Marissa Skudlarek waxes poetic about one of her favorite local places to create art.
I hope the Café Royale won’t get mad if I use this column to declare my affection for another San Francisco café with a vaguely French name: the Café Flore. I spent an extremely productive three hours at the Flore on Tuesday night revising my play Pleiades, and it’s made me want to do all my writing there from now on.
My initial reason for favoring the Flore is that Tony Kushner wrote Angels in America there. A few years ago, I attended a lecture of Kushner’s, and while he said many witty and brilliant things (see the blog post I wrote about it), my main takeaway was that he was a patron of the Flore. I am a bit superstitious, and a bit prone to romanticize the act of being a writer (rather than the act of writing), so I loved the idea of writing in the same space where the greatest American play of my lifetime was written. Even better, nobody else seems to know about the Flore’s Kushner connection, so the café is not yet overrun with aspiring playwrights seeking to soak up the Kushnerian magic. Part of me is reluctant to write this column and let the secret out; the other part of me thinks that the café management ought to put up a plaque in Kushner’s honor.
Going to the Café Flore can also me feel like I’m aping the creative process of genius songwriter Stephin Merritt, who claims, “I get most of my ideas in dark gay bars, listening to thumping disco music that I don’t particularly like” (source). OK, the Café Flore is more than just a gay bar and its background music isn’t really disco – but it’s gay-friendly and the top-40 pop music it plays can get loud and overbearing after the dinner rush is over. But that just makes you write all the faster as you start to feel self-conscious about sitting in an empty bar listening to Lady Gaga. And when you finish your three-hour revision session and hear Katy Perry shouting “Baby, you’re a FIIIRE-WORK!” you feel like she’s singing it for you.
Aesthetically, the Café Flore is pleasing, with copper-topped tables for beauty and hard wooden bench seats for making you feel ascetic and disciplined. I like to sit where I can see the bar and the dessert case as a reminder to treat myself to a drink or a slice of cake when I’m done writing. To fuel us writers during marathon writing sessions, the café offers an extensive selection of salads, sandwiches, pasta, etc., and makes a mean Arnold Palmer. Wherever I go, Arnold Palmers are my drink of choice when writing (thanks to the refreshing citrus and the hint of caffeine) and the Café Flore’s version is terrific. They thoroughly mix the tea and lemonade by pouring them into a cocktail shaker, and garnish it with a lemon slice!
If you go to the Flore on Tuesday or Thursday night, your Arnold Palmer (or Kir Royale, or margarita, or whatever) will likely be mixed by bartender Brian, who is an aspiring screenwriter. We had a nice conversation about dramatic writing on Tuesday night after I finished my revisions and he made me an Old-Fashioned.
Best of all, the Café Flore is pretty easy to get to, conveniently located near the Castro MUNI station. Or, if you ride the N-Judah like me, you can stroll up Noe Street to catch the N at Duboce Park. This part of Noe, lined by tall trees and elegant Edwardian architecture, has to be one of the most beautiful streets in San Francisco. Even if you are abstaining from sweets or alcohol, a nighttime walk up Noe Street is reward and solace enough for a hard-working writer.
Learning that Angels in America was written at the Café Flore is what initially spurred me to see it as a good place to write. But I keep returning there not out of superstition or nostalgia, but because I love its atmosphere, its energy, and those Arnold Palmers. That Kushner. He has good taste.
Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. For more: marissabidilla.blogspot.com or Twitter @MarissaSkud.