Avenue. Hit 60. Attempt to mow down milk crates neatly stacked behind Petaluma Market. Fail. Navigate limping car, impeded by crates stuck under engine block, down Washington Street. Inadvertently wake slumbering reporter. Stupidly let best friend exit car. Attract attention of squad car parked at 7-Eleven. Head hobbled vehicle toward St. Vincent de Paul Church. Get caught. Call mom. Lose license. Clip article from local newspaper. --D.H.

Best Texas Chainsaw Art Massacre

The ice chips flew, the chainsaw roared, and the deeply regrettable pop music blared out of the speakers. Standing in the center of this frozen hell of whirling metal and sappy lyrics was one man, carving his will into the block of ice before him, transforming mere frozen water into a creature of myth and legend. And--best of all--doing a lot of it one-handed. Those who strolled through the streets of Santa Rosa at First Night last New Year's Eve understand: You may have come to the annual celebration in search of alcohol-free fun, but you stayed for the ice sculptor, his dexterous art, and the resulting zoo of newborn creatures that took up residence under Highway 101 for one chilly evening. Maybe this year he'll carve them two at a time. --P.S.

Best Place to Build a Better Student

Few people even know it's there, but out on the southernmost edge of Sonoma County, just yards from the Marin County line, sprawls the University of Northern California. Formerly New College West--a legendary loony New Age educational mecca where one could major in advanced navel inspection and the "science" of the tarot--the current educational occupant of this gorgeous hilltop facility specializes in science of a different kind. Dr. Y. King Liu, the founder and president of UNC, created the facility six years ago with the goal of its becoming one of the world's leading learning institutions--with a specialty in the area of biomedical engineering. A biomedical pioneer in his native country of China, Dr. Liu has numerous medical patents to his name and seems delighted at the slow but steady growth of the school. As to what "biomedical engineering" actually means, that's a bit unclear to us laypersons--visions of $6 million men and women leaping bionically come to mind--but whatever is going on, it sure sounds exciting. And with aggressive overseas recruiting, Liu and staff have begun to attract brilliant minds--student and faculty--from around the world. The university is hidden from view and affords a quiet, retreatlike atmosphere for students, most of whom live on campus. University of Northern California, 101 San Antonio Road, Petaluma; 765-6400. --D.T.

Best Profane Band Name

What's in a name? Quite a bit if your band's moniker happens to be something like Whore Moans or Enslavior. It's no easy task choosing between these two local groups for our annual profane-name award: We agonized over whether sexual crudeness or religious sacrilege should carry the day (last year's selection, Lung Butter, was an easier choice). The conclusion? They've tied for first place, with Yellow Snow getting an honorable mention. And, yes, they are real bands. You can catch them some night at the Moonlight Bar and Grill in Santa Rosa, where Enslaviour recently held a CD release party for their latest thrash-metal masterpiece, Two Party Fallacy. If you buy it now, you'll have something to listen to on the way to church on Sunday. --P.S.

Best Place to Savor London Broil and Agatha Christie

The play's the thing, sure, but so is a full belly. Santa Rosa's Old Vic nails both as the county's primo dinner theater. As proprietor Chris Stokeld explains, "We steal ideas from Agatha Christie; then we put songs to them and add a few different characters," though barman-qua-artistic director Brian Calloway is quick to point out that the cast for the upcoming production of Christie's Ten Little Indians is composed of only eight. The Old Vic's moderately priced menu boasts such fare as London broil with a Queen Anne champagne sauce, served with a medley of roasted winter vegetables. "What we do is entertainment stuff here," says Calloway, which means anything from a burlesque on Dracula to works by Harold Pinter. "We'll be doing Macbeth as a musical murder mystery, replete with Marlowe as an investigator," he says (a clever nod to the fictional detective and Shakespeare's contemporary). The Old Vic, 731 Fourth St., Santa Rosa; 571-7555. --D.H.

Best Female-Ensemble Theatrical Production

It's one thing to talk about "down there" with your women friends around the kitchen table. It's quite another to tell it to a whole auditorium full of people, as six women of Owl Eagle Women's Lodge do in their moving production of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, which they staged to a packed Subud Center in October and will reprise May 8 at Luther Burbank Center's Merlo Theater. The set of short pieces, written in dozens of different voices, honors the range of experiences contained in the title character: coming of age, sexuality, sex, menstrual cycles, age. The women of the lodge bravely tap into this deep well of emotion with all the force of their individual and collective history--they've been meeting for over 14 years--and the result is by turns hilarious and deeply distressing. These women, none of them professional actors, still have enough cojones to make this a powerful piece of work. Scratch that: They have ovaries. Merlo Theater, Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. (Tickets are available at Copperfield's Books, the Sensuality Shoppe, and Milk and Honey.) 829-8586. --M.W.

