Cocktail Recipes, Spirits, and Local Bars

Bill Murray Randomly Crashed a Restaurant Opening, Because Of Course He Did

Bill Murray Randomly Crashed a Restaurant Opening, Because Of Course He Did

Bill Murray walked into Cecconi’s in Brooklyn on its opening night and the rest is celebrity sighting history

Wikimedia Commons

The Groundhog Day actor is well-known for randomly showing up at unexpected times.

He’s been rumored to crash weddings, steal French fries at fast-food joints, and tend bar in Brooklyn. In short: Actor Bill Murray, 66, is everywhere. He was spotted this past weekend crashing a Brooklyn restaurant’s opening night celebration, where he quickly became the life of the party, according to Page Six. Cecconi’s in DUMBO has views of the riverfront, where Murray was seen strolling before meandering in to join the party, at which the wine and spaghetti were plentiful.

“He was seen walking along the waterfront with a group of friends earlier in the night towards the carousel,” a partygoer told Page Six. “He must have seen the party going on, because a while later, he came back and joined the party, where the drinks and lobster spaghetti had been flowing free all night.”

Murray apparently mingled with invited guests and encouraged people to visit his son’s new restaurant in Greenpoint, 21 (the spot where he had tended bar).

“I live a little bit on the seat of my pants, I try to be alert and available,” the actor previously said of his spontaneous intermingling with people in places where he was not (necessarily) invited. “We’re in this life, and if you’re not available, the sort of ordinary time goes past and you didn’t live it.”

Bill Murray crashing parties aside, here are 15 more Times Celebrities Made Headlines with Food.


There's an otherworldly barbecue joint behind the Bay Area's Richmond refineries

Crossing the decommissioned train tracks to arrive at Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

A while back, my husband Tim was on an ill-planned adventure with a friend &mdash an ambitious bike ride from our home in Alameda to, and across, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge&rsquos newly opened bike lane. But when they reached the route&rsquos on-ramp, it was inexplicably closed. Without a plan, they set off on the nearest surface road, a narrow paved lane along the San Pablo Bay, east of the bridge and behind Richmond&rsquos infamous refineries.

They didn&rsquot know where they were going. They were just riding. The narrow road wound along a stretch of San Pablo Peninsula with virtually no other traffic and no obvious destination. But where they ended up was remarkable &mdash remarkable enough that when they came home, they couldn&rsquot stop talking about it.

At the end of Stenmark Road, the paved lane turns to Point San Pablo Marina Road, and &mdash after a steep climb along the edge of hills of scrub oak and eucalyptus, Scotch broom and blackberry &mdash descends to a small marina and dead ends at the large gravel parking lot of Point San Pablo Harbor. But this marina is more than a place to berth a boat, it&rsquos a hidden community with an organic farm, a bunch of goats, a Burning Man-esque sculpture garden and Black Star Pirate BBQ, which itself is far more than a restaurant.

The interior of Black Star Pirate BBQ, where take-out containers are piled on the counter.

Black Star was also the reason that, on a recent Saturday, Tim and I decided to skip the ambitious bike ride and drive out to the point with our kids. Our friend Jonah, newly vaccinated, squeezed into the car with us, game to revisit this place he and Tim had stumbled upon months before.

But first we had to get there. And the drive itself is a revelation. It passes rocky mudflats where fishermen wade into the water, casting their lines, and a sliver of a park, Point Molate Beach, with grill pits and picnic tables and a beach stashed away behind some old railroad tracks. There&rsquos a block print-on-plywood sign advertising the area&rsquos Gun and Rod Club and some massive and heavily graffitied holding tanks. But the most incongruous sight is an imposing brick fortress surrounded by palm trees, a structure so surprising that it looks as if an historic East Coast armory was air-dropped onto a random plot of California bayfront.

A community hidden behind the Richmond refineries.

Technically within Richmond&rsquos city limits, once you round Castro Point the city &mdash its congestion, refineries, and the roaring traffic of Interstate 880 &mdash disappear. Ahead, on a tiny rocky island just offshore, is East Brother Light Station, an operational light station since 1873.

In the 1970s, the island&rsquos Victorian lighthouse &mdash clearly visible from the San Rafael Bridge, but always a mystery to me &mdash was at risk of being torn down when new navigation technology made it obsolete. Instead, a nonprofit was formed to turn it into an inn, which would pay to maintain the property&rsquos upkeep. The light station&rsquos five-room bed-and-breakfast has been closed throughout the pandemic, but during normal years, visitors are shuttled between Point San Pablo and the island twice a day.

When we reached the old armory-like building, which we assumed was some kind of decommissioned military installation we&rsquod somehow never heard of, I couldn&rsquot believe what I saw. How could it be that in a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this waterfront castle was sitting empty, unused and barely maintained? How had it not yet gotten the Presidio treatment? How, for better or worse, had it not become the next Cavallo Point?

A colorful chalkboard menu.

Across the street was a tidy row of what I guessed had been officer housing. But most of my assumptions about this intriguing 47-acre compound would turn out to be wrong.

The &ldquocastle&rdquo was constructed in 1907 not as a military fortress but as the anchor building at Winehaven, the company town of the California Wine Association, a cartel of the era&rsquos most powerful wine merchants. It was the indirect product of the 1906 earthquake and fires, which destroyed many of the city&rsquos wine depots. Built on the far side of a rapidly industrializing Richmond, Winehaven &mdash &ldquo

A well-loved marina garden.

Decades later, the U.S. Navy bought the property in 1941 and converted it to a fuel storage and transfer facility to support the war effort. Winehaven&rsquos grand hotel, which once hosted bohemian poet Joaquin Miller, was turned into barracks and a mess hall (it burned to the ground in 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the fueling station in the 1990s). But Winehaven, now a National Historic District, remains a vision &mdash a fascinating window into a California that might have been had Prohibition not changed the course of history.

