Place for an Elegant Indoor Party
Location, location, location — it’s all about picking the perfect venue if you want to host the perfect party. Readers are most confident in holding their fancy indoor fetes at Newman Hall at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, the Claremont Resort & Spa in the East Bay, Kohl Mansion in the South Bay/Peninsula and the Marin Art & Garden Center in Marin.
The 4,000 square feet of clean, attractive space at Newman Hall include a “top of the line” kosher-style kitchen. The space is used to hold the synagogue’s playgroups, a pre-childbirth class, elegant banquets and wedding and b’nai mitzvah receptions, says Sherith Israel Membership Director Carrie Rice. “It’s a large space, but it’s not ridiculously large,” she says. “It’s nice, but not overly formal.”
Frank Lloyd Wright once called the Claremont Resort & Spa in Berkeley “one of the few hotels in the world with warmth, character and charm.” Neil Ivins, a sales coordinator, says the dining and wine options also will delight guests. “We try to focus on local and sustainable foods,” Ivins says.
The glorious Kohl Mansion in Burlingame has hosted memorable weddings since 1914. “It’s special because you can do your wedding ceremony and reception here,” says Terri Baldocchi, events specialist. Kohl Mansion also hosts periodic bridal shows with all sorts of event vendors.
Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross, which also won for best outdoor party location in Marin/Sonoma, is a “very guest-friendly” location, says Julie Ashby, the assistant rental manager. Accessible parking and restrooms both bode well with guests, she says.
Second place winners include the JCCSF in San Francisco, Chabot Space & Science Center in the East Bay, the Fairmont San Jose in the South Bay/Peninsula and the Mill Valley Community Center in Marin/Sonoma.
Congregation Sherith Israel
The Claremont Resort
Marin Art & Garden Center
JCC of San Francisco
Chabot Space &
The Fairmont San Jose
Place for a Casual Indoor Party
Readers’ favorite casual indoor party spaces are sure to provide a relaxed and beautiful atmosphere.
Oakland’s Beth Jacob Congregation gets points for creativity in the East Bay. Their annual theme parties, which have included Hawaii and Wild Wild West, are always a hit because of the synagogue’s attractive party space, says Administrative Assistant Kathy Hollander. “No place rocks like this place on Purim night,” she says. “It’s a nice-sized room, but it’s intimate at the same time.”
The Fort Mason Center came in first in San Francisco. The property’s 17 venues include both small and large spaces, all with a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay.
Andrew Kidda, a marketing coordinator at the Crown Plaza Cabana in Palo Alto, the South Bay/Peninsula’s first place winner, says the Mediterranean ambiance in the Crown Plaza’s ballroom and outdoor spaces transports guests into a richly colorful world.
The Hoytt Theater, the ballroom at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, hosts elegant weddings, b’nai mitzvah parties and other occasions. Pam Day, the events coordinator, is extremely proud of the beautiful setting.
Second place finishers include the Faculty Club in the East Bay, Pacific Catch in San Francisco, the Peninsula Jewish Community Center for the South Bay/Peninsula and Rancho Nicasio in Marin/Sonoma.
Fort Mason Center
Crown Plaza Cabana
Osher Marin JCC
The Faculty Club
Place for an Outdoor Party
After hosting thousands of parties of their own, j. readers know that the picturesque outdoor event sites available at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco, the Brazilian Room in the East Bay, Pacific Athletic Club in the South Bay/Peninsula and Marin Art & Garden Center in Marin/Sonoma can’t be beat for location and class.
The Golden Gate Club, a conference and events center, overlooks San Francisco Bay and is the largest events facility in the Presidio. Evelyn Hymans, a special events manager, says it’s a popular location for bar and bat mitzvah parties and weddings. “I think it has to do with the views,” she says.
The Brazilian Room at Tilden Regional Park, nestled in the Berkeley Hills, offers both an elegant ceremony and reception hall for celebrations. The hall can seat up to 150 (with a dance floor) and 225 standing.
A good party makes guests feel like they’ve entered an alternate, more elegant universe. The Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood City does just that, according to Jim Gerber, manager of operations. “You don’t seem like you’re in Redwood City. You’re in your own little resort town,” he says. The club includes a dramatic dining room with bar and lounge area, a courtyard and deck area, and an exquisite grass area with palm trees outside.
The garden at the Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross will take your breath away, and makes the perfect setting for any party. The venue, which holds 800 events a year, according to Julie Ashby, the assistant rental manager, offers both a small space for intimate gatherings as well as a larger space for big events. “I think it’s beautifully attractive,” Ashby says.
Second place winners are Crissy Field in San Francisco, Hacienda de las flores in the East Bay, the Los Altos History Museum in the South Bay/Peninsula and B.R. Cohn Winery in Marin/Sonoma.
