Something that I had been interested in attending was Beach Blanket Babylon, and coming back in the late afternoon on Friday after Tilden Little Farm and Tilden Nature Area, I had hoped to arrange tickets. I had been torn between arranging my scheduled activities and trying to be flexible to spend whatever time I could with my friend when she was available--I'm not really a traveller and this trip was really just to visit her.
I can't remember what the reason was but I couldn't make Beach Blanket Babylon on Friday. I think it's location in San Francisco made me doubt I could get there on time. I had an event on Saturday and Sunday evenings, Beach Blanket Babylon was not on Monday or Tuesday, and I fly out Wednesday morning. So it was today nor nothing.
I guess it was gonna be nothing.
The next choice that piqued my interest was AsiaSF, which I'd seen mentioned in a Berkeley tourist guidebook. The descriptions were intriguing: "...our AsiaSF restaurant experience brings you our world famous transgender stars – The Ladies of AsiaSF. These beautiful and talented ladies serve you superb critically acclaimed Cal Asian cuisine and perform hourly atop the red dragon runway bar."
Still, I was conflicted. Is this going to be just a strip show? I didn't really want that. I'd never been to a strip club, but I imagined a strip club with girls-with-dicks was going to be even less interesting to me.
(By the way, if after-dark adult entertainment interests you, keep an eye out at newspaper booths for the free paper, AfterDarkSF.com . Or if they've all been swiped for sexy reasons, just read the latest edition online.)
Still, I was in San Francisco, it sounded crazy, and there were no shows Mondays or Tuesdays. It was today or nothing. 7:15 PM show was sold out, so only the 9:15 PM was available. Supposedly only down to two seats at the bar (and all solo guests, and maybe some couples, were seated at the bar). Was it a high-pressure sales tactic? I bit and booked over the phone and they secured my seat with my credit card (dinner and show for a solo attendee was $48, but they would charge $35 (?) if I no-showed).
Next, I worked on sorting out how I'd get back to the Golden Bear Inn from San Francisco since the BART more or less finished service at midnight. A 9:15 PM show could run will 11-ish, plus walking time or other contingencies could leave me stranded.
Pedro at the Inn office suggested Uber if I were stuck, but I didn't have a phone that could run the Uber app to arrange a ride. So he gave me a couple of taxi numbers (Yellow Cab 415-333-3333 and SF Green Cab 415-626-4733), with the warning that it'd be pretty darned pricey, especially as it's maybe a half hour ride from San Francisco, across a toll bridge, to Berkeley.
I went back to my room for a nap, then I headed out and got to downtown San Francisco really rather early for the show -- I didn't want to be stuck in a long line-up and certainly didn't want to be late. I apparently got there early enough that there was absolutely no one in line yet for the 9:15 PM show. I reconnoitred the area and it looked sort of sketchy, complete with dilapidated buildings and the homeless though but a few blocks from Market Street. En route was a curious display of large, wooden pianos hanging over the sidewalk -- a great landmark for me later when I would have to find my way back out onto Market Street and the Civic Centre BART.
The tiny (like bathroom shower sized tiny) lobby just inside the door had a fellow that looked like a roaring-20's gangster (complete with fedora). Still, he was a professional and courteous fellow who was evidently adept at handling clueless tourists like me. The procedure was I could wait in the club/lounge downstairs until the 7:15 PM was done, the restaurant cleared, and the 9:15 PM guests could be seated. I was provided a "pager" which was bigger than a cellphone and honestly looked like some kind of stun gun with its metal bits on top. Anyway, armed with this clunky pager, I went downstairs.
The rather very small club was dead. Just some bar staff idly prepping the area to receive the 7:15 PM crowd. The DJ in his cage was nevertheless blasting music really loudly. I went to the washroom, then inspected the curious bar and the dozens of bras hanging above it, each clipped with a napkin on which was some sort of handwritten note.
According to the staffer I quizzed, the main clientele of AsiaSF were bachelorette parties and birthday parties. There were a LOT of women. And women could trade their bras for a free shot.
Closer to 9:15 PM, more late-show attendees came down to wait, along with maybe some early show diners come down to extend their party. I positioned myself in a shadowed area near the stair landing and observed the wide variety of women that came down.