The entire drive to Black Star Pirate BBQ only takes 10 or so minutes, if that, from the freeway. But it feels farther. In a good way. You might only be 20 miles from downtown San Francisco but you could easily be in another time, another place.

After climbing the steep hill over Point San Pablo and touching back down at the water, the first thing you&rsquore likely to notice is either a lively pen of head-butting goats or a giant, glistening blue-green mosaic-tiled crocodile.

This is a place that knows how to make an impression.

Burning Man sculpture art at Point San Pablo.

One part New Orleans, one part old-school Haight-Ashbury, Black Star is an organic barbecue joint over the water at the mouth of the Sacramento River Delta. Inside, it looks like a retro diner with red vinyl stools along a Formica counter (currently used as a staging area for pandemic-era takeout containers).

Outside, overlooking a funky collection of houseboats, wooden riverboats, a historic Chinese junk and the San Pablo Bay, there&rsquos a wide deck and an expansive gravel garden. Even on a busy afternoon, there was plenty of seating: Picnic tables shaded by parasols and surrounded by a colorful assortment of outdoor knickknacks, fountains and ephemera that would delight anyone with a taste for visual excess. And that, fortunately for us, includes both me and my 5-year-old daughter, who seemed convinced she&rsquod stumbled upon her own personal Fairyland.

When we arrived, Black Star had the slightly overwhelming, almost vibrating energy of an underground art show &mdash the kind of event everyone who attends talks about for days after. It was a feeling I hadn&rsquot experienced in over a year. Longer than that, if I&rsquom being honest. And, because it had been so long since I&rsquod been this excited about some new Bay Area discovery, I felt almost drunk on the place &mdash the same feeling I get when I land in a faraway, new-to-me city.

Suzie Vasco's decorative touch.

Everywhere I looked was a still life I wanted to capture: the hand-written chalkboard menu, with its flurry of color and script, the clutter of flowers (in planters and vases and painted on wooden tabletops), the boats in the marina, resting in the mud.

Then, the food arrived. We&rsquod ordered the three-meat, three-side combination to share. Served on a sheet tray lined with red-and-white checked paper, each meaty element of the meal &mdash the pulled pork with a squiggle of tangy vinegary, mustard-y sauce, the deliciously fatty, smoky ribs and the thick slices of tri-tip, a California classic, topped with house-made barbecue sauce &mdash was comforting and distinctly flavorful. This was no one note instrument.

The sides are always my favorite part of a Southern-style meal. Here, I would have happily abandoned the meat entirely to try them all. The greens were not just collards, but spinach and kale, chard and mustard greens, with layer after layer of flavor, a balance of bitter and sweet, grown in the harbor&rsquos garden. The beans were so rich I drank the pot liquor like soup. And the slaw was fresh, a springtime salad befitting the virtually cloudless sky. Really leaning into the season, I ordered a tubby little glass of rosé.

Three meats and three sides in the Point San Pablo Harbor patio.

How an out-of-the-way barbecue restaurant in one of the most neglected corners of the bay managed to do all of that &mdash to make me remember what creativity, at its most essential and vital, feels like &mdash became a mystery I needed to solve.

What is this place, I wanted to know.

Tony Carracci, Black Star&rsquos owner, and his partner Suzie Vasko, are characters &mdash the kind of Bay Area characters that it sometimes seems have disappeared entirely with the arrival of Big Tech. But it turns out they&rsquore still here, manning a galley way out among the mudflats behind the Richmond refineries.

Wearing black from head to toe, with tattooed sleeves and a barely tamed beard, Carracci looks like an Outlaw Country singer who discovered steampunk. Vasko, meanwhile, dresses a lot like the restaurant she helped build. Her long blond hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat decorated with glittery butterflies, her mask is bejeweled with rhinestones, and her slight frame is draped in layers of color and pattern. The pair have only been together for a year, introduced by a friend, and they were long-distance for much of that time: he in Point Reyes, her in Grass Valley. But they seem, from the outside, to complement each other in almost miraculous ways.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

Even so, it&rsquos hard to imagine this last year has been as effortless as they make it look. Starting a restaurant is notoriously difficult, even during non-pandemic times. And not only did they start a restaurant &mdash during a pandemic, in a place so out of the way the road there was unpaved until recently &mdash they did all of this while living together for the first time. Their home? A 40-foot sailboat. (Ask anyone who has done it, and they&rsquoll tell you that living on a sailboat is up there with starting a restaurant on the list of really good ways to test a relationship.)

But Carracci, the public face of Black Star, seems well acquainted with the ebbs and flows of life. His dad was a merchant marine from New Orleans who met his mom in Seattle. His parents moved to San Francisco to raise their fledgling family. Born at the tail end of the Beat era, with his childhood and adolescence spent in the city&rsquos famously hedonistic 1960s and '70s, Carracci was the oldest of five kids and a star athlete who played eight varsity sports.

Meeting him now, Tony the jock is hard to imagine. But he was a restless student &mdash a restless person &mdash and he says sports gave him discipline. He left home at 17, lived in his car until he finished high school, then went to work briefly in the shipyards (&ldquoI absolutely hated it,&rdquo he told Jeff Hunt on a recent episode of "Storied: San Francisco"). In what would be the first of many reinventions, Carracci moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a makeup artist. &ldquoIt was a good way to meet women,&rdquo he told "Storied: S.F." But after several years in the Pacific Northwest, Carracci came home to San Francisco.

Plenty of room out among the mud flats.

