Inside Foreign Cinema’s Exquisite Birthday Bash

Drag queens, contortionists, restauranteurs, tech moguls, mariachi bands, politicians and at least one strange goat man gathered Thursday night to celebrate the restaurant Foreign Cinema’s 15 years of operation. Dubbed the “Quintessentially Quixotic Quinceañera,” the evening was a fete appropriately lavish for the acclaimed restaurant’s long, and somewhat surprising, tenure on Mission Street.

Opening just before the first dot-com bust in 1999, Foreign Cinema survived when many other high-end restaurants failed. When current chef owners Gayle Pirie and John Clark (who are also husband and wife) took over the restaurant in 2001, they didn’t think they’d last even one year more.

But the restaurant, which offers a frequently changing menu of seasonal California/Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, endured and garnered heaps of praise—including multiple James Beard award nominations.

Thursday night it was clear that after 15 years of operation, the restaurant has risen to the level of city institution. In fact, Supervisor Scott Wiener was on-hand to present Pirie and Clark with a certificate from the Board of Supervisors declaring the day “Foreign Cinema Day.” To top that off, State Senator Mark Leno delivered, by way of the evening’s MC drag queen Heklina, a certificate of recognition for their years of excellence and community involvement.

Over the course of its existence, Foreign Cinema has hosted scores of fundraising benefits and contributed thousands of its proceeds to local non-profits. Its fifteenth birthday bash was no different. The night’s proceeds will go to LYRIC, a non-profit for LGBTQ youth, and the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy.

Between multiple food stations offering delicacies like suckling pig, raw oysters and gourmet tacos, decked-out characters from the Velocity Circus mingled with guests. In one room with an open bar and DJ booth, an actor dressed as mythical Satyr popped his head out of a shimmering forest set-piece while lithe dancers twirled on a stripper pole.

Heklina provided her dry wit as MC for lip-syncing numbers by Trannyshack performers. The performances ranged from charming to alarming—one queen dressed as the Wicked Witch emoted to The Wiz and another, in a full gimp suit, grooved to Nine Inch Nails and used a mini-saw prop to send sparks flying from her groin.

“It’s a real San Francisco party,” said one guest as an acrobat dressed in a skimpy sailor suit juggled while riding a unicycle. “You’ve got old Mission, new Mission, everybody is here.”

It was an enviable party for any 15-year-old.

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