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The Best Is Here!

sunset by the lake
Photo by Janet Orsi

The Sonoma Independent
Readers' Poll 1996

Wow! You bested us, all right. When we innocently floated out our offer for you to offer your opinions on the best places in Sonoma County to eat, shop, dream, smooch, hike, and enjoy your kids, we could only hope for the sort of response that we received. When we launched our first Readers' Poll last year, we were pleased with the modest results. This year, the responses were almost quintuple.

It is suddenly like having hundreds of pen pals who live near by, writing buddies who are smart and savvy about the coolest spots around town, who know the ins and outs of this pastoral showplace that we modestly call home. And these ain't no corporate ravings either. Most picks opt for the small business--the out-of-the-way family-run shop--over the sanitized big-office store. Your choices reflect the values of our county: respect for the individual, support of the arts, love of the environment, and the unabashed desire to have a heckuva good time. We salute you.

Read on, and see your choices and the winners you made, as well as some staff picks of places that you might have overlooked in your quest to know this county as well as your own backyard. Contributing to those staff picks in this issue are Greg Cahill, Gretchen Giles, Zooey Lasinger, Bruce Robinson, Zack Stentz, and David Templeton.

Staff Picks:

Readers Survey Winners:

Ballot Stuffing

If the eyes, as they say, are windows to the soul, then God only knows what the Best Of ballots we sorted through are windows to, but they certainly were revealing of our readers. Along with the standard Copperfield's-Goat Rock-John Ash answers, we had quite a few voters who instead substituted their own, more fanciful choices, either unintentionally or by design. They were probably the kids who colored outside the lines in kindergarten, and they certainly made the ballot-counting job a lot more amusing.

First came the readers who didn't notice the great big Best Of Sonoma County at the top of their ballots and drew from far afield in picking their winners, like the folks who chose Brad Pitt and Susan Sarandon as Best Actor and Actress, respectively. Unless Mr. Pitt and Ms. Sarandon have a secret love-nest in the woods by Cazadero (and we're not saying they do), then neither one can be counted as a local resident, sorry. And until the Pacific and North American tectonic plates do some major slipping and sliding, we won't be able to include the San Francisco-based De Young Gallery in the Best Museum category. Try voting again in a few million years.

A special Rip van Winkle prize goes to the reader who believes the Poison Oak Fest to be the county's Best Festival, despite the fact it's been defunct for three years. Be sure to pick up your award before you go back into the cryonic preservation tank.

Multiple votes were tallied for Slice of Life in the Best Veterinarian category, though luckily not enough to put the restaurant with many vegetarian items on the menu over the top and into the winner's circle. There's nothing that ruins the dining experience quite as fast as people with sick cats and injured horses crowding the aisles.

And pray your child doesn't end up in a classroom with the voter who listed his or her occupation as "tcher" (sic).

And how about the person who named Michael Bolivar the Best Punk Band in the county? Last time we checked, they were a Latin jazz ensemble. But don't construe this as a putdown of Michael Bolivar. We'd like to see Johnny Rotten swing to a bossa nova beat sometime.

Even more engaging than the moments of unintentional levity, though, were the intentionally whimsical answers we received in a variety of categories. We were intrigued by the reader who listed home supply store Friedman Brothers (motto: If We Don't Have It, You Don't Need It) as the source for Best Erotica. Looking for a caulking gun and garden hose to spice up the bedroom, perhaps?

Then there was the admirably self-sufficient lass who listed My Garden as Best Flower Shop and My Car as Best Necking Spot. In the same spirit, another reader in the Best Business Lunch category wrote John Ash . . . you pay.

Speaking of necking spots, that particular category seems to have unleashed a flood of warm, sticky memories in our readers. How else to explain the ballot that selected Above Community Hospital (woo-wee!)? Another reader, perhaps channeling the spirit of Clarence Thomas, chose the office as a favorite spot to get intimate. A special "Get a room, cheapskate" award goes to the exhibitionist who chose Back Lot of the Santa Rosa Inn for its necking potential. And then there was the reader who simply wrote the crotch. Why don't we just leave that one alone, OK?

What a sweet, romantic image comes to mind when reading the answer one lovebird put down as the Best Place to Dance--the living room. Amen.

On the other side of the romance coin, the Best Last Date box seems to have provoked some equally vivid memories. One reader even put in a vote for the Santa Rosa Courthouse, demonstrating that while love may mean never having to say you're sorry, sometimes it does mean having to get a restraining order. And let's hope the person who named Altamont as the best spot for a last date meant the local bar and not the ill-fated East Bay rock festival. Breaking up is hard enough to do without having to worry about chain-wielding phalanxes of Hell's Angels.

Some readers seem to have been downright dissatisfied with the choices offered to them by the ballot. For Best Personal Ad Meeting Place, a rather non-Cupidesque reader wrote, "You've got to be joking." Us? Joke? Never.

And one voter in the Best Used Car category, perhaps smarting from an encounter with a character not unlike the one played by Kurt Russell in Used Cars, wrote "You should have a 'worst of' [for this category]." Not a bad idea, but who'd want to advertise in a Worst Of issue?

Then there was the reader who used the ballot to stump on behalf of a locally owned business by naming Copperfield's as Best Place for Intelligent Conversation, while selecting across-the-street neighbor Starbuck's as Best Place for Mindless Chatter. Ouch! Come on, folks, don't hate them just because they're from Seattle and named after a Battlestar Galactica character.

But in the end, the grand prize in the write-in category must go to the politically astute reader who named Frank Riggs as Sonoma County's Best Actor. In a continuing tragedy, that is.

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From the March 28-April 3, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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