Restless, always restless, he tired of the makeup scene and went to work in kitchens. Eventually, he became the founding chef of Cha Cha Cha, the Haight's long-running Cuban-Cajun institution. Later, after bouncing around a bit, he stumbled into being an &ldquoaccidental nightclub owner&rdquo after he was offered a &ldquoyuppy club, sports bar, horrible place&rdquo for the right price. Carracci turned it into the Cat Club, the Folsom Street nightclub that&rsquos been a second home to generations of San Francisco misfits, and which Carracci ran for 12 years &mdash an almost matrimonial stint in his peripatetic life.

"My ambition, at that point in time, was to be the next Bill Graham," said Carracci.

During this same period, Carracci started The Pound in Hunter&rsquos Point, which during its five-year stint was &ldquothe place to see metal and hardcore punk in San Francisco,&rdquo according a eulogy to the club written when it closed. The San Francisco Port Authority, which owned the property, refused to renew his lease. That same year, Carracci left the Cat Club under circumstances that he describes as &ldquotragic." It seems to be the beginning of a prolonged period of either bad luck, or bad choices, in business.

Since then, he&rsquos bounced from one project to the next, with no stint seeming to last much longer than a couple years. After one more brief run at the nightclub business, he moved to Marin and became a wedding planner, which he describes as being a lot like running a nightclub, except there&rsquos a bride to deal with. He managed security at the Warfield, was head chef at San Francisco&rsquos first cider bar, Upcider, tried to start a West Oakland location of The Pound, and, most recently, ran a barbecue food truck in West Marin.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

This backstory felt too personal (and likely too convoluted) to delve into while discussing the merits of Carracci&rsquos potato salad and the weird and magical world he and Vasko have built down on the Point San Pablo waterfront. Maybe it&rsquos a talk for another time &mdash a conversation best had over smoked meat and beer?

For now, it seems like Carracci has hit a fresh stride. He and Vasko moved from the 40-foot sailboat into a 50-foot vintage trawler, which they&rsquove paired with a couple of other smaller boats to create a sort of composite home: His closet is in one boat, her art studio is in another. &ldquoI have a million dollar view,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoThere's nobody in front of me. Like when I look out in my back door, it's the bay.&rdquo

Carracci's barbecue truck, which is how he initially found Point San Pablo, became the inspiration for the Black Star. He has a 10-year lease on the restaurant and an arrangement &mdash he pays the marina&rsquos owner a percentage of his profits &mdash that served him well during the pandemic, when he had to unexpectedly close more than once and could barely scrape by on takeout.

But the pandemic had an upside. It gave Carracci and Vasko a lot of time to get creative with both the space and the food. &ldquoI&rsquod be in the restaurant and it'd be dead, so I'd just play,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI'd come up with all these different barbecue recipes.&rdquo

Meanwhile, Vasko was turning the restaurant&rsquos bare gravel yard into a living art project.

Suzie Vasco makes art of the backyard garden at Black Star.

&ldquoThe outside was nothing &mdash nothing out there. We brought the picnic tables, we brought in all the flowers, the sculptures &mdash everything you see,&rdquo said Carracci.

&ldquoI'm blown away by her constantly with her creativity,&rdquo he added. &ldquoShe's really into taking nothing and making it into something, you know? So she does all the signs. She does all the plants, all the everything, everything you see out there, decoration-wise, is her. And it&rsquos really great for me because she&rsquos so good, I have to be really good to keep up with her.&rdquo

They built a stage and Carracci, the longtime nightclub owner, brings in musicians.

Then, &ldquoall these rockin&rsquo dudes&rdquo started throwing themselves at him. After a year without anywhere to perform, &ldquothey were fighting a bit to come and play somewhere,&rdquo Carracci said. &ldquoIt is just snowballed. I get at least five messages a day from people who want to play. And they're all really, really, really good musicians. Like not just OK musicians, they're all just insanely good.&rdquo

The chalkboard menu at Black Star.

It&rsquos easy to see how everyone would want a piece of what Carracci and Vasko have created at Black Star. The product of a hard year in the world, and a tough decade for Carracci, the place feels like it&rsquos hand-carved from the ruins of hardship &mdash that it&rsquos built on optimism. And because it&rsquos so unusual, and so improbable, it&rsquos hard to imagine it can last. Something about Black Star feels ephemeral. Only now, upon reflection, does it occur to me that the restaurant &mdash named after David Bowie&rsquos final album, the one he released as he was dying of liver cancer in 2016 &mdash is a kind of embodiment of its namesake. It&rsquos a mudflat fantasia amid a Burning Man sculpture garden and a bay of half-sunken boats.

Black Star got so deep under my skin that I took my kids back the very next day. Carracci and Vasko were throwing an Easter egg hunt. My son found a big blue egg in the mouth of the blue-and-green mosaic alligator sculpture. My daughter found another, a gleaming silver one, with a $10 off coupon to Black Star inside. Not that I need another reason to return.

Very special Black Star drinks.

The make-shift dining room at Black Star Pirate BBQ.

A bicyclist destination in the East Bay.

The houseboats of Point San Pablo Harbor.

The beach at San Pablo Point.

Metal sculptures bought from Burning Man festivals scatter the Point San Pablo Harbor grounds.


There's an otherworldly barbecue joint behind the Bay Area's Richmond refineries

Crossing the decommissioned train tracks to arrive at Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

A while back, my husband Tim was on an ill-planned adventure with a friend &mdash an ambitious bike ride from our home in Alameda to, and across, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge&rsquos newly opened bike lane. But when they reached the route&rsquos on-ramp, it was inexplicably closed. Without a plan, they set off on the nearest surface road, a narrow paved lane along the San Pablo Bay, east of the bridge and behind Richmond&rsquos infamous refineries.

They didn&rsquot know where they were going. They were just riding. The narrow road wound along a stretch of San Pablo Peninsula with virtually no other traffic and no obvious destination. But where they ended up was remarkable &mdash remarkable enough that when they came home, they couldn&rsquot stop talking about it.