Golden Gate Club
Tilden Regional Park
Pacific Athletic Club
& Garden Center
Hacienda de las Flores
B.R. Cohn Winery
When it comes to making kosher food local, sustainable and organic, Fran Piotrkowski, a senior sales associate for Park Avenue Catering is on it. Piotrkowski, who handles Park Avenue’s kosher catering — which won for favorite kosher caterer in Marin/Sonoma — says their events range from wine parties to memorial services and everything in between. But one thing is always true of the vegetables, polenta and exquisite desserts: The food is consistently healthful and fresh, and offers a modern take on kosher eating.
Aviad Leizer, a manager for Oakland Kosher Catering, the first-place winner in the East Bay, says they are known for serving the freshest glatt kosher foods, including meats, poultry, challah and bagels. Leizer says he is grateful for the terrific business 20-year-old Oakland Kosher does in the Jewish community. “We hope to do more,” he says. “We’re doing very good. Thank God.”
If Wendy Kleckner of Too Caterers could pick three words to describe her food, she would say, “Healthy, healthy, healthy!” Kleckner’s company takes first place in San Francisco and the South Bay/Peninsula. Since 1979, Too Caterers, the kosher division of Continental Caterers (which won first place in San Francisco and South Bay/Peninsula for favorite non-kosher caterer) has made party planning easier on clients with its commitment to customer service and to providing a tasty selection that includes stuffed eggplants, locally grown vegetables and Middle Eastern spices.
“Call me so you don’t lose sleep,” Kleckner says.
Second-place winners are Shai’s in the East Bay, Chef Tanya in San Francisco and Milk & Honey Catering in the South Bay/Peninsula.
San Francisco and South Bay/
Park Avenue Catering
Milk & Honey Catering
Jews don’t agree on much — but one thing they can unite on is the importance of sharing good meals with friends and family. For the non-kosher crowd, readers rated the top caterers in the Bay Area: Continental Caterers in San Francisco and the South Bay/Peninsula, Scott’s Seafood Restaurant in the East Bay and Delicious! Inc. in Marin/Sonoma.
Continental Caterers in Menlo Park will give clients a “green wedding” if they ask for it. Paul Alexander, the owner of Continental Caterers for the last 13 years, says some clients want organic food, others want vegetarian, Indian or dairy-free — and the caterer is willing to accommodate all needs. Continental’s kosher subsidiary, Too Caterers, won for best kosher caterer in the South Bay/Peninsula and San Francisco.
Since 1976, Scott’s Seafood in Oakland and Walnut Creek have cooked up “the freshest” in seafood. Michael Stagg, the owner since 1990, says they have kosher catering available as well.
The idea was simple: It’s fun to cook and eat gourmet food with friends. That’s why Jan Goldberg and Paula Jaffe decided to start Delicious! Inc. in 1975. Though Jaffe has since left the business (Ed Schreiber and Teresa Hammond are Goldberg’s partners now), the San Rafael company is still going strong. Delicious! is in touch with the current trend of fusion cuisine (they make Latin-Mediterranean style food, among others).
Second-place winners are La Mediterranee in San Francisco, Barbara Llewellyn Catering & Event Planning in the East Bay, Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme in the South Bay/Peninsula and Red Robin in Marin/Sonoma.
San Francisco and South Bay/
What’s a party without a ton of people rocking out to vibrant tunes? The Red Hot Chachkas, j. readers’ favorite local dance band, isn’t satisfied until nearly every guest at a party is moving to the music.
“Basically we get about 90 percent of the people out dancing,” said violinist Julie Egger. How? By guilt-tripping the guests, of course. “I’m not going to start [the music] until everyone is up,” she tells them.
Red Hot parties are filled with the band’s signature array of eclectic music and dances, including polkas, waltzes, swing and salsa. They almost have every genre covered — though “I don’t think we’ve ever done hip-hop and rap,” Egger said with a laugh. “And we’ve never done the macarena.”
J. readers voted the Shtetlblasters into second place for the Bay Area.
Red Hot Chachkas
When Julie Egger (violin), Michael Arrow (drums), Tony Phillips (mandolin), Barbara Speed (clarinet), Breck Diegebl (bass) and Rob Reich (accordion) get together, a “red hot” time is sure to be had by all.
Since getting started in 1999, the Red Hot Chachkas have entertained crowds with their eclectic style that is influenced by reggae, bluegrass, classical and jazz. Their new CD, coming out in the fall, is a collection of mostly original songs. If you’re not up for the new tunes, the Chachkas are always happy to play “straight klezmer,” Egger says.
Meshugga Beach Party won second place.
Red Hot Chachkas
Meshugga Beach Party
Daryl Grace of DJK Productions specializes in giving his clients the party they’ve dreamed of. Grace started his career as an assistant DJ with DJK and has worked his way up to becoming j. readers’ favorite DJ in the Bay Area for the second year in a row.
