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Sunset's travel guide.

Live comedy is popular all over the country these days, and nowhere more so than in and around San Francisco. Styles range from droll intellectual distillation to in-your-face comic chutzpah to downright toilet talk. How do you know what you,re getting yourself into? We list the city's major clubs, and offer a few remarks.

On a good night, a club's atmosphere is in-group convivial, and you leave feeling kind of high and relaxed, with a sense of having shared in the experiences of other flawed but forgivable human beings. On a bad night, you come away feeling stiffed by hidden costs, and tyrannized by the public display of neurosis. A warm-up routine can quickly slip from affable teasing of audience members into ugly bullying. If you don't want to take a chance on "interaction," don't sit in the first few rows.

There's a price to be paid, literally, for yielding responsibility for your own entertainment to a comedy club. When an evening goes well, it seems a fair exchange for the stimulation and immediacy of a cabaret setting. But if you've been subjected to a string of tired mother-in-law jokes, you may feel rather blackmailed as charges mount up. Recorded information (we think of Cobb's) may indicate parking is validated, when it turns out only an hour is free. Or you,re told there's a two-drink minimum, but not that you must meet it even if you've already eaten in the club's restaurant.

Generally, on weekends the energy is higher, the headliners bigger-name, and the tickets more costly. Friday or Saturday admission may be difficult without reservations, though clubs with restaurants always save some seats for customers who will be dining--they can reserve with a phone call. On week-nights, your plans can be more spontaneous.

Each club's telephone (area code 415 unless otherwise indicated) has a recording with information on current programming, prices, and logistics. Sometimes you can push more digits for specialized tapes on subjects like parking or dining. There's always, eventually, a number you can call for a live response if you don't feel adequately informed.

Cobb's, 2801 Leavenworth Street (in the Cannery); 9284320. Many of the headliners are TV regulars, though their live material may be more raunchy than what networks allow. The Cobb's tape offers more help than most in characterizing the entertainers. The restaurant serves mediocre pastas and pizza.

Holy City Zoo, 408 Clement Street; 386-4242. San Francisco's longest-running club, this once served as an informal rehearsal room for rising stars, but now performances are less than topnotch, and the space itself seems down at the heels--with awkwardly configured seating, a sour-beer smell, and rather grim lighting. A management change may signal improvements. Meanwhile, we put this club at the low end of the scale. No restaurant.

The Improv, 401 Mason Street; 441-7787. The Improv looks for comics with the depth to warrant extended two- to four-week runs as one-person shows. (Rick Reynolds's richly autobiographical Only the Truth Is Funny opened here and went on to New York.) Such performances have more dramatic coherence than more typical stand-up machine-gun fire. No restaurant.

Josie's Cabaret & Juice Joint, 3583 16th Street; 861-7933. Josie's is an important forum for gay comics. Its space is pleasant, with Indonesian rod puppets decorating the walls. The comedy is sophisticated and the observations sharp, often with a streak of acerbic self-mockery. Drinks are relatively inexpensive, as are snacks.

The Other Cafe, 5800 Shellmound Street, Emeryville; (510) 601-4888. Relocated from the Haight in San Francisco, the Other still draws old friends across the bay for the more cerebral style of its topical, character-oriented humor. Performers are asked to avoid derisive treatment of the audience--a relief to those vulnerable front rows. We liked the restaurant's simple California cuisine.

The Punchline. 444 Battery Street; 397-7573. Slickest of the lot, this club attracts an enthusiastic crowd (mostly in their 20s and 30s) of people more than willing to wait in line outside for a chance at a weekend performance. Come on a week-night or charge your tickets through BASS. Or book a table for supper so you don't have to shiver. Once inside, the with-it-looking audience is surprisingly willing to supply a laugh-track response to ethnic, sexist, and racist put-ons.


Grand as ever, the Brown Palace turns 100

It didn't want the Beatles (too disruptive) but got them anyway, in 1964. The sumptuous, eight-story lobby once displayed prize cattle. Though Angus and Hereford hooves no longer clatter across the terrazzo, cattlemen still throw their weight around every January during the National Western Stock Show.

From Beatles to bulls, Denver's Brown Palace Hotel has seen a lot of history since it opened on August 12, 1892.

This year the Brown celebrates its centennial with, among other events, twice-weekly tours. Led by hotel historian Corinne Hunt, the tours offer facts, fancy, and a little gossip about the hostelry that carpenter-turned-real-estate-baron Henry C. Brown ordered built at a cost of $1.6 million (with another $400,000 for furnishings).

Tours run at 2 P.M. Wednesdays and Saturdays; no reservations are necessary. If you like, you can stay for afternoon tea (reservations recommended). For more information, call the Brown Palace at (303) 297-3111.


Model railroaders get together

From the days of the Golden Spike, Utah has been rich in rail history, and Ogden's Union Station, which has served both the Union and Southern Pacific lines over its 68 years, is particularly resonant in such associations. The big Spanish colonial depot now sees only two Amtrak. trains a day. But within its walls are shops (one a dealer in toy trains), a restaurant (with a railroad theme), and several museum collections (including one devoted to railroading). It's a fitting setting, then, for The Hostlers Model Railroad Festival on March 6, 7, and 8.