At the end of Stenmark Road, the paved lane turns to Point San Pablo Marina Road, and &mdash after a steep climb along the edge of hills of scrub oak and eucalyptus, Scotch broom and blackberry &mdash descends to a small marina and dead ends at the large gravel parking lot of Point San Pablo Harbor. But this marina is more than a place to berth a boat, it&rsquos a hidden community with an organic farm, a bunch of goats, a Burning Man-esque sculpture garden and Black Star Pirate BBQ, which itself is far more than a restaurant.

The interior of Black Star Pirate BBQ, where take-out containers are piled on the counter.

Black Star was also the reason that, on a recent Saturday, Tim and I decided to skip the ambitious bike ride and drive out to the point with our kids. Our friend Jonah, newly vaccinated, squeezed into the car with us, game to revisit this place he and Tim had stumbled upon months before.

But first we had to get there. And the drive itself is a revelation. It passes rocky mudflats where fishermen wade into the water, casting their lines, and a sliver of a park, Point Molate Beach, with grill pits and picnic tables and a beach stashed away behind some old railroad tracks. There&rsquos a block print-on-plywood sign advertising the area&rsquos Gun and Rod Club and some massive and heavily graffitied holding tanks. But the most incongruous sight is an imposing brick fortress surrounded by palm trees, a structure so surprising that it looks as if an historic East Coast armory was air-dropped onto a random plot of California bayfront.

A community hidden behind the Richmond refineries.

Technically within Richmond&rsquos city limits, once you round Castro Point the city &mdash its congestion, refineries, and the roaring traffic of Interstate 880 &mdash disappear. Ahead, on a tiny rocky island just offshore, is East Brother Light Station, an operational light station since 1873.

In the 1970s, the island&rsquos Victorian lighthouse &mdash clearly visible from the San Rafael Bridge, but always a mystery to me &mdash was at risk of being torn down when new navigation technology made it obsolete. Instead, a nonprofit was formed to turn it into an inn, which would pay to maintain the property&rsquos upkeep. The light station&rsquos five-room bed-and-breakfast has been closed throughout the pandemic, but during normal years, visitors are shuttled between Point San Pablo and the island twice a day.

When we reached the old armory-like building, which we assumed was some kind of decommissioned military installation we&rsquod somehow never heard of, I couldn&rsquot believe what I saw. How could it be that in a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this waterfront castle was sitting empty, unused and barely maintained? How had it not yet gotten the Presidio treatment? How, for better or worse, had it not become the next Cavallo Point?

A colorful chalkboard menu.

Across the street was a tidy row of what I guessed had been officer housing. But most of my assumptions about this intriguing 47-acre compound would turn out to be wrong.

The &ldquocastle&rdquo was constructed in 1907 not as a military fortress but as the anchor building at Winehaven, the company town of the California Wine Association, a cartel of the era&rsquos most powerful wine merchants. It was the indirect product of the 1906 earthquake and fires, which destroyed many of the city&rsquos wine depots. Built on the far side of a rapidly industrializing Richmond, Winehaven &mdash &ldquo

A well-loved marina garden.

Decades later, the U.S. Navy bought the property in 1941 and converted it to a fuel storage and transfer facility to support the war effort. Winehaven&rsquos grand hotel, which once hosted bohemian poet Joaquin Miller, was turned into barracks and a mess hall (it burned to the ground in 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the fueling station in the 1990s). But Winehaven, now a National Historic District, remains a vision &mdash a fascinating window into a California that might have been had Prohibition not changed the course of history.

The entire drive to Black Star Pirate BBQ only takes 10 or so minutes, if that, from the freeway. But it feels farther. In a good way. You might only be 20 miles from downtown San Francisco but you could easily be in another time, another place.

After climbing the steep hill over Point San Pablo and touching back down at the water, the first thing you&rsquore likely to notice is either a lively pen of head-butting goats or a giant, glistening blue-green mosaic-tiled crocodile.

This is a place that knows how to make an impression.

Burning Man sculpture art at Point San Pablo.

One part New Orleans, one part old-school Haight-Ashbury, Black Star is an organic barbecue joint over the water at the mouth of the Sacramento River Delta. Inside, it looks like a retro diner with red vinyl stools along a Formica counter (currently used as a staging area for pandemic-era takeout containers).

Outside, overlooking a funky collection of houseboats, wooden riverboats, a historic Chinese junk and the San Pablo Bay, there&rsquos a wide deck and an expansive gravel garden. Even on a busy afternoon, there was plenty of seating: Picnic tables shaded by parasols and surrounded by a colorful assortment of outdoor knickknacks, fountains and ephemera that would delight anyone with a taste for visual excess. And that, fortunately for us, includes both me and my 5-year-old daughter, who seemed convinced she&rsquod stumbled upon her own personal Fairyland.

When we arrived, Black Star had the slightly overwhelming, almost vibrating energy of an underground art show &mdash the kind of event everyone who attends talks about for days after. It was a feeling I hadn&rsquot experienced in over a year. Longer than that, if I&rsquom being honest. And, because it had been so long since I&rsquod been this excited about some new Bay Area discovery, I felt almost drunk on the place &mdash the same feeling I get when I land in a faraway, new-to-me city.

Suzie Vasco's decorative touch.

Everywhere I looked was a still life I wanted to capture: the hand-written chalkboard menu, with its flurry of color and script, the clutter of flowers (in planters and vases and painted on wooden tabletops), the boats in the marina, resting in the mud.

Then, the food arrived. We&rsquod ordered the three-meat, three-side combination to share. Served on a sheet tray lined with red-and-white checked paper, each meaty element of the meal &mdash the pulled pork with a squiggle of tangy vinegary, mustard-y sauce, the deliciously fatty, smoky ribs and the thick slices of tri-tip, a California classic, topped with house-made barbecue sauce &mdash was comforting and distinctly flavorful. This was no one note instrument.

