“Free food makes strange bedfellows.”
That’s what I said to Examiner columnist Joe Fitz as we stood on the crowded Ellis Street sidewalk on Tuesday.
“Free booze, too,” he replied with a clink of his beer to my wine glass.
“That’s the new saying, then,” I smiled. “Free food and free booze makes strange bedfellows.”
Nowhere is this more evident than the luncheon at John’s Grill that’s thrown by John Konstin and Willie Brown every election day.
I was first indoctrinated into this wonderfully strange event when I ran for mayor in 2015. Here’s the event history, according to legendary press agent Lee Houskeeper (who is also a cohost along with Alex Clemens):
The San Francisco Election Day Luncheon was created in the 1980s by restaurateur/Commissioner Angelo Quaranta and lawyer/lobbyist Bob McCarthy, who co-hosted it each year at Quaranta’s Allegro Restaurant at 1701 Jones Street in Russian Hill. The Luncheon was intentionally created to stand apart from the many other political events that transpired in the heat of active political campaigns. Rather than being partisan and focused on supporting one candidate or initiative or another, it was a celebration akin to Switzerland: it was open to all those who worked in politics in San Francisco, regardless of their political orientation.
The tradition was discontinued sometime in the 2000s. Then, in 2015, Brown and Konstin revived it at Konstin’s famous restaurant.
By the time I arrived Tuesday, a line had already formed. Brown had invited all of San Francisco in his “Willie’s World” column in the Chronicle, so other than a handful of early arriving politicos, the line was mostly made up of people who came for the free food …which was half the reason I was there, too.
When I arrived, Housekeeper saw me in line and beckoned me past the velvet rope.
“This is Broke-Ass Stuart, our token communist,” he said, introducing me to KTVU reporter Elissa Harrington.
“Socialist, actually,” I replied before he wandered off to introduce other random people.
It’s actually something Lee loves to do, especially if he’s introducing people who come from very opposite ends of the political spectrum.
The first year I attended, Lee said, “I’ve got someone you should meet.” He walked me over to a big guy with grey hair and said, “Ron Conway, this is Broke-Ass Stuart. You two should get a photo together.”
I was wearing my “Beat Ed Lee” shirt, but since my jacket was buttoned, Conway hadn’t noticed it. Right before the picture was snapped, I unbuttoned my coat next to the evil billionaire who bankrolled Lee’s mayoral campaign. The shit-eating grin on my face shows what a priceless moment it was.
That’s what the luncheon is all about — priceless weird moments that would never happen anywhere else, all collected at one restaurant, huddled around pasta, chicken, wine and beer. You have elected officials, candidates, lobbyists, nonprofit workers, journalists, activists, freeloaders and maybe even an occasional Republican, and everyone is rubbing elbows and making nice. You might legitimately be having a bite and a drink with someone you said nasty things about on the internet just days before. The whole thing is surreal.
Considering the hundreds of people come and go throughout the afternoon, the luncheon has got to be an incredibly expensive thing to host. Konstin must spend thousands each time he throws it — and this year there’s two elections!
Since Willie is the one who invited everyone — he wrote, “I host, John pays” — I asked someone familiar with the event why Willie doesn’t help foot the bill, especially since he’s probably one of the richest people at the event. The answer was also priceless: “Because Willie is the one of the cheapest people I know.”
Taking a page from Willie’s book, I, too, am going to invite the whole city to a party I’m not paying for. Come to John’s Grill on Election Day in November for a bite, a drink and some unexpected new friends. Because free food and free booze makes strange bedfellows.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.