With a wealth of display space available (Ogden's terminal is bigger than Salt Lake City's), teams of hobbyists will link modular layouts into huge, composite track systems representing every scale known to modeling, all embedded in intricate miniature landscapes. One club alone is readying more than 250 feet of track. Union Station's entire Grand Lobby will be humming with the seductive metallic whir that quickly makes small boys of grown men.

Besides the layouts themselves, the festival features a swap meet Saturday and Sunday (for serious finds, arrive early Saturday) and a series of clinics on aspects of modeling (scenery building, restoration, switching, couplers, and so on). A snack bar will be set up near the action.

Festival admission is $2, free to ages 12 and under. Hours are 6 to 10 P.M. Friday, 10 to 8 Saturday, 10 to 5 Sunday. The station is at 25th Street and Wall Avenue. For more information, call (801) 629-8444.


A month of camellia-driven fun

With glossy leaves and creamy-textured blooms, the camellia is a plant to be proud of, so no wonder Sacramento, which has the ideal climate for camellias, indulges in a month of self-congratulation each spring. In more than 20 events that make up the Camellia Festival, the city celebrates not only its designated flower, but also itself as a community. We mention some highlights; for details on these and other events, call (916) 442-8166.

March 6 is Pin-On Day at the capitol, with a camellia corsage free to any lady who comes in the building's west entrance between 11 and 1. On March 7, docents give tours of the camellia grove on the capitol grounds.

The Camellia Society Flower Show runs March 7 and 8 at the Sacramento Community Convention Center. A fun run downtown on March 21 draws lots of amiable participation, as does the Camellia Parade, held April 4. There also are cultural festivities (from a ballet to a band concert), and tours of naval ships in the Port of Sacramento on April 4 and 5.

To see handsome camellias in established Sacramento landscapes, drive or stroll in the old Land Park area (bounded by Broadway, Freeport Boulevard, Sutterville Road, and Riverside Boulevard); don't miss the 800 block of Markham Way. There are fine plantings at the old Governor's Mansion (16th and H streets) and at 26th and G streets. To see well-grown plants that include many newer varieties, stop by the Garden and Arts Center at McKinley Park (33rd and H streets).


The de Young's refreshed with fresh flowers

Like a big house getting ready for a wedding, the M. H. de Young Museum is transformed by behind-the-scenes activity. White panel trucks swing into the normally unused driveway. Assistants trundle in cartloads of plants, and designers place special armatures. When Bouquets to Art opens to the public March 11, the museum's galleries will smell coolly delicious with thousands of leaves and flowers, and the art on the walls, as though rising to the occasion, will take on a completely fresh look.

For Bouquets, the museum invited more than 70 designers to create arrangements to accompany specific works. Seeing an artwork with a floral design created in response to it can enhance appreciation of both.

For the price of regular museum admission, you can view the arrangements between 10 and 5 March 11 through 14. In addition, lecture-demonstrations by designers Bill Whisenant, J. Barry Ferguson, Walter Hubert, and Donald Vanderbrook are scheduled at 10 and 2 Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and a panel discussion is set for 10:30 Saturday. Admission to any of these events is $25; advance tickets are required. You can treat yourself to a flower-surrounded lunch ($30) on any of the days, or tea ($15) on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. Call (415) 750-9933


A canyon walk for early spring

The time is right for a walk on the Polly Geraci Trail, a streamside path in Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve, just west of San Carlos and east of Interstate 280. There are two reasons to go: to explore a trail that's little known, though easily accessible; and to see three subtle but remarkable early-spring wildflowers that grow in unusually rich concentrations along this March-moist canyon.

You'll spot plenty of Indian warrior, hound's tongue, mule ears, and milkmaids. But botanic star billing on this 3-mile walk goes to three members of the lily family: fetid adder's tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii), giant trillium (T. chloropetalum), and mission bells (Fritillaria lanceolata).

Adder's tongue (we detected no odor, despite the common name) is a small (1/2- to 1-inch) flower that rewards attention. Seen from a few feet away, a group of plants forms a delicate constellation, as though hundreds of exotic insects had just alighted. Look up close, and you'll see that each petal is a creamy green, adorned with a fine tracery of purplish chocolate stripes.

Giant trillium, another shade lover, blooms in a rich redwood red. Sometimes unnoticed in the wild, it's so thick here that it would be hard to miss.

The down-turned greenish bells of mission bells are mottled with purple; the coloring almost resembles that of reptile skin.

To get there from 1-280, take Edgewood Road east a short way, turn left on Crestview Drive, then left on Edmonds Road. There are small turnout areas on Crestview and Edmonds suitable for parking, or you can walk from Edgewood; don't park at the privately owned Redwood Center on Edmonds. On foot from Edmonds, follow a narrow lane north about a half mile to the trail's start.

On the trail's gentle climb through woodland to open chaparral, the flowers become less interesting, but views increase. To the south and east, you'll overlook Redwood City, Palo Alto, Stanford, and the South Bay, with Mount Hamilton in the distance. Return as you came or follow the remains of an old, eucalyptus-lined road downhill.

For information on docent-led walks March 7 and April 4, call (415) 949-5500.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Williamson, Marcia; Fish, Peter
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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