Veuve Clicquot’s Harvest Table: Table of Love
By Niree Noel
In the summer of '67, thousands of free-spirited lovers headed west to San Francisco and a sub-cultural phenomenon was born.
Fifty years ago, artists, poets, musicians, and peaceful activists took over the Bay Area to celebrate love and freedom in all its forms. The Doors and Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead were there. Ken Kesey took some acid and was inspired to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest while hanging in the Haight. The Hell’s Angels showed up to protect the hippies. And Joan Didion documented it all, from the buoyant scene on the streets to the hidden darkness of so much drug use.
2017 marked fifty years since that summer’s end. We thought it was high time to throw a shindig in honor of such a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. So throw a shindig we did. Together with Veuve Clicquot, we traveled to San Francisco, where it all began, for the inaugural Harvest Table event, entitled Table of Love.
When searching for spaces that would accommodate our type of crowd and accomplish our vision of verdant scenes set amidst elegant decay, we had some criteria: the place had to be in San Francisco proper. It had to feel vast, yet secluded. It had to have viable indoor AND outdoor space. And, it it had to have history. It had to have been there for that summer.
Our friends over at Skylight had access to a particular property that intrigued us from across the country: the San Francisco Mint. Built in 1874, the Mint stands impressive yet somehow inconspicuous among the crowd of malls and mass retailers in Union Square. An intimidating set of sandstone steps leads to a Doric columned entrance, which makes it seem like you’re about to enter a courthouse in Ancient Greece. But you’re not. Through those giant front doors lies the ghost of an old money-making mint, complete with iron-walled vaults in the granite basement, beautiful wood rooms with ornate chandeliers and empty fireplaces, and an enclosed courtyard in the middle of it all. The paint was peeling, the walls crumbling, and a horrific odor permeated the floors (nothing a little Diptyque Baies room spray couldn’t fix!).
It was perfect.
We set the dinner table in the narrow hall connecting vaults. We put the bar in the courtyard, where Ampersand spruced up the facade with Hawthorne branches and marigolds. For cocktail hour, guests meandered past an eerily charming troupe wearing cultishly white caftans, up and down a stunningly-appointed staircase, rows of pillar candles guiding them through a series of rooms that captured that carefree spirit. In one room, Ampersand brought the outdoors indoors with dirt and trees near a lantern-lit teepee set up by stylist extraordinaire Maxwell Smith. In another, Maxwell set an orange velvet couch behind floor-to-ceiling wires overflowing with vines, which provided a beautiful clandestine retreat. In yet another, Ampersand absolutely covered the old columns in an explosion of flora, including palms, cotoneaster, and oak. Guests sipped on Veuve Clicquot Rich and Rich Rosé Champagne cocktails while indulging in Chef Sara Hauman of Octavia’s shroom butter popcorn. When it was time for dinner, Amy began to sing; those caftan-wearing folks turned out to be a traveling band, encircling everyone as all joined in singing “Shadow People” by Dr. Dog. All 130 guests and musicians walked down the dimly-lit hall, down an even darker set of stairs, and finally arrived at the long tables where endless Veuve Clicquot cuvées awaited them, including the Vintage Rosé 2008, Le Grande Dame Blanc 2006, and the ever-classic Yellow Label.
At the mid-meal toast, as guests dined upon a fresh brokaw avocado dish (#natch) and saffron-scented cioppino, Amy and Patrick spoke to the significance of what the Summer of Love established, and how those principles have persisted through the decades. Nurturing community, fostering care, and most importantly, paying attention instead of pleading ignorance: that’s what that was all about. And part of community, Patrick and Amy announced, was charity. As 826 Valencia, the non-profit that provides free tutoring centers for children in need across America, was the event’s charity partner with 100% of proceeds going towards supporting their programs, it was only fitting to incorporate some of the children’s creative genius into the dinner, by way of printing poems and excerpts on the backs of menus. Patrick did a dramatic reading of My Life, a moving poem on identity by 8-year-old Teodoro Kimbal-Directo, as everyone sat rapt (and some of us, nearly in tears). Then, we invited willing participants to read their menus to the rest of the room. Some pieces were funny, others a tad sad, but all, poignant, which truly spoke to the power of providing safe spaces for children, regardless of background or circumstance, to express themselves freely.
After the last pour of NV Rosé and the last bite of Pastry Chef Sarah Bonar’s rose-scented strawberry pavlova, guests began to slowly trickle out of the Mint. It was the evening of September 21st, the beginning of the season’s turn, and it was the perfect way to celebrate the transition of time from a lovely summer, onwards.