Some were dressed in loose clothes and ready to dance, often already moving to the music as soon as they entered the room and moved to the beats. Others looked like they came from work and never seemed keen to party. On the dance floor, it was 100% women.
Finally, shortly after 9:15 PM, I received a buzzing page and went upstairs. I think the 9:15 PM show either had a cancellation, a bunch of no-shows, or they really just weren't that busy.
Bar seating was full, and it would turn out that the bar was the better seating (because you didn't have to twist your neck to look at the show (performed on the bar in a separate "lane" from the diners)--This in comparison with tables where you might be facing the wrong way. So they really did me a favour putting me at the bar.
The bar was wide enough to have dinner comfortably, and as luck would have it, I was basically right in the middle, which was the second best seat. The best was at the end nearer to the door -- the long U of the bar was there, and the performer could reach whoever was sitting there and interact with them, such as to seductively feed them a cherry. Not being really keen on interaction, I was happy to be in the centre and have an unobstructed view of the show at all times.
It's basically a bar, so I was once again in the wrong place as a non-drinker. Four attentive male bartenders (no, not transgender as far as I could tell) worked the long bar, and the one nearest me was a young, handsome fellow with jet black hair and a John-Travolta-in-Grease cut. No freshly squeezed juice of course but he managed a nice lemonade (using real lemons, I think).
During dinner, another bartender brought me another lemonade, even before I had fully finished the one I had. When I got the bill at the end of the night, it showed a mere $3.50 charged for one lemonade. Even had I gotten just one glass of strong-not-lame lemonade, it would still be hands down the cheapest lemonade I'd get in San Francisco or Berkeley.
Once you were seated, they hand you a menu to figure out dinner. After a really lame Moulin Rouge experience in Paris many years back with okay show but lame food, I really wasn't expecting anything more than filler to let them serve you even more alcohol -- and I didn't check their website for fine details before I booked. So I was happily surprised with the wealth of options, the fusion menu, and even the fact that they had vegan options!
Dinner + Show for a solo guest at AsiaSF is $48. So how much is just dinner? Even at $48 for a fancy three-course, it was starting to look decent
For dinner, solo diners choose 1 of 10 appetizers, 1 of 6 mains, and 1 of 6 desserts. Main were light, but all three courses together added up to a medium meal. Plating is fine-dining worthy. Default utensil is a pair of chopsticks, but you can ask for cutlery.
Potato Samosa Cigars - Filled with spiced potatoes and peas, fried until crisp and served with mango and mint chutney dipping sauces
- Basically three (?) spring rolls pre-cut into 2-bite pieces.
- Samosa style potato fillings.
- Bitter curry. I hate bitter curry. And sadly the sauces didn't help.
- Otherwise, very nicely prepared.
- Sauces useless -- just not very strong. Also, mango dip had pieces of mango (yay) but you were not provided with a spoon (boo).
- I chose the optional vegan preparation for these.
- Yup: Potato stars. French fry-thickness (almost 1 cm thick) potatos cut into 5-pointed star shapes. Bonus points for this fun way to prepare fries!
- I chose medium-rare for the tenderloin of course. Came nicely medium rare and tender, but rather salty.
- Dipping sauce too strong and I recommend passing on that except maybe for the potatoes.
- Miso-glazed eggplant pieces was a pleasant surprise in tastiness and feel in the mouth.
- Quite a largish portion, maybe the size of a tennis ball if I remember correctly.
- Warm cream that looks like a scoop of ice cream was rather yuck. Not spit-it-out yuck, but there is just something wrong about warm cream on a dessert.
- Otherwise a pretty tasty dessert.
First the various parties were acknowledged -- so and so having a birthday, so and so celebrating an anniversary. Then some enthusiasm-building to prime us right before the first showgirl hit the runway.
Without giving too much away, the AsiaSF show is basically burlesque but with no nudity. And also, no dicks. Simple sexy dance show? Oh no -- there's so much to get into here.
First, who are we watching on the catwork? The TG performers may have a deeper voice that makes them sound "off", or a facial bone structure that may look slightly not-entirely-natural (though that is obviously subjective), but the seven ladies who performed were all basically female.
And here let's pause for a moment to consider assumptions so ingrained we don't even realize them. Is a male-to-female transgendered person a woman? Just the fact that we have vocabulary that distinguishes them (and post-op transgendered man-to-woman persons are apparently still in that category) means at some level we do not fully accept them as simply female now, no matter how feminine they appear. There's an interesting Savage Love article about this in this week's Georgia Straight that touches on these is-a-transgirl-a-woman issues and is worth reading.
