Noe Valley Voice February 2001

Store Trek

Store Trek is a regular feature of the Voice profiling new shops and businesses in the neighborhood. This month's Store Trek introduces a trendy new drinking establishment, a combination laundry and espresso bar, and a pharmacy specializing in HIV/AIDS medications.

Rx Unlimited

901 Castro Street (at 22nd Street)


It's a good thing Rx Unlimited owner Paul Goldstein is a master woodworker. Antique oak is the first thing you notice about Goldstein's new pharmacy at the top of Castro Street--in the polished floors, the lovingly restored display cases, the crown moldings, and the slowly moving ceiling fans.

"We want people to feel like they have stepped back in time when they enter our store," says associate Armel Crocker. He and Goldstein have spared no expense in imbuing the corner pharmacy at Castro and 22nd streets with an elegance probably several steps finer than the original corner grocery that once occupied this spot.

In business since August 2000, Rx Unlimited is a "specialty pharmacy," aiming to provide superior care to people with chronic diseases. Pharmacist Mickey Hall is an expert in HIV/AIDS-related medicines, and sees himself as an interface between the physician and patient.

People who may be on medication for the rest of their lives, such as diabetics, cancer/HIV patients, and transplant recipients, often have complicated prescriptions that could cause dangerous interactions without a pharmacist like Hall overseeing the mix. "When I was in pharmacy school, people taking six or more medications were rare," Hall says. "Now we don't bat an eye at twenty."

Rx Unlimited always keeps in stock the most difficult to find--and expensive--medications, such as Cytovene (for eye infections) and Serostin (human growth hormone). The pharmacy also sells common drugstore items, as a courtesy to its neighbors. So you'll find cold medicines, condoms, and baby oil here, at prices somewhat cheaper than Walgreen's. But no film developing, no Dr. Pepper, and no Muzak.

Two interesting features of the store are the oak-and-mirrored jeweler's display cases (from a St. Louis jeweler circa 1901), filled with apothecary jars and bottles; and the old pharmacy logs, kept inside the cases. The pharmacy logs date from the 1860s and come from a pharmacy across the Bay in Alameda. Inside are thousands of customers' prescriptions, full of orders for the drugs of the day: "Aspirin, codeine, and whiskey for Mr. Jones, 1875."

Rx Unlimited would love to have everyone come in and look around. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday; other times by appointment.

--Doug Konecky

Bliss Bar

4026 24th Street (at Castro Street)


Sure, the cocktails are tasty, but what co-owner John Ferguson seems most proud of about Bliss Bar is its aesthetic transformation from a "dark, claustrophobic, all-green" pub into an airy, swank, but comfortable lounge.

"Are you interested in hearing about the design stuff?" are the first words out of the clearly enthusiastic Ferguson's mouth. He can talk nonstop about the stylish look of Bliss Bar, which he opened with business partner Jim Kopp after five months of construction, on Dec. 1. It replaced the Rover's Inn (and before that, the First Ining bar owned by Elisa Ining).

"We wanted our place to look upscale but sedate," says Ferguson. "As customers sip their martinis, we want the place to unfold for them."

Customers entering Bliss Bar will first see a "fairly understated" area, which includes a stained-oak bar and the old Rover's Inn bar rail, which has been "spiffed up." The bar rail and the hardwood floors (now refinished) are pretty much all that remains of the old decor.

Step further inside, and the room suddenly opens up with "Jerry Berry"­colored walls, a zinc-tiled fireplace, and recessed lighting on a gray ceiling. The newly installed booth seats are faux sharkskin, and the pillars that divide the various nooks within the room are cloaked in faux snakeskin.

One small seating area, perfect for intimate conversation and a little romance, includes an array of votive candles. At the very back of the room, the ceiling increases in height, and there are masculine-looking gray barstools for sitting.

Throughout the room, Ferguson and Kopp managed to include some "funky, edgy elements," too, including Arabesque-looking pendant light fixtures. For nostalgia's sake, the partners purchased an old-fashioned wooden phone booth, with the original seat, fan, and light still installed. They plan to turn the booth into an Internet portal.

"We've tried to make the room visually inclusive," notes Ferguson. "Even though there are lots of little nooks to sit in for privacy, you still have a view of the room and the fireplace from all of them."

Bliss Bar also has a large back room for patrons to hang out in when there isn't a private event going on. Already, Bliss has hosted several private parties, including a "dot-goner" party for a woman and a group of her friends who had been laid off or changed jobs recently.

"The back room feels more like you're in a club in the Mission--minimalist but with some soft, sexy material," says Ferguson, pointing out the shag curtains and dark-blue mohair sofas.

Ferguson and Kopp, who met in Los Angeles some 15 years ago, decided on a Noe Valley location for their lounge "because it's a neat, unique neighborhood," says Ferguson. "Plus, we felt we'd be a good addition to 24th Street. There are plenty of good beer bars in Noe Valley, but there really isn't a nice cocktail lounge, a place where you can feel like you're in a big city while still in your own neighborhood." Bliss Bar's hours are "big-city" as well--5 p.m. until 2 a.m.