Best Way to Immerse Yourself in Sebastopol's Tribal Culture

Like most of the county's rapidly growing towns, Sebastopol has tried to hold center by erecting a downtown plaza useful for farmers' markets and the like. But the town's real center seems to rest entirely on the white plastic chairs placed just outside of the Food for Thought's deli doors. There one can eat a healthful plate of food and watch the thick, gelid world of west county culture swirl by. With an uncanny uniformity, patrons seem to have bits of bone attached with sinew to their necks, and cruciferous vegetables, big stinky bottles of vitamins, and excellent bread sticking from their paper bags when they meet friends, flirt with strangers, eat lunch, play the bongos, kiss babies, and swap gossip. And for a place whose purpose is, among others, to purvey toilet paper and dog chow, there is an unusually palpable feel of sex in the air. Beautifully healthy clerks are hourly asked for their names as they ring up the three-oranges-and-one-smoothie purchase of an amorous customer. Friendship, food, music, love, and sex: It's all in the air by the swooshing deli doors. Food for Thought, 6910 McKinley St.; 829-9801. --G.G.

Best Place to Soak up Suburban Ambiance

Non-suburbanites use suburbia in a really cruel way, either as a last-ditch shopping island, where parking is limitless and the discounts are fabulous, or as the butt of snide remarks, a laughable example of everything that's wrong with America today. Break the grip of this deplorable prejudice by experiencing suburbia at its finest at the Cal-Skate roller-skating rink in Rohnert Park. It's low-threat, low-consumerism, low-angst living: Rolling around on wheels is a great equalizer. True, there are those who use the drafty laps as a cruising ground. There are many of those, in fact. This is cruising for people who either are too young for a car or have no place to drive. It's a teenage prerogative, but anybody can get pleasure from watching the parade of humanity careen past. Only a few skaters actually have the rhythm of the music, which throbs at odds with the relentlessly flashing lights overhead. Doesn't matter: Most everybody is concentrating on either staying upright or moving fast. The inline skaters' big pants, which by all laws of physics should get sucked under the wheels, instead seem to become sails pushing the young men faster and closer to the avocado-carpet railing that hides a cement punch underneath. After the adrenaline rush peaks, or your unpracticed legs give out, the wares at the snack bar are unparalleled for their extremes in the fields of salt or sweetness. Cal Skate, 6100 Commercial Drive, Rohnert park; 585-0500. --M.W.

Best Place to Admire a Historic Petaluma Castle

Castles? In Petaluma? Well, they're not technically castles, but the towering mills and granaries of Petaluma do have a certain mythical charm. They rumble and hiss and stab up into the sky with their labyrinthine erector-set network of tanks and boilers, ramps and catwalks, chutes and ladders. Still formidable and more than a little mysterious, Petaluma's few remaining mills stand out proudly against the skyline like vast, imposing fortresses built by wily wizards in days gone by. And so they are, for in their time the numerous livestock food-and-grain mills--built to serve the growing river town's thriving livestock industry--were the works of geniuses and groundbreakers, boasting then state-of-the-art wonders like conveyor belts and elevators, not to mention such pioneering ideas as putting vitamins into livestock feed and manufacturing pellets made of grain and hay. But beyond whatever historic and economic value these agricultural edifices may hold, the battered old mills are beautiful, though not undeniably so--some people think the buildings are ugly. But we suggest that such folk are looking with a superficial eye. "These mills are beautiful," insists Dan Figone, part-owner of Hunt and Behren's Grain and Feed. "Every once in a while I hear someone talk about 'those ugly old mills,' and I have to stop and say, 'Ugly? I think our mill is gorgeous.' " Sprawling across 16 acres of land between Lakeville Road and the Petaluma River, Hunt and Behren's has been gracing the landscape since 1945, after relocating from the riverside mill it first occupied in 1921. Though not visible from outside, Hunt and Behren's inner mechanism includes a Goliath auger--used for conveying oats upward through the mill--that runs the entire length of the main mill building. Nearby, just off of Washington Street near Petaluma Boulevard, is the skyscraping mill operated by Dairyman's Feed and Supply Cooperative. Its gray, corrugated-aluminum walls--dotted with dusty multipaned windows scrawled whimsically with ancient tic-tac-toe markings--rise 11 stories and 110 feet above the ground, making it the tallest man-made structure in Sonoma County. R.O. Shelling Grain & Feed Co., across from the Lucky store on Petaluma Boulevard, is a much smaller mill, but its odd angles and outrageous scrap-heap aesthetics give the old mill an eye-catching, almost Dr. Seuss-like charm. Castles? In Petaluma? You bet, and long may they stand. But don't you dare call them ugly. --D.T.