The sides are always my favorite part of a Southern-style meal. Here, I would have happily abandoned the meat entirely to try them all. The greens were not just collards, but spinach and kale, chard and mustard greens, with layer after layer of flavor, a balance of bitter and sweet, grown in the harbor&rsquos garden. The beans were so rich I drank the pot liquor like soup. And the slaw was fresh, a springtime salad befitting the virtually cloudless sky. Really leaning into the season, I ordered a tubby little glass of rosé.

Three meats and three sides in the Point San Pablo Harbor patio.

How an out-of-the-way barbecue restaurant in one of the most neglected corners of the bay managed to do all of that &mdash to make me remember what creativity, at its most essential and vital, feels like &mdash became a mystery I needed to solve.

What is this place, I wanted to know.

Tony Carracci, Black Star&rsquos owner, and his partner Suzie Vasko, are characters &mdash the kind of Bay Area characters that it sometimes seems have disappeared entirely with the arrival of Big Tech. But it turns out they&rsquore still here, manning a galley way out among the mudflats behind the Richmond refineries.

Wearing black from head to toe, with tattooed sleeves and a barely tamed beard, Carracci looks like an Outlaw Country singer who discovered steampunk. Vasko, meanwhile, dresses a lot like the restaurant she helped build. Her long blond hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat decorated with glittery butterflies, her mask is bejeweled with rhinestones, and her slight frame is draped in layers of color and pattern. The pair have only been together for a year, introduced by a friend, and they were long-distance for much of that time: he in Point Reyes, her in Grass Valley. But they seem, from the outside, to complement each other in almost miraculous ways.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

Even so, it&rsquos hard to imagine this last year has been as effortless as they make it look. Starting a restaurant is notoriously difficult, even during non-pandemic times. And not only did they start a restaurant &mdash during a pandemic, in a place so out of the way the road there was unpaved until recently &mdash they did all of this while living together for the first time. Their home? A 40-foot sailboat. (Ask anyone who has done it, and they&rsquoll tell you that living on a sailboat is up there with starting a restaurant on the list of really good ways to test a relationship.)

But Carracci, the public face of Black Star, seems well acquainted with the ebbs and flows of life. His dad was a merchant marine from New Orleans who met his mom in Seattle. His parents moved to San Francisco to raise their fledgling family. Born at the tail end of the Beat era, with his childhood and adolescence spent in the city&rsquos famously hedonistic 1960s and '70s, Carracci was the oldest of five kids and a star athlete who played eight varsity sports.

Meeting him now, Tony the jock is hard to imagine. But he was a restless student &mdash a restless person &mdash and he says sports gave him discipline. He left home at 17, lived in his car until he finished high school, then went to work briefly in the shipyards (&ldquoI absolutely hated it,&rdquo he told Jeff Hunt on a recent episode of "Storied: San Francisco"). In what would be the first of many reinventions, Carracci moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a makeup artist. &ldquoIt was a good way to meet women,&rdquo he told "Storied: S.F." But after several years in the Pacific Northwest, Carracci came home to San Francisco.

Plenty of room out among the mud flats.

Restless, always restless, he tired of the makeup scene and went to work in kitchens. Eventually, he became the founding chef of Cha Cha Cha, the Haight's long-running Cuban-Cajun institution. Later, after bouncing around a bit, he stumbled into being an &ldquoaccidental nightclub owner&rdquo after he was offered a &ldquoyuppy club, sports bar, horrible place&rdquo for the right price. Carracci turned it into the Cat Club, the Folsom Street nightclub that&rsquos been a second home to generations of San Francisco misfits, and which Carracci ran for 12 years &mdash an almost matrimonial stint in his peripatetic life.

"My ambition, at that point in time, was to be the next Bill Graham," said Carracci.

During this same period, Carracci started The Pound in Hunter&rsquos Point, which during its five-year stint was &ldquothe place to see metal and hardcore punk in San Francisco,&rdquo according a eulogy to the club written when it closed. The San Francisco Port Authority, which owned the property, refused to renew his lease. That same year, Carracci left the Cat Club under circumstances that he describes as &ldquotragic." It seems to be the beginning of a prolonged period of either bad luck, or bad choices, in business.

Since then, he&rsquos bounced from one project to the next, with no stint seeming to last much longer than a couple years. After one more brief run at the nightclub business, he moved to Marin and became a wedding planner, which he describes as being a lot like running a nightclub, except there&rsquos a bride to deal with. He managed security at the Warfield, was head chef at San Francisco&rsquos first cider bar, Upcider, tried to start a West Oakland location of The Pound, and, most recently, ran a barbecue food truck in West Marin.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

This backstory felt too personal (and likely too convoluted) to delve into while discussing the merits of Carracci&rsquos potato salad and the weird and magical world he and Vasko have built down on the Point San Pablo waterfront. Maybe it&rsquos a talk for another time &mdash a conversation best had over smoked meat and beer?

For now, it seems like Carracci has hit a fresh stride. He and Vasko moved from the 40-foot sailboat into a 50-foot vintage trawler, which they&rsquove paired with a couple of other smaller boats to create a sort of composite home: His closet is in one boat, her art studio is in another. &ldquoI have a million dollar view,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoThere's nobody in front of me. Like when I look out in my back door, it's the bay.&rdquo

Carracci's barbecue truck, which is how he initially found Point San Pablo, became the inspiration for the Black Star. He has a 10-year lease on the restaurant and an arrangement &mdash he pays the marina&rsquos owner a percentage of his profits &mdash that served him well during the pandemic, when he had to unexpectedly close more than once and could barely scrape by on takeout.

