Saving the Samba at Pena Pachamama



Hot times up in North Beach last week at the 10th anniversary celebration of Pena Pachamama, which remains a sizzling spot of bold, beautiful music.

This restaurant-nightclub opened in 1999 by musicians Quentin Navia and her husband, Eddy Navia, the musician-composer who reigns as king of the Bolivian charango and founder of the world music group Sukay.

Now, this good-time gang of musicians, artists and dancers, has transformed itself into the non-profit Pena Pachamama Center.

“When we first opened, no one told us that 90 percent of restaurants fail in the first year,” said Quentin Navia, laughing at the memory. “The neighborhood chefs who often stop here after work later told me that they all took bets on how long we’d last!”

Turning to their most stalwart supporters (former Mayor Willie Brown, Mayor Gavin Newsom, event designer Stanlee Gatti, SF Protocol Director Matthew Goudeau, Susan Brown, Alex Hinds) for assistance, the event raised $10K in support of this newly christened cultural center.

Flamenco dancers dazzle on the dancefloor

“I just love the music,” enthused Gatti. “Whether it’s new style or old style, the music played here is hard to find anywhere else.”

In fact, when Gatti celebrated a surprise 50th birthday at this bodega, so wild was the dancing that guest Robin Williams declared of Pena Pachamama: “This is the kind of place that would make even the Amish dance!”

Those rollicking rhythms featured here most nights (where a colorful Carnavale-style floor show is featured during dinner), run the gamut from Bolivian, Andean, Spanish with a pinch of the Pacific Islands and include native and costumed dancers.

And it was the music that swept this crowd of Swells onto the dance floor -- either by choice or by sweet persuasion from one of the fantastic Flamenco dancers.

“San Francisco is a city of 'it' places. And Pena Pachamama has always been one of those places in the city,” declared Mayor Brown. “It’s been happening here even before Pena Pachamama when this place used to be a speakeasy, then Amelio’s Restaurant.”

“I just wish,” said Brown, with a twinkle in his eye, “That we owned the building, too!”

Check out the photos below

Event organizers Matthew Goudeau, Stanlee Gatti, Sonya Molodetskaya and Willie Brown

Susan Brown, Tod Donobedian and Susie Tompkins Buell

Ralph Dennis and Charles de Lisle

Suzanne and Carson Levit with Allison Spear

Karin and PJ Johnston

Eddy Navia and his son, Gabriel Navia

Singer-songwriter Eoin Harrington joins the dance

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