Tag Archives: L. John Harris

Diary of a haunted summer at the Berkeley City Club

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When writer and artist L. John Harris had to vacate his Berkeley home for a month, he checked into the Berkeley City Club, a private social club and hotel where he is a member.

The Durant Avenue landmark, designed by the great Berkeley architect Julia Morgan, dates from 1930.

While ensconced in the hotel this summer, from June 18 to July 16, Harris kept a journal and posted the entries on Facebook with photos. After several days at the Berkeley City Club, the Medieval architectural motifs of Morgan’s “Little Castle” started to work their dark magic on Harris and the posts became more like haunted-castle musings than travel diary entries.

Below, 12 entries from his journal.

#1 Living at a hotel

I have always dreamt of living at a hotel. A tidy little room on a high floor with daily maid service. Free morning coffee with gratis New York Times. An exercise room and swimming pool. Afternoon tea service in an elegant lobby. And a good bar and restaurant where you are greeted by your last name.

Did I get this romantic idea from books and movies growing up in the 1950s?

Well, here I am at the Berkeley City Club for a whole month, a decision based on being temporarily dislocated from my home. Of course, my fantasy was always some grand hotel in Europe or New York with lots of glamorous guests coming and going, but Julia Morgan’s monumental Berkeley City Club comes pretty damn close, save the glamorous clientele.

I would describe my experience so far — several days in — as a cross between feeling homeless and deposited into a senior citizen home, albeit with great architectural bones. … Continue reading »

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When chocolate met cheese in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto

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At the Cheese Board on Saturday night, the bar for both chocolate and cheese was raised to new heights. Pairings of high-end dark chocolate with carefully selected foreign and domestic cheeses had local taste buds all atwitter.

The unusual tasting was the brainchild of Leonard Pitt, founder and president of the exclusive Berkeley Chocolate Club (BCC), and Laura McNall, a veteran Cheese Boarder and recent inductee into the BCC. Pitt is well known in the Bay Area for his work as a mime (trained in Paris in the 1960s by the teacher of Marcel Marceau), and his books, including Walks Through Lost Paris (Shoemaker & Hoard), about Parisian architectural history. His latest venture into chocolate is just another of his many autodidact passions.

For April’s BCC meeting, McNall wowed members with a carefully designed cheese and chocolate tasting. The idea was then hatched for a public tasting of her revelatory combinations in conjunction with the Gourmet Ghetto’s annual Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival. … Continue reading »

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The frenzy around Chez Panisse’s 40th anniversary

A drawing of Chez Panisse by L. John Harris (He acted as busboy on opening night)
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The next few days in Berkeley will be all about Alice. You know, Alice Waters. Forty years ago, on August 28, 1971, she opened Chez Panisse in a small shingled building  on Shattuck Avenue. The inaugural dinner consisted of pate en croute, duck with olives, salad, and almond torte. The dinner was a few hours late, cobbled together by a number of well-meaning but amateur chefs, but it was good. And fresh. And it started a transformation in California cuisine … Continue reading »

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