But the pandemic had an upside. It gave Carracci and Vasko a lot of time to get creative with both the space and the food. &ldquoI&rsquod be in the restaurant and it'd be dead, so I'd just play,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI'd come up with all these different barbecue recipes.&rdquo

Meanwhile, Vasko was turning the restaurant&rsquos bare gravel yard into a living art project.

Suzie Vasco makes art of the backyard garden at Black Star.

&ldquoThe outside was nothing &mdash nothing out there. We brought the picnic tables, we brought in all the flowers, the sculptures &mdash everything you see,&rdquo said Carracci.

&ldquoI'm blown away by her constantly with her creativity,&rdquo he added. &ldquoShe's really into taking nothing and making it into something, you know? So she does all the signs. She does all the plants, all the everything, everything you see out there, decoration-wise, is her. And it&rsquos really great for me because she&rsquos so good, I have to be really good to keep up with her.&rdquo

They built a stage and Carracci, the longtime nightclub owner, brings in musicians.

Then, &ldquoall these rockin&rsquo dudes&rdquo started throwing themselves at him. After a year without anywhere to perform, &ldquothey were fighting a bit to come and play somewhere,&rdquo Carracci said. &ldquoIt is just snowballed. I get at least five messages a day from people who want to play. And they're all really, really, really good musicians. Like not just OK musicians, they're all just insanely good.&rdquo

The chalkboard menu at Black Star.

It&rsquos easy to see how everyone would want a piece of what Carracci and Vasko have created at Black Star. The product of a hard year in the world, and a tough decade for Carracci, the place feels like it&rsquos hand-carved from the ruins of hardship &mdash that it&rsquos built on optimism. And because it&rsquos so unusual, and so improbable, it&rsquos hard to imagine it can last. Something about Black Star feels ephemeral. Only now, upon reflection, does it occur to me that the restaurant &mdash named after David Bowie&rsquos final album, the one he released as he was dying of liver cancer in 2016 &mdash is a kind of embodiment of its namesake. It&rsquos a mudflat fantasia amid a Burning Man sculpture garden and a bay of half-sunken boats.

Black Star got so deep under my skin that I took my kids back the very next day. Carracci and Vasko were throwing an Easter egg hunt. My son found a big blue egg in the mouth of the blue-and-green mosaic alligator sculpture. My daughter found another, a gleaming silver one, with a $10 off coupon to Black Star inside. Not that I need another reason to return.

Very special Black Star drinks.

The make-shift dining room at Black Star Pirate BBQ.

A bicyclist destination in the East Bay.

The houseboats of Point San Pablo Harbor.

The beach at San Pablo Point.

Metal sculptures bought from Burning Man festivals scatter the Point San Pablo Harbor grounds.


There's an otherworldly barbecue joint behind the Bay Area's Richmond refineries

Crossing the decommissioned train tracks to arrive at Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

A while back, my husband Tim was on an ill-planned adventure with a friend &mdash an ambitious bike ride from our home in Alameda to, and across, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge&rsquos newly opened bike lane. But when they reached the route&rsquos on-ramp, it was inexplicably closed. Without a plan, they set off on the nearest surface road, a narrow paved lane along the San Pablo Bay, east of the bridge and behind Richmond&rsquos infamous refineries.

They didn&rsquot know where they were going. They were just riding. The narrow road wound along a stretch of San Pablo Peninsula with virtually no other traffic and no obvious destination. But where they ended up was remarkable &mdash remarkable enough that when they came home, they couldn&rsquot stop talking about it.

At the end of Stenmark Road, the paved lane turns to Point San Pablo Marina Road, and &mdash after a steep climb along the edge of hills of scrub oak and eucalyptus, Scotch broom and blackberry &mdash descends to a small marina and dead ends at the large gravel parking lot of Point San Pablo Harbor. But this marina is more than a place to berth a boat, it&rsquos a hidden community with an organic farm, a bunch of goats, a Burning Man-esque sculpture garden and Black Star Pirate BBQ, which itself is far more than a restaurant.

The interior of Black Star Pirate BBQ, where take-out containers are piled on the counter.

Black Star was also the reason that, on a recent Saturday, Tim and I decided to skip the ambitious bike ride and drive out to the point with our kids. Our friend Jonah, newly vaccinated, squeezed into the car with us, game to revisit this place he and Tim had stumbled upon months before.

But first we had to get there. And the drive itself is a revelation. It passes rocky mudflats where fishermen wade into the water, casting their lines, and a sliver of a park, Point Molate Beach, with grill pits and picnic tables and a beach stashed away behind some old railroad tracks. There&rsquos a block print-on-plywood sign advertising the area&rsquos Gun and Rod Club and some massive and heavily graffitied holding tanks. But the most incongruous sight is an imposing brick fortress surrounded by palm trees, a structure so surprising that it looks as if an historic East Coast armory was air-dropped onto a random plot of California bayfront.

A community hidden behind the Richmond refineries.

Technically within Richmond&rsquos city limits, once you round Castro Point the city &mdash its congestion, refineries, and the roaring traffic of Interstate 880 &mdash disappear. Ahead, on a tiny rocky island just offshore, is East Brother Light Station, an operational light station since 1873.

In the 1970s, the island&rsquos Victorian lighthouse &mdash clearly visible from the San Rafael Bridge, but always a mystery to me &mdash was at risk of being torn down when new navigation technology made it obsolete. Instead, a nonprofit was formed to turn it into an inn, which would pay to maintain the property&rsquos upkeep. The light station&rsquos five-room bed-and-breakfast has been closed throughout the pandemic, but during normal years, visitors are shuttled between Point San Pablo and the island twice a day.

When we reached the old armory-like building, which we assumed was some kind of decommissioned military installation we&rsquod somehow never heard of, I couldn&rsquot believe what I saw. How could it be that in a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this waterfront castle was sitting empty, unused and barely maintained? How had it not yet gotten the Presidio treatment? How, for better or worse, had it not become the next Cavallo Point?