Best Place to Savor a Taste of New Orleans

The Powerhouse looks like your standard Northern California brewpub: exposed beams, good solid food, stainless steel vats standing sentry in the glassed-in room behind the bar. The Cajun items on the menu, though, suggest something lurking below the arty surface. That the music posters are all from the New Orleans Jazz Festival should give you another clue. On show nights, when the tables get pushed back and guitars plugged in, the lifebeat of the place reveals itself in some of the best Louisiana-roots music to move through the county. The Powerhouse has been known for sweaty, stomping shows for years. A recent remodeling with a new larger dance floor promises to remove some of the sweat, but none of the heat, from such Louisiana limelighters as Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Boozoo Chavis and the Magic Sounds, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and ex-Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. Owner Bill Bradt notes that the Powerhouse also gets some good gigs in blues, jazz, and world beat, but admits he has had a special place in his heart and on his stage for Big Easy bands ever since the '70s. "Like a lot of people, I tripped into New Orleans and liked it," he says. We like it, too. Powerhouse Brewing Company, 268 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol; 829-9171. --M.W.

Best Card-Carrying Liberal

A self-described "compulsive social activist and bleeding heart liberal," Bob Tunks' datebook must be a blur of ink. After 25 years as head of Los Angeles County's anti-street gang program, 76-year-old Tunks retired to Sonoma County with his wife, Billie, and didn't waste any time finding his niche. His leadership in the Guns for Gifts project, raising money to pay $40 apiece for 236 guns and melting them down into steel piping, won him the 1997 Non-violence Day award from the M.O.V.E.S Organization. His efforts with the Center for Peace and Justice to get a citizens' Police Review Board in Santa Rosa in the wake of controversy over police-related deaths in the county didn't win him a popularity contest with local law enforcement. But Santa Rosa police must respect Tunks' opinions, having recently appointed him to an advisory committee developing a panhandling ordinance for the city. "I'm a card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America, I'm a member of NAACP, the ACLU," says Tunks proudly. "I'm treasurer of the Martin Luther King Birthday Celebration Committee, on the board of the Multi-Cultural Child Development Center. I'm a member of the Santa Rosa Democratic Club, can't miss that one." Tunks rifles through papers charting his seemingly endless commitments: "Did I mention, I just joined the Alliance for Democracy?" --J.W.

Best Out-of-the-Closet Conservative

It's not just that Sam Crump was the only Republican to challenge incumbent Virginia Strom-Martin for her state Assembly seat last year. It's not even his hardliner heart of steel platform (pro-three strikes and the death penalty, wire taps, and truancy crackdowns on juveniles), or the $5,000 campaign contribution he received from Headwaters Forest big daddy Maxxam Corp. It's Crump's well-rounded clean-cut conservatism that sets him apart from, say, the insidious smarminess of ex-Rep. Frank Riggs or the behind-the-scenes Christian Coalition-ish maneuverings of Supervisor Paul Kelley. The former Sebastopol mayor and Montgomery High School student body president served as a military prosecutor in the Army, and wants to attract business to the North Coast by "rolling back oppressive regulations and taxes." Crump, 34, was walloped by incumbent Strom-Martin and his term on the Sebastopol City Council expired in December. But that Republican mantra of blame it on Clinton/ Newt/OJ/the Economy will no doubt serve him well. We expect that Crump will rise again. --J.W.