Second, why did I even expect dicks? And if I expected that, why'd I go?
Finally, burlesque without nudity--Is that some kind of oxymoron? Doesn't burlesque at least end in women shaking their tatas?
Well, not at AsiaSF, or at least not during the particular show I attended (and they have under-21 allowed shows at 7:15 PM). There was just one brief moment when one performer did bare her breasts (with nipples under black tape). The rest did not. Outfits showing a lot of skin, yes. Some stripping, yes. Breasts no. Bare pubic area, never.
What the AsiaSF floor show looks like is girls having a lot of high-energy fun with their (probably) surgically enhanced beauty, like shaking their booties-in-short-shorts at you. And strutting and dancing on the runway (but not stripper pole-dancing -- yeah, you don't even get that sort of titillation). And you get clever movements designed to cleverly nudge attention to each sensuous feminine feature. Sometimes, the costumes aren't even that revealing, but just plain fun, like a futuristic bodysuit with sharp angles and flashing lights, perfectly timed to first turn on when the room is darkened.
The hardest part of AsiaSF is keeping up the enthusiasm. The complicating factors are not just running out of steam (can you really keep clapping and cheering for a full hour?) and not exactly knowing when to cheer.
Theoretically you should be able to cheer whenever you want to. The ladies feed off that enthusiasm and return it in their performance, and you could even draw out others who were waiting for someone else to start.
But I think audiences have a natural peer-pressure sort of dampening effect where you feel silly when you cheer alone. Certainly I think they also feel self-conscious about moving to the rhythm of the music. I think I was the only one who really let myself tap and sway to the beat, and then maybe only because I didn't know anyone there or in the city and so I really didn't care.
The worst part of the show is honestly some of the audience. There are a lot of girls -- birthday parties or bachelorette parties. And you can tell some of them have realized they are in the wrong place. They have disapproving looks, maybe because they are prudish but probably more likely they are feeling catty and sourly envious that they aren't as pretty, buxom, and/or curvy as these women-who-were-men; and definitely never having had as much confident fun and abandon with their sexuality. All on top of the TG girl performers not coming across as vulgar or slutty.
And seeing sourpuss faces really kills the mood.
Yeah, it's tough to be a woman in the audience unless you can have some solidarity with the performers, or at least non-judgement and going with the flow (when in Rome...).
I tried to tune out the sourpusses, and fortunately it was easy because I spied the one girl-next-door lovely lady who was looking so wistfully at the performers that out of curiousity I watched her the rest of the night. She even lipsync'ed along to I Kissed A Girl during one of the numbers. I think she is in the perfect demographic -- the type of person who needs to experience AsiaSF.
At the end of the show, there was another round of acknowledging the various parties and celebrations in the house, then your bill when you ask for it. The bill itself is interesting for the reminders printed on it:
"The above gratuity is for the show entertainment and dinner service. It is shared with your server and all dining room staff."
"If you would like to leave an additional show tip specifically for your performer you may do so here:..."Maybe because I was at the bar, I was at no time served by one of the delightful TG performers, contrary to adcopy. Even so, the suggested 18%, 20%, or 25% tip is inadequate here as it wouldn't really cover the performers. Also, if you paid attention during the show, you will notice that the bartenders and other floor "non-performer" staff also played a role during and between sets, either by (for example) cleaning up after some effects (such as hosing down a performer with water), or setting the stage with props.
I was torn between figuring out a proper tip and rushing out the door to the BART as it was already 11:39 PM when the bill was printed. I ended up putting down more than 25% and rounding it up to $80.
Managed to BART back to Berkeley. Felt a little nervous so late that night, but I had previously asked about the neighbourhood and the Golden Bear Inn manager Chris had assured me the residential neighbourhood was safe to walk about at 4 AM to get to the BART. Turns out I spotted only one skunk and a couple of deer at Virginia Street and San Pablo Avenue before reaching the brightly-lit Inn grounds.
Had a bit of a scare when one of the key cards failed but the other card worked fine. Noisy neighbours that night made for a late night: One couple just finishing boffing when I got into my room. Then chatting loudly. Another had their TV volume up.