A colorful chalkboard menu.

Across the street was a tidy row of what I guessed had been officer housing. But most of my assumptions about this intriguing 47-acre compound would turn out to be wrong.

The &ldquocastle&rdquo was constructed in 1907 not as a military fortress but as the anchor building at Winehaven, the company town of the California Wine Association, a cartel of the era&rsquos most powerful wine merchants. It was the indirect product of the 1906 earthquake and fires, which destroyed many of the city&rsquos wine depots. Built on the far side of a rapidly industrializing Richmond, Winehaven &mdash &ldquo

A well-loved marina garden.

Decades later, the U.S. Navy bought the property in 1941 and converted it to a fuel storage and transfer facility to support the war effort. Winehaven&rsquos grand hotel, which once hosted bohemian poet Joaquin Miller, was turned into barracks and a mess hall (it burned to the ground in 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the fueling station in the 1990s). But Winehaven, now a National Historic District, remains a vision &mdash a fascinating window into a California that might have been had Prohibition not changed the course of history.

The entire drive to Black Star Pirate BBQ only takes 10 or so minutes, if that, from the freeway. But it feels farther. In a good way. You might only be 20 miles from downtown San Francisco but you could easily be in another time, another place.

After climbing the steep hill over Point San Pablo and touching back down at the water, the first thing you&rsquore likely to notice is either a lively pen of head-butting goats or a giant, glistening blue-green mosaic-tiled crocodile.

This is a place that knows how to make an impression.

Burning Man sculpture art at Point San Pablo.

One part New Orleans, one part old-school Haight-Ashbury, Black Star is an organic barbecue joint over the water at the mouth of the Sacramento River Delta. Inside, it looks like a retro diner with red vinyl stools along a Formica counter (currently used as a staging area for pandemic-era takeout containers).

Outside, overlooking a funky collection of houseboats, wooden riverboats, a historic Chinese junk and the San Pablo Bay, there&rsquos a wide deck and an expansive gravel garden. Even on a busy afternoon, there was plenty of seating: Picnic tables shaded by parasols and surrounded by a colorful assortment of outdoor knickknacks, fountains and ephemera that would delight anyone with a taste for visual excess. And that, fortunately for us, includes both me and my 5-year-old daughter, who seemed convinced she&rsquod stumbled upon her own personal Fairyland.

When we arrived, Black Star had the slightly overwhelming, almost vibrating energy of an underground art show &mdash the kind of event everyone who attends talks about for days after. It was a feeling I hadn&rsquot experienced in over a year. Longer than that, if I&rsquom being honest. And, because it had been so long since I&rsquod been this excited about some new Bay Area discovery, I felt almost drunk on the place &mdash the same feeling I get when I land in a faraway, new-to-me city.

Suzie Vasco's decorative touch.

Everywhere I looked was a still life I wanted to capture: the hand-written chalkboard menu, with its flurry of color and script, the clutter of flowers (in planters and vases and painted on wooden tabletops), the boats in the marina, resting in the mud.

Then, the food arrived. We&rsquod ordered the three-meat, three-side combination to share. Served on a sheet tray lined with red-and-white checked paper, each meaty element of the meal &mdash the pulled pork with a squiggle of tangy vinegary, mustard-y sauce, the deliciously fatty, smoky ribs and the thick slices of tri-tip, a California classic, topped with house-made barbecue sauce &mdash was comforting and distinctly flavorful. This was no one note instrument.

The sides are always my favorite part of a Southern-style meal. Here, I would have happily abandoned the meat entirely to try them all. The greens were not just collards, but spinach and kale, chard and mustard greens, with layer after layer of flavor, a balance of bitter and sweet, grown in the harbor&rsquos garden. The beans were so rich I drank the pot liquor like soup. And the slaw was fresh, a springtime salad befitting the virtually cloudless sky. Really leaning into the season, I ordered a tubby little glass of rosé.

Three meats and three sides in the Point San Pablo Harbor patio.

How an out-of-the-way barbecue restaurant in one of the most neglected corners of the bay managed to do all of that &mdash to make me remember what creativity, at its most essential and vital, feels like &mdash became a mystery I needed to solve.

What is this place, I wanted to know.

Tony Carracci, Black Star&rsquos owner, and his partner Suzie Vasko, are characters &mdash the kind of Bay Area characters that it sometimes seems have disappeared entirely with the arrival of Big Tech. But it turns out they&rsquore still here, manning a galley way out among the mudflats behind the Richmond refineries.

Wearing black from head to toe, with tattooed sleeves and a barely tamed beard, Carracci looks like an Outlaw Country singer who discovered steampunk. Vasko, meanwhile, dresses a lot like the restaurant she helped build. Her long blond hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat decorated with glittery butterflies, her mask is bejeweled with rhinestones, and her slight frame is draped in layers of color and pattern. The pair have only been together for a year, introduced by a friend, and they were long-distance for much of that time: he in Point Reyes, her in Grass Valley. But they seem, from the outside, to complement each other in almost miraculous ways.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

Even so, it&rsquos hard to imagine this last year has been as effortless as they make it look. Starting a restaurant is notoriously difficult, even during non-pandemic times. And not only did they start a restaurant &mdash during a pandemic, in a place so out of the way the road there was unpaved until recently &mdash they did all of this while living together for the first time. Their home? A 40-foot sailboat. (Ask anyone who has done it, and they&rsquoll tell you that living on a sailboat is up there with starting a restaurant on the list of really good ways to test a relationship.)