Ken Maaf, who founded DJK in 1990, said the bulk of their business comes from b’nai mitzvahs. “That’s our niche, and it’s served us pretty well so far,” he says.
Dan Ohrman, the general manager in charge of bar and bat mitzvah entertainment at Denon & Doyle in Pleasant Hill won second place in the Bay Area.
Denon & Doyle
Bay Area florists are in full bloom this summer, but the first place winners — Bloomer’s in San Francisco, Glenview Florist in the East Bay, Edmond’s Plaza Florist in the South Bay and Hearts and Flowers in Marin — all have what it takes to really blossom.
After 30 years of business, Patrick Powell, the owner of Bloomers, attributes his success to the natural look in which he arranges his flowers. His technique involves “as little twisting and tormenting of flowers as possible,” Powell says.
She may be the new owner of Glenview Florist in Oakland, but Vicky Rice, who bought the business last summer, has plenty of experience in the flower business, having worked at Glenview for five years and having owned a shop in Texas before moving to the Bay Area.
Even with her years of experience, Rice says she has no specialty arrangements. “No, we do about everything,” she says, adding, “I couldn’t be the best florist without the best customers.”
Hearts & Flowers in Tiburon invites customers in for “a real hands-on kind of thing,” says Peggy O’Neill, the owner since 1979. “We love to use the best of what’s available at the flower market by the season,” she adds. “Our quality’s incredible.”
Edmond’s Plaza Florist in San Mateo scours the world everyday to bring the best flowers to the Bay Area, says manager Sharona Sasounian. Flowers come from as far away as Israel, Ecuador, France, Singapore, New Zealand and Holland, and can be delivered to most cities between San Francisco to San Jose.
Also smelling victory is Bloomies the Flower Store, which came in second for the East Bay.
Edmond’s Plaza Florist
Hearts & Flowers
the Flower Store
After scouring the Bay Area to pick the finest in the jewelry field, j. readers this year chose San Francisco’s Union Street Jewelers, Heller Jewelers in the East Bay, Topper Jewelers in the South Bay/Peninsula and Ed Teixeira’s Fine Jewelery in Marin/Sonoma.
Bob Morlan, the business manager of Union Street Jewelers in San Francisco, prides himself on the business’s longevity (32 years) and unique cuts. “We make about 70 percent of all the product in our store,” Morlan says. “We’re contemporary, but we have timeless designs.”
Heller Jewelers offers a “large selection, great values and great customer service,” says Ron Shelly, a sales associate for the San Ramon business. This business of 10 years has been a long-time favorite for readers, having placed first in last year’s Readers’ Choice as well.
Since 1948 Topper Jewelers in Burlingame has won its way into readers’ hearts with its one-of-a-kind watches and wedding bands. Russ Caplan, the president, runs the business with his father and brother. “We are a full-service, high-end jewelry store,” Caplan says. “We carry everything.”
Ed Teixeira does no advertising for his Santa Rosa business and works by referral only. Still, word has gotten around about Teixeira, who says he got started in the jewelry business after a friend of his got ripped off by a jeweler. “I’ve always put the client first,” Teixeira says. “I’ll tell the customer the truth, whether it costs me the sale or not.”
Baumell Pearl Company placed second in San Francisco, Spitz Jewelers placed second in the East Bay and Diamonds of Palo Alto placed second in the South Bay/Peninsula.
Union Street Goldsmith
Baumell Pearl Company
Diamonds of Palo Alto
It’s a sacred space for a joyous, sacred ceremony, a covering that provides shelter to a new Jewish couple and symbolizes the home they will build together. A chuppah is a big deal — and j. readers chose both bob and bob in Los Altos and Afikomen in Berkeley as the places to buy their favorite chuppahs.
Bob and bob, which relocated to Los Altos in March, remains as great an asset as ever to Bay Area Jews in search of chuppahs and Judaica. “I think chuppahs are something that’s really hard to do over the Internet,” said co-owner Ellen Bob. Bob and bob offers hand-held and self-supporting chuppahs, chuppahs made of lace and hand-painted silk, and tallit chuppahs.
Alexis Milea, who co-owns Afikomen with Jerry Derblich, makes the store’s chuppahs herself. With a master’s degree in textiles and 50 years of sewing experience, Milea creates a variety of chuppah fabrics and artistic designs for Afikomen, including beaded, floral, traditional tallit stripes, painted silk and cotton.
bob and bob
Though scholars say the practice of ketubah-making dates back at least 2,500 years, Bay Area artists are reinvigorating that ancient tradition in their new ketubah creations. Robin Hall of San Francisco, Rabbi Gordon Freeman of the East Bay, Lisa Rauchwerger of the South Bay/Peninsula and Allison Sofnas of Marin/Sonoma are the cream of the crop for j. readers.
