Ari Fitz is a prototype of what San Francisco always wanted to be. She's a queer woman of color, born and raised in the Bay Area. In true SF fashion, she started a pop culture branding company at 20, sold it at 23, had a stint on the reboot of MTV's Real World: San Francisco, and now runs a lifestyle fashion vlog chronicling tomboy style around the world. She's very cool and a close personal friend, so I thought she'd have some with-it things to say about the Bay Area.
What part of the Bay Area are you actually from?
I grew up in Vallejo, just north of Oakland and Berkeley. It's where E-40 and Mac Dre are from, which is all anyone knows about Vallejo, but it's a good place to learn what you don't want in life and aspire higher. Since I was nineteen, I've lived in Oakland. Right now, I'm at Lake Merritt, but all around I've been bussing and BARTing into San Francisco since I was a kid.
What are you working on right now?
Right now my main game is I'm a fashion and lifestyle vlogger and YouTuber. I run a project called TOMBOYISH. The thing is, even in San Francisco, when you're gay—by the way, I'm gay as fuck—there's this whole thing about the way you dress that's supposed to represent where you stand on the gay spectrum. But I've always been androgynous. I was never very, like, Birkenstocks butch or a femme with heels, and I never felt like I fit into that kind of queer fashion or SF fashion.
You don't seem stereotypically "SF fashion," which, if you google that phrase, I'm pretty sure is all white girls in sundresses...
And like wide-brimmed hats and brown booties. I know, it's a fucking mess. I really don't get it. Fashion in SF should represent the creativity and acceptance to experiment that people think about when they imagine SF, and instead, it's so much of this basic bland shit.
So where do you buy clothes to avoid the Marina brown bootie girls?
It's tough. I really like streetwear, and for a lot of that stuff, it's hard to find out here. The streetwear community in San Francisco is so insular and not very unique—it's a lot of repeating LA and NY. But there are a bunch of boutiques and thrift stores around the city that work for me. One of my favorite places is ReLove on Polk Street. It's owned by another woman of color, which is really exciting. You can go there and get some of the best vintage pieces ever. I got this Alexander Wang jacket obscenely cheap. And I know it's kind of a chain, but I also swear by Wasteland in the Haight. The Buffalo Exchange in Berkeley is worth hitting up too.
Anything non-thrift or resale worth hitting up?
There are large retailers, like All Saints, Made Well, or whatever, and then overpriced vintage boutiques, which is hit or miss. But if I'm being real, though, most of my stuff I buy online because San Francisco's fashion pick is so slim. I like to be in the city as little as possible.
If you have to take a girl on a date, where do you go?
That's so funny you asked! For the past eight years, every time I have a new first date, I take her to this hookah lounge in the Tenderloin. It's a cute little Morrocan place called Marrakech, and it's just so beautiful. The walls are covered in, like, rugs—I'm sure there's a better name for that—and there are belly dancers, and all these cute little alcoves that are dark and perfect for making out, and doing other shit that I won't tell you about. The two guys who run it are amazing. They give you your privacy, pour you your tea, wash your hands for you. It's adorable.
Where would you go after, if not just back to your place?
Ha, there's the Phoenix Hotel, which is hella cute. I'm sure you've been. It's like a motel out of the 60s, what I would have imagined San Francisco to be like back in the day. They have a dope bar and the outside area by the pool is hella fucking sexy, and the parties there are just vibes. It's just like the kind of place you either bring a date, or you could end up meeting someone there, and then you'd have a very cool night.
Where do you party?
Oh! Dude I'm also going to Trap Karaoke tonight! Like, you're familiar with karaoke probably, but instead of, I dunno, Bruce Springsteen or whatever white people sing like—
Thank you for correctly identifying Bruce Springsteen as the number one choice for white karaoke.
Instead it's like Future, or even like Kehlani, and you rap over them to like a hyped crowd. It's amazing. Besides stuff like that, the black community [in SF] is really so small, and when I'm out and about, I'm always either in a queer space or in a brown space. So there are parties like Candy Rain at Edinburgh Castle or any of Daghe's parties, which is mostly the hip-hop crowd, and it's not queer at all, but it's cool, and a lot less corny than the general San Francisco scene.
Then when it comes to queer parties, like Swagger or SouLovely, or any event by Chaney Turner, you see girls with natural hair, and people who dress like me, who are androgynous. It's very comfortable. A few years ago, it was different. Every time I went to SoMar, which is a bar here in Oakland, every time I went to QBar, a gay bar in the Castro, I knew that I would find "my" scene, but now it really is so hit or miss, and I've switched to just going to parties that are marketed on Instagram and where I know I can trust that scene. I mean I'm lucky. I've been here forever, I'm plugged in.
If you wanted to grab a coffee in the city, where would you go to avoid people?
I honestly wouldn't grab a coffee in the city. Maybe in Oakland.
Where in Oakland?
Farleys. I've been going there for like six years. I know everyone there. It's just a cool cafe, but they somehow got rid of all the outlets, so now I can only go to drink coffee. And right next door is Torpedo, which is like Oakland's version of the sushi burrito, which is sooo fucking bomb.
What else in Oakland tastes good?
OK so, Mua has always been my favorite place in the world. It's like this huuuge warehouse that's converted into a restaurant, and the walls are all tagged up, and it's so dope and massive. The other place I love, even though I've had way too many arguments with my ex-girlfriend there, so I don't know if I can still show my face, is Grand Lake Kitchen. It's this perfect cool brunch spot right on the lake. And the owner is an awesome woman of color from the bay, and I just love that. You gotta get the chilaquiles. They do it super unique. They've got like pickled onions on it and tortilla chips—sooo good. Also their savory French toast... oh my God.
What spot do not enough people know about?
There's the New Parkway Theater, which was like crowd funded on Kickstarter by Oakland residents like four years ago. It's the last reminder to me that Oakland used to be a community; people coming together to support one another. But so, the theater plays new and old movies, and you can like go and drink, and the food is really good, and you can do all of that in the theater. It feels like you walked into your auntie's house to watch a movie. I just think it's really cute.
What is the modern experience of being a gay black girl in SF?
For as much as San Francisco has this air of being so "inclusive," it's also really really arrogant about its inclusiveness, and it hurts the city. As a queer person of color, I feel like any given person in the city will be quick to whitesplain my own culture to me. It's the thought that because you agreed with some thinkpiece on Jezebel, now you can tell me how I'm supposed to feel. Like, in so many conversations about my identity and experiences people are like, "Oh no, no, no, I get it. No, like I get it." No, you clearly don't. San Francisco used to be where creative, inclusive, interesting people would move to feel at home. Now it's where people who feel guilty about not being inclusive move and overcompensate to feel better.
Should people come visit San Francisco?
The Bay Area, for sure. The bay is beautiful and amazing, but I think there's no hope left for San Francisco. SF is like a commercial for anti-depressants. It's somebody running across the Golden Gate Bridge and doing yoga in the park and brunching with "the girls." It's waking up at 5 AM to go jogging. Like, do you want to be around that?
Fuck those people.
Yeah, fuck those people.
Read the entire VICE Guide to San Francisco here.
Ari Fitz. Photo via Facebook by Brenton Gieser.