.A Nuevo Retro New Year’s Eve

Make a choice: Put feet up at home or kick up heels outdoors with this six-pack of ideas

As 2022 winds its way to “that’s a wrap,” conventional folks are returning to year-end traditions, albeit minus masks and without social distancing. Which means large, crowded, indoor parties with champagne, party hats and ball drops and whole-family gatherings held in close quarters are in vogue. But for the rebels out there, retro, counterculture New Year’s Eve choices hold attraction: that is, self-imposed lockdowns with just a few people and entirely outdoor group activities. 

Before balking at having to choose one of these half-dozen like-there’s-a-pandemic, COVID-nostalgic-on-purpose suggestions for celebrating, it’s time to think about that word: choice. If there’s one thing all Americans—maybe even all people worldwide—can agree on after the last few years of bifurcated, right/wrong, best/worst everything, it’s that they don’t like being told what to do. Americans want to believe in choice or “agency” (an overused word that still manages to hold meaning) when it comes to where or how long or with whom they do whatever it is they want to do.

Stripped of choice, Americans railed during 2020 and 2021 against stay-home mandates and outside-only restrictions (not to mention certain freaky and infuriating SCOTUS choice-eliminating decisions)… But secretly, behind the protests on the first two of those items, wasn’t there something wonderful about not having to slurp bad champagne with a date one wanted to drop long before the proverbial midnight ball was dropped? 

With choice in mind, and with respect for the comfort of staying at home and nods to the magnificent pleasure of being outside in the natural world, the following are six retro NYE minus COVID suggestions. If these ideas aren’t exactly what’s desired, but they spark nuevo ideas, the job is done. Go Retro’s underlying theme is Choice, so one may have at it in whatever way is desired. New Year’s Eve may be spent when, where, how long and with whomever one chooses to love. Let’s hope choice is salvaged in 2023 and preserved forevermore.

Self-Imposed Lockdowns

1. Rita Moreno Fest

The night may be spent with one of the feistiest 91-year-old women on the planet. This longtime Berkeley resident celebrated her 90+1 birthday on Dec. 11, and in a recent chat with this writer (see the cover article in Express affiliate, Jan/Feb East Bay Magazine), Moreno showed no signs of slowing down or sitting still. Racing far ahead of anyone else’s game, the only thing speedier than Moreno walking her dog in the Berkeley Hills near her home is her mind and her quick tongue when it comes to the exploitation of women, racism and inequities in the film industry and other, broader social justice matters.

So one may start a Moreno fest with, as one most likely guessed, a choice. There’s the original West Side Story, the 1961 musical movie starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn, and featuring the kick-ass dancing of Moreno as Anita. The film, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins and based on the 1957 Broadway musical, offers choreographer Robbins’ show-stopping big ballet leaps, dizzy-fast pirouettes and crouch-walk slinking with finger snaps that never before—or after—looked so good. 

Acknowledging there’s complete legitimacy in objections made about the horror of casting white actors wearing dark-skin make-up to portray Puerto Rican characters—even Moreno, one of the few actual Puerto Ricans in the film, was nevertheless, darkened up to appear “more Puerto Rican.” Looking past the makeup, one will see that Moreno dances up a storm and proves that Puerto Rican pride is independent of skin pigment. Available for streaming, one can catch it on HBO Max, Spectrum TV, Prime Video, Vudu, Apple TV and Redbox.

Another option is the 2021 remake of West Side Story, a film directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg with Moreno, from a screenplay by Tony Kushner and showcasing up-cycled original choreography by Justin Peck. Available on Amazon Prime, Moreno returns as Valentina, introducing an entirely new character and claiming her mojo with a poignant, dramatic performance.

And, one may ask, what local, East Bay beverage will everyone drink as Moreno Then and Now is toasted and all dance their way into the New Year? It’s suggested to look no farther than Alameda and to order up a bottle of St. George Green Chile Vodka from St. George’s Spirits. The award-winning distillery located in an old naval hangar on the island celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Although St. George’s longevity plays junior to Moreno’s seven-decade career, the vodka, according to its makers, packs heat and is a “bright salsa fresca,” in which “a variety of California peppers, cilantro, and lime come together to deliver a verdant experience, with just the right kick at the end.” Yup, sounds just like Moreno.

2. Tap into 2023

Inspired by that first idea to dance and thinking tap and ballroom moves instead of ballet? One may bring on a little of all three, with Gene Kelly in An American in Paris or Singin’ in the Rain. Sure, there’s risk involved when inviting a bit of politics and differing opinions about tap dance and its evolution—moving from Irish and West African dance traditions to white and Black minstrel-shows in the United States during the 1700s to today’s appropriation in jazz/hip-hop and slick Irish step television competitions and smash Broadway hits and other resurgent efforts that distill an art form based on individuality into mind-numbing monotony. 

But setting aside all of that, Kelly’s dancing is rapturous, and if it’s too hokey, there is a terrific 1985 film, White Nights. Directed by Taylor Hackford and creating the perfect action frame with choreography by Twyla Tharp, the movie starred Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Jerzy Skolimowski, Helen Mirren and Isabella Rossellini. It’s in no way perfect—Russians are glommed into simplified tropes as much as were Puerto Ricans in West Side Story—but the dancing is sublime.