When you buy a piece by Robin Hall of ABC Calligraphy, you’re getting a work of art. Her ketubahs, invitations and other pieces combine color and collage with traditional texts to create one-of-a-kind Jewish art. “It’s modern as well as traditional, and my texts are printed from Orthodox to same-sex unions and anniversaries,” she says.
Since rabbinical school, Rabbi Gordon Freeman, the rabbi emeritus at Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, has honed his Hebrew calligraphy skills, creating ketubahs for fellow students. Now, Freeman, 63, makes ketubahs upon request. He made them for three of his daughters’ weddings, and catered each to their individual style. “I have a love of the Hebrew letter,” Freeman says.
A self-taught calligrapher, Lisa Rauchwerger has been paper cutting and making ketubahs for 20 years. She says that her ketubahs, many done in paper cut, are beautiful as well as educational. “Everything I do has to mean something, so I pack a lot of symbolism, and not just symbols that don’t have any relevance,” she says. “It’s more than just something pretty to look at it.”
One might not expect Allison Sofnas, a non-Jew married to a Jew, to spend her time creating Jewish fine art. But now that she’s considering conversion after six years of marriage, the hobby has helped her find a connection to Judaism. Right now she’s working on a ketubah for her anniversary, built off a photograph of her and her husband under their wedding chuppah and the text from their wedding ketubah.
“It’s a nice way for me to incorporate exploring my spiritual side, and then connecting it with my passion for art,” Sofnas says.
Melissa Dinwiddie of Ketubahworks won second place in the South Bay/Peninsula.
Rabbi Gordon Freeman
Invitations are the first impression a host or hostess can make on their guests. Readers chose their favorite places to buy those inviitations: Just for Fun & Scribbledoodles in San Francisco, Susan Gildea Personalized Printing in the East Bay, Paper Pizzazz! in the South Bay/Peninsula and Folio 949 in Marin/Sonoma.
Just for Fun & Scribbledoodles in Noe Valley delights customers with its personalized invitations, stationery and gifts. David Eiland, its owner of 19 years, says he runs his store on the motto that custom-made is the way to go. “We’ll do everything possible to customize [invitations] and make them how somebody wants it,” he says.
Susan Gildea can’t help it — she just loves to work with people on their special events. With over 20 years of experience in custom-designing invitations and announcements, Gildea, whose three-and-a-half-year-old store is in Berkeley, draws clients from across the Bay Area. “I work with each client individually,” she says. “I represent probably over 100 different manufacturers.”
She may work out of her Palo Alto home, but Frosty Gross, the owner of Paper Pizzazz!, runs a thriving invitations business — by appointment only. Her expertise and her sixth sense for customers’ needs makes her a top pick. “I know my products and I can figure out what [customers] want and what they like,” Gross says.
The manager of Larkspur’s Folio 949, Terrie Liss, says her store has been compared to the luxury furniture and gift store Gumps in San Francisco. Folio’s wide range of stationery and gifts caters to customers with sophisticated tastes. “We try to find things that are unusual and different,” she says.
In second place are Papyrus in San Francisco and the East Bay, and Miriam’s Well in the South Bay/Peninsula.
Just for Fun
Overseeing the numerous and minute details of a party tends to be a stressful and overwhelming experience. But not for Marcia Barkoff, who has honed her skills as a party planner in the Bay Area for the last 26 years, and was voted favorite party planner by j. readers.
Barkoff prides herself on offering her clients “serenity, calmness and creativity” in all of their party needs. Her repertoire includes weddings, quincineras, bar and bat mitzvahs, sweet sixteens, anniversaries, backyard parties and teas. “My clients all go, ‘Oh, I’m so calm knowing you’re in charge,'” Barkoff says.
Barbara Kweller won for second place.
David Lee and his wife Joanna Kaplan Lee say the “distinctive style” of their images sets their professional photography business apart. J. readers agree, and for the second year in a row, Allegro Photography has placed first in the Bay Area in this category.
“Our photos are very good at storytelling,” David Lee says. “We really consider ourselves life photographers.”
Steve Maller Photography won second place.
There are certain moments in life that you wish you could capture beautifully on film to watch over and over again. With the help of the Bay Area’s top videographers, that wish can become a reality.
Steve Johnson, the readers’ first choice videographer in the Bay Area, has the talent, experience and concern for his customers that have allowed him to be in business for 24 years, 17 of which have been in the Jewish community exclusively.
Johnson describes his videos of bar mitzvahs and weddings as not the “cookie cutter” type. “We shoot everything ourselves,” he says. Johnson and his crew also create photo montages of lifecycle events.
Lang Video Art won second place in the Bay Area.
Lang Video Art