While Ferguson, a former lawyer, is new to the restaurant-bar business, Kopp is an industry veteran. He co-owned Rumpus, a popular downtown restaurant until water damage from a fire closed it down a couple of years ago. Currently, both owners live outside of Noe Valley--Kopp in Potrero Hill and Ferguson in Pacific Heights--but Ferguson's wife, Rebecca, just gave birth to twin boys in late November, so they're now in the market for a bigger home, "hopefully in Noe Valley. My wife really wants to live here."

Beyond the aesthetics, Bliss Bar has an impressive list of beers, wines, and cocktails, many named after intriguing women, both real and fictional. The Charo ($6.50), for example, is tequila, amaretto, and lime juice on the rocks, while the Lolita ($6) is green crème de menthe, white crème de cacao, and half-and-half, shaken and served with a mint.

Bliss Bar manager Jonny McGrath also recommends that patrons try the Bliss Bartini, made with sour-apple liqueur, or the Mojito, a classic Cuban cocktail that was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway.

So patrons have something to nosh on with their drinks (besides mixed nuts), Bliss Bar serves dim sum appetizers, costing $6 to $9. A deejay is on the scene every night, starting at 9 p.m., spinning world-beat, ethnic, and jazz disks.

So far, says Ferguson, business has been good. "It's predominately a neighborhood clientele, which we really like. People just walk in, as if it's their place to go. On Friday and Saturday, there are more people from all over the Bay Area. We even have some limos pulling up."

--Kathy Dalle-Molle

Spin City Launderette and Coffee Bar

1299 Sanchez Street (at 26th Street)


If you are one of those people who need a better reason to do laundry than, say, the simple joy of clean underwear, you'll definitely like Spin City. You can throw your whites and darks in a couple of machines and grab a latté. Then eat a muffin perhaps. Or listen to a CD. Possibly help fight AIDS. Perchance check your e-mail.

In October, the corner storefront at Sanchez and 26th that had stood empty for two years was reopened as a spotless, state-of-the-art laundromat, stocked with 16 single-load washing machines, seven triple-loaders, a giant loader (for those who have to wash all the household blankets at once), and 18 dryers. When your blankets are dry, there's a 20-foot-long stainless-steel table to fold them on.

If that isn't enough to keep you comfy, a coffee bar is tucked into Spin City's front window, and two computers with DSL hookup sit on a table nearby. There's also a TV, VCR, and ATM for your use, and an attendant--usually one of the owners--on hand to answer questions.

Business partners Rick Eakin and Charlie Harb say they've created this little laundry oasis because their research revealed a lack of full-service, well-maintained laundromats in Noe Valley. Coffee and the Internet, they figured, would ensure a more pleasant and neighborly environment. In the future, Spin City might even host a singles night, complete with musical entertainment. "We're building a hub for the neighborhood," says Harb.

Eakin and Harb sure know Noe Valley neighborliness. "We grew up together, right around the corner," says Eakin, who has taken time from his career as a saxophone player to get Spin City off the ground. Eakin, 41, attended Kate Kennedy and James Lick schools, and then McAteer High School. Harb, 40, went to St. Paul's and Riordan High School.

The partners also have local business roots. Eakin's father, Vern Eakin, owned and operated a bar called the Jury Room on 24th Street (where Bliss Bar is now), and a deli named Fat Ron's across the street, for most of the '60s and '70s.

Harb currently runs an accounting office at the back of Spin City, which he has done for several years since he bought the building from his father. His father ran a grocery store for years in the same spot.

Both Eakin and Harb share an animated interest in the corner where Spin City resides. Thirty years ago, when they were boys playing stickball on Sanchez, the corner of 26th and Sanchez had no stop signs whatsoever. (It's now a four-way.)

"It was horrible," says Harb. "There were car crashes all the time, so we kids did something about it." Harb and some school buddies made their own stop sign and stood out in the middle of the intersection. They got their picture in the Chronicle (Harb still has the story framed in his office), the police arrived, and Harb and the others got scooted home to their moms. But a stop sign was put in.

Since launching Spin City, the two have become expert in the art of clothes washing. And they often share tips with customers. "People overdo it with the suds," says Eakin, as he demonstrates a triple-loader. "They think, Well, one scoop for the single-load, then three for the triple-load machine." Not so. One scoop will do the job.

But Eakin and Harb don't stop at helpful hints. They are active in promoting the California AIDS Ride, a bicycle trip with thousands of participants, which runs from San Francisco to Los Angeles and raises money for AIDS prevention. Harb, a single father of one, has ridden for three years. He and Eakin are currently devising ways their patrons can put quarters in their machines and sponsor AIDS riders this June. They also hope to fund the fight against breast cancer.

Spin City Launderette is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. (The last load has to be put in the washer by 9:30 p.m.) The coffee bar closes officially at 8 p.m., but may stay open later, depending on customer demand.

Washing a load of laundry costs $1.25. A quarter will get you 10 minutes of drying time. Drop-off laundering service for 70 cents per pound is also available. And yes, there is a change machine.

--Heidi Anderson