While cueing up a tap-centric movie and prepping the tapas (obvious choice), one may check out the Boston Typewriter Orchestra (BTO). Founded in 2004, the collective percussion ensemble for typewriter and voice will blow the mind. Tapping on typewriters and calling it music sounds crazy? It won’t, after listening to BTO’s “Break Time,” “Angry Factory,” “Unprisoning Your Think R.H.I.N.O.” and of course, “The Revolution Will Be Typewritten.” Beverages will be the home version of beer on tap with this Fieldworks holiday release lineup: pucker-tart Salted Watermelon Gose, funky and diesel-fueled Single-Fin Mentality Westcoast IPA, jamba-juice-medley-fruit-like Mo Pulp DDH IPA and the dessert-esque thunderbolt King Citra Double IPA.

3. Toddler Time

If one’s household is a member of the 1% club—not the wealthiest 1% of American households who own 40% of the country’s wealth, but the 1% that doesn’t have Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime or another subscription streaming service—free tv is needed. And if one has a toddler, West Side Story and White Nights aren’t gonna cut it. 

But YouTube TV offers up the classic 1982 film, The Snowman, entirely without charge. With a film score composed and directed by Howard Blake and tender, gorgeous animation, the poignant story encompasses joy, adventure and loss (when the boy’s snowman melts) and is told without words, except for lyrics to the song, “Walking in the Air.” Among other gems with fantastic music found on all-free YouTube Kids, the 1968 Little Drummer Boy, The Legend of Frosty the Snowman (2005) and many more. 

Obviously, the family needs the proper PJs for jamming with the wee ones, and if one doesn’t already have them, one may try to get a rush order for Oakland Athletics’ Newborn and Infant Game Nap Teddy Fleece Bunting Full-Zip Sleeper for the kids and Composer Nightshirts or the flannel Sport Lodge T-Shirt & Pants Sleep Set for the adults. Pizza, delivered, and no need for alcohol-free champagne or anything else cause everyone will be snoozing long before the midnight toast rolls around.

Entirely Outdoor Activities

4. Tip Toe on the Rooftop

While Santa and Rudolph teeter atop the roof, one may join another outdoor rooftop celebration in Oakland at the 17th Street and Broadway Apartments. Top Chef’s Nelson German’s Sober Mesa hosts “Harlem Renaissance at the Rooftop,” featuring a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay Area fireworks, a premium open bar all evening, a taco/nacho bar with shrimp cocktail and midnight champagne toasts. 

The upscale event encourages guests to “bring out your flapper dresses, sequined gowns, zoot suits, suspenders, and bow ties.” Live band Sofie Mae and the Fault Line (funk, R&B, jazz), party favors, non-alcohol and vegetarian options, fire pits for warming and indoor access to a warm lounge for the cold-sensitive are available. “Surprise dance” performances promise to draw even the most dance-shy partiers up out of their seats. Tickets are $175 per person, available on Eventbrite.

5. Work It Out

Some movement addicted folks follow the mantra that sweating profusely and pumping their hearts and muscles into oblivion are the best ways to exit one year and enter the next. At CRUFit Montclair, special holiday classes will be held outdoors on the patio in front of the gold-orange glow of California poppies and cascading water and wildlife forest scenes painted by muralist and Oaklander Zoe Boston on the patio walls. 

Owners Mark Sutro and Mia Honore create a welcoming environment for people of all ages and fitness levels. CRUFit offers state-of-the-art equipment and a staff with certified cred and expertise coming from years of experience in the fitness industry. The first class is free for anyone new to CRUFit, and two special classes planned for New Year’s Eve 2022 and Jan. 1, 2023, include “Rowing with Ted” on Dec. 31 from 8 to 8:45am, and “Cycling with Dora” on Jan. 1 from 9:30 to 10:30am. One may call 510-842-9467 for info and signups.

6. Sail Away

Getting spendy, one may ring in the new year on a boat. The Epic New Year’s Fireworks Party Cruise 2023 launches from Jack London Square at 10pm on New Year’s Eve and docks three hours later, at 1am on the next day. If one is lucky enough to be onboard, there’s a premium open bar, catering by an Oakland-based small business catering company, DJ Tasi and DJ Slappy, party starters, champagne toast as the clock strikes midnight, and obviously, fireworks and views of the bay, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, Ghirardelli Square and other sites at night.

For people who may have already sailed out of these two ports or hoping for a daytime adventure, there are other cruises to consider. The New Year’s Eve Sunset Sail on Freda B out of Sausalito departs at 3:15pm, and by 6pm has everyone back on dry ground. The Freda B is an 80-foot gaff rigged coastal schooner operated by a local, licensed captain and professional crew. Drinks are available at the cash bar, and sights include Alcatraz, Angel Island, Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the San Francisco skyline, and of course, Mother Nature’s marvelous sunset.

Still set on the evening but wanting a total San Francisco experience? There’s the Fireworks NYE Cruise 2023 with Hornblower Cruises & Events out of Pier 3 at Hornblower Landing in San Francisco. The ship has four floors and four live bands, eight DJs and a Brazilian carnival at midnight. Other hoopla involves a full dinner menu, premium open bar, access to seven food and beverage stations scattered throughout the classic river boat built in 1994 and multiple decks on which roaming photographers make the night memorable with photos. Again, parking at Pier 3 is closest and best approached early. It’s suggested to check the terms carefully, as all sales are final once ticket orders are placed.

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