Best Place to Sit on the Floor and Read Dusty Books for Hours

There's generally only one employee working at Treehorn Books in downtown Santa Rosa, and, thankfully, is never grinningly eager to sell you the newest hardcover. Treehorn is simply the best place to go if you have no money for books and don't feel like hearing the snores of the patrons at the public library or squinting against the blinding fluorescent lights at the big-chain bookstore down the street. There's a little nook at Treehorn where you can sit peacefully on the floor surrounded on three sides by books and on the fourth by the window (which sometimes has a cat in it) looking out onto Fourth Street. Although the employee realizes that someone is curled up, devouring a copy of Piers Anthony's With a Tangled Skein, and has been for the past hour and a half, that customer is never disturbed. The employees are friendly and knowledgeable, and will order out-of-print and rare books. And there's just something so comforting about seeing rows and rows of books reaching all the way up to the dimly lit ceiling. Treehorn Books, 625 Fourth St., Santa Rosa; 525-1782. --S.L.

Best Place to Advocate for the Disabled

OK--so they built it. And like the lemmings that we are when Gwyneth Paltrow is concerned, we come here. Slipping over the napkin-fouled rubber mats outside, we redeem our "free" tickets for only $1 apiece. Stepping into the cavernous lobby, we stand like Lawrence on the edge of a carpeted Nefud Desert and gamely traverse the vastness to the concession stand, where milling adolescents resentfully offer the same damp corn and melted-cheese product found in anonymous nowheres everywhere. No espresso drinks and little hand-baked fudgy things for Rohnert Park, no siree. We stay a sanitary distance from the smeared and soiled condiment counter while shaking a package of salt over our damp corn and then wander into our selected viewing box. Good thing we're not wheelchair bound we think, looking at the two neck-breaking front rows reserved for the handicapped as we climb up the stadium seating. Nice lovers' armrests we allow, as we raise them to snuggle. After Gwyneth fades, we enjoy a rest in the rooms so designated. Ladies' is large, with only a percentage of the new stalls marked out-of-order, only a percentage of floor space littered with old toilet paper, and only one sink equipped with soap. Good thing we're not coming back we promise. Rohnert Park 16, 555 Rohnert Park Expressway; 586-0555. --G.G.

Best Joint for Strong Coffee and Philosophy

A couple years ago a young Jordanian student opened Java Town coffeehouse in a tiny storefront in downtown Cotati. The coffee was outstanding--strong as hell. The college kid was well-intentioned, but you wondered how he would make a living with such a diminutive operation in such a competitive coffee market. He didn't. He sold Java Town to a German-speaking Iranian guy who kept up the tradition of strong coffee. After a while, he moved on also. Today, the Java Town tradition continues. The new proprietor, Parviz Rasti, is an Iranian-born, retired comparative lit professor who loves to converse about ideas large and small with friendly people. The walls hold quotations from Sartre, Shakespeare, and Rumi. Books about Rasti's Sufi religious practice lie on the counter. The coffee is still plenty potent and the setting refreshingly genuine. Java Town, 8225 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati; 664-1167. --D.B.

Best Geological Oddity

So Rolfe Erickson, professor of geology at SSU, is perhaps not strange enough to qualify as a Sonoma County oddity, though generations of his students--many of whom went on to have careers in the sciences--might gladly go so far as to call him one of a kind. There's his enthusiastic, storytelling approach to teaching the history of rocks and their various migratory behaviors, not to mention the professor's ever-present sense of humor and caustic satirical wit. Besides his joke-telling penchant and general educational excellence within the walls of SSU's Darwin Hall, Erickson also just happens to know roughly everything about geology. Which is a good thing, because for the last few years, he has held the singular distinction of being the official geology expert for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, providing annual geological updates to that esteemed receptacle of needed knowledge. Should anything of scientific note take place during the year--or any new theories arise to unseat previously held ones--Erickson is on the case, interpreting and elaborating on the particulars, all for the benefit of the encyclopedia-reading public. "I just sent off this year's compilation," Erickson proudly affirms. "Three of four new asteroid impacts have been discovered, so I wrote about that. I forget what else. Although," he cheerily mentions, "there was a lot about the decay and possible impending collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet." Excuse me? That sounds serious. "Well, it has major ramifications for those of us who live in low coastal environments," he confirms. "Much of the west Antarctic ice sheet is melting back. It has been doing that for a long time, but it's perhaps becoming unstable at this point and is beginning to melt back a lot faster than before. When it melts back, the sea level will rise about 30 meters. That'll require many of us to move to higher ground--to the third floor of Darwin Hall, for sure. It'll be like Waterworld. That's when Kevin Costner will appear, roaring along." Sounds like too much excitement for me. I think I'll just read the book. --D.T.

From the March 25-31, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

Add a comment