It may have taken forty years, but “Redevelopment” had brought a tangible result to South of Market Street. Finally, the Yerba Buena Gardens were open to the public in 1993. It was a significant addition of green space to downtown San Francisco. But green space wasn’t all—Yerba Buena was envisioned as a space for the arts, and so, anchoring the park was the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a nonprofit multidisciplinary arts center focused on contemporary art. It was quiet, it was cool. It was arty. And it was ignored.
Renny Pritikin, Chief Curator, was always interested in popular art, and how art influenced contemporary life. He knew the center needed a big draw, and he found one by looking no farther than across the Golden Gate Bridge, where the Marin County fair had drawn record crowds over the 4th of July weekend thanks to the unique “artwork” of a local filmmaker on display in the exhibition hall.
The filmmaker was George Lucas. And so in 1994, “The Art of Star Wars” left the county fair for the glamor of the big city, to fill ten thousand square feet of downtown gallery space. Lucasfilm sent over the models, the costumes, props, and conceptual paintings used in the creation of the Star Wars movies. Original storyboards. A full size speeder bike. X-wing models. C-3PO. Star Destroyers. Yoda puppets. Darth Vader’s costume. Masks from the Cantina Bar.
The exhibit worked like a charm to bring bodies in the door: before the exhibit, a hundred people might come through the doors on a weekday, maybe three hundred on a particularly good day. Attendance jumped to 900 people a day, with weekend crowds hitting up to 5000 visitors. It put the Center on the map in Bay Area residents’ minds, and it brought cash to the balance sheets.
But the highlight of the exhibit? Was it the model of the Death Star? The one-of-a-kind slab of carbonite encasing Han Solo?
Ten years later, what stands out the most from that exhibition was the menu featured at the museum restaurant. Not the selection of food, mind you, but the simple laser printed list of items for purchase.
ask your droid about today’s selection ($4.25)
selections may include stew, pot pie or pasta. please inquire about today’s special
Darth Vader Tater
a twice baked potato stuffed with white cheddar cheese, chives and herbs, topped with bacon bit and more cheddar ($5.95)
Ewok Stellar Rice Salad
wild and white rice studded with dried fruits and almonds, tossed with a citrus vinaigrette ($2.50)
C-3PO tato Salad
a trilogy of potatoes tossed with celery, red onion and spicy The Empire Strikes Back Aioli ($2.50)
Alderaandive and Orange Salad
Belgian endive, fresh oranges and jicama tossed with an orange vinaigrette ($2.50)
Composed Salad Plate of all of the above
tender mixed greens dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette ($5.95)
hearts of romaine lettuce with garlic croutons, shaved parmesan cheese and sunflower seeds, tossed with a lemony Caesar dressing ($7.25)
with grilled chicken breast ($10.25)
shrimp, chicken and crunchy vegetables rolled in fresh spring roll wrappers and served on a bed of Szechuan rice noodle salad served with a soy dipping sauce ($8.50)
SANDWICHES served with Napa slaw
Chewie Gooie Grilled Cheese
cheddar cheese, roasted pasilla chiles and chipotle aioli, grilled on tomato herb bread ($5.95)
grilled eggplant and zucchini, herbed chevre, fresh tomato, arugula and aioli on foccacia bread ($5.95)
Millenium Falcon Frittata
layers of herb frittata with tomato, watercress and basil aioli on an herb roll ($5.95)
Jabba the Hutt Dog
grilled turkey and apple sausage, savory confit of apples and red cabbage with honey mustard on sliced french bread ($6.25)
fresh roasted turkey breast with fontina cheese, romaine lettuce, tomato and aioli on an herb focaccia roll ($6.95)
The Big Pig Dipper
warm roast pork glazed with barbecue sauce, on our own Szechuan brioche bun ($7.50)
coconut macaroon dipped in chocolate ($1.00)
classic Greek baklava ($1.00)
almond shortbread layered with raspberry preserves and sprinkled with astral dust ($1.75)
moist blueberry crumbcake ($2.50)
fluffy cream filling sandwiched between two soft chocolate cookies ($2.50)
tender pastry tube filled with orange flavored ricotta cheese studded with chocolate bits ($2.50)
Princess Leia Cake
lemon sponge cake layered with lemon curd and lemon buttercream ($2.75)
The theme carried over to the beverage menu too, but the Yoda Sodas were nothing more than Coke, Diet Coke, and 7-Up. And the creative team who put the menu together had either run out of ideas or chose not to mess with the brand names there (Spinelli coffee, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Pete’s Wicked Lager, and wine from Bogle).
And as if the awful puns on the menu weren’t enough, the servers had an additional repertoire (“May the fork be with you”) at their command to inflict on their delighted customers.
Opts Galaxy Cafe (Opts Cafe the rest of the year) was run by a catering company, which would sometimes sub out menu items to local eateries, like MacArthur Park and Gaylord India. But for “The Art of Star Wars,” the menu was done in house, by chef Dawn Gedigian as part of the celebration of all things “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....”
Michael Bauer. “Artistry in the Kitchen deck: Caffe Museo and Opts Cafe feed museum visitors.” San Francisco Chronicle. 8 January 1995. < http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/1995/01/08/PK11576.DTL&type=food> (15 September 2004)
Mark Friedman. “May the Force Be With You.” Golden Gater. 2 February 1995. < http://www.journalism.sfsu.edu/www/pubs/gater/spring95/feb2/mayt.htm> (15 September 2004)