But Carracci, the public face of Black Star, seems well acquainted with the ebbs and flows of life. His dad was a merchant marine from New Orleans who met his mom in Seattle. His parents moved to San Francisco to raise their fledgling family. Born at the tail end of the Beat era, with his childhood and adolescence spent in the city&rsquos famously hedonistic 1960s and '70s, Carracci was the oldest of five kids and a star athlete who played eight varsity sports.

Meeting him now, Tony the jock is hard to imagine. But he was a restless student &mdash a restless person &mdash and he says sports gave him discipline. He left home at 17, lived in his car until he finished high school, then went to work briefly in the shipyards (&ldquoI absolutely hated it,&rdquo he told Jeff Hunt on a recent episode of "Storied: San Francisco"). In what would be the first of many reinventions, Carracci moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a makeup artist. &ldquoIt was a good way to meet women,&rdquo he told "Storied: S.F." But after several years in the Pacific Northwest, Carracci came home to San Francisco.

Plenty of room out among the mud flats.

Restless, always restless, he tired of the makeup scene and went to work in kitchens. Eventually, he became the founding chef of Cha Cha Cha, the Haight's long-running Cuban-Cajun institution. Later, after bouncing around a bit, he stumbled into being an &ldquoaccidental nightclub owner&rdquo after he was offered a &ldquoyuppy club, sports bar, horrible place&rdquo for the right price. Carracci turned it into the Cat Club, the Folsom Street nightclub that&rsquos been a second home to generations of San Francisco misfits, and which Carracci ran for 12 years &mdash an almost matrimonial stint in his peripatetic life.

"My ambition, at that point in time, was to be the next Bill Graham," said Carracci.

During this same period, Carracci started The Pound in Hunter&rsquos Point, which during its five-year stint was &ldquothe place to see metal and hardcore punk in San Francisco,&rdquo according a eulogy to the club written when it closed. The San Francisco Port Authority, which owned the property, refused to renew his lease. That same year, Carracci left the Cat Club under circumstances that he describes as &ldquotragic." It seems to be the beginning of a prolonged period of either bad luck, or bad choices, in business.

Since then, he&rsquos bounced from one project to the next, with no stint seeming to last much longer than a couple years. After one more brief run at the nightclub business, he moved to Marin and became a wedding planner, which he describes as being a lot like running a nightclub, except there&rsquos a bride to deal with. He managed security at the Warfield, was head chef at San Francisco&rsquos first cider bar, Upcider, tried to start a West Oakland location of The Pound, and, most recently, ran a barbecue food truck in West Marin.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

This backstory felt too personal (and likely too convoluted) to delve into while discussing the merits of Carracci&rsquos potato salad and the weird and magical world he and Vasko have built down on the Point San Pablo waterfront. Maybe it&rsquos a talk for another time &mdash a conversation best had over smoked meat and beer?

For now, it seems like Carracci has hit a fresh stride. He and Vasko moved from the 40-foot sailboat into a 50-foot vintage trawler, which they&rsquove paired with a couple of other smaller boats to create a sort of composite home: His closet is in one boat, her art studio is in another. &ldquoI have a million dollar view,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoThere's nobody in front of me. Like when I look out in my back door, it's the bay.&rdquo

Carracci's barbecue truck, which is how he initially found Point San Pablo, became the inspiration for the Black Star. He has a 10-year lease on the restaurant and an arrangement &mdash he pays the marina&rsquos owner a percentage of his profits &mdash that served him well during the pandemic, when he had to unexpectedly close more than once and could barely scrape by on takeout.

But the pandemic had an upside. It gave Carracci and Vasko a lot of time to get creative with both the space and the food. &ldquoI&rsquod be in the restaurant and it'd be dead, so I'd just play,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI'd come up with all these different barbecue recipes.&rdquo

Meanwhile, Vasko was turning the restaurant&rsquos bare gravel yard into a living art project.

Suzie Vasco makes art of the backyard garden at Black Star.

&ldquoThe outside was nothing &mdash nothing out there. We brought the picnic tables, we brought in all the flowers, the sculptures &mdash everything you see,&rdquo said Carracci.

&ldquoI'm blown away by her constantly with her creativity,&rdquo he added. &ldquoShe's really into taking nothing and making it into something, you know? So she does all the signs. She does all the plants, all the everything, everything you see out there, decoration-wise, is her. And it&rsquos really great for me because she&rsquos so good, I have to be really good to keep up with her.&rdquo

They built a stage and Carracci, the longtime nightclub owner, brings in musicians.

Then, &ldquoall these rockin&rsquo dudes&rdquo started throwing themselves at him. After a year without anywhere to perform, &ldquothey were fighting a bit to come and play somewhere,&rdquo Carracci said. &ldquoIt is just snowballed. I get at least five messages a day from people who want to play. And they're all really, really, really good musicians. Like not just OK musicians, they're all just insanely good.&rdquo

The chalkboard menu at Black Star.

It&rsquos easy to see how everyone would want a piece of what Carracci and Vasko have created at Black Star. The product of a hard year in the world, and a tough decade for Carracci, the place feels like it&rsquos hand-carved from the ruins of hardship &mdash that it&rsquos built on optimism. And because it&rsquos so unusual, and so improbable, it&rsquos hard to imagine it can last. Something about Black Star feels ephemeral. Only now, upon reflection, does it occur to me that the restaurant &mdash named after David Bowie&rsquos final album, the one he released as he was dying of liver cancer in 2016 &mdash is a kind of embodiment of its namesake. It&rsquos a mudflat fantasia amid a Burning Man sculpture garden and a bay of half-sunken boats.

Black Star got so deep under my skin that I took my kids back the very next day. Carracci and Vasko were throwing an Easter egg hunt. My son found a big blue egg in the mouth of the blue-and-green mosaic alligator sculpture. My daughter found another, a gleaming silver one, with a $10 off coupon to Black Star inside. Not that I need another reason to return.

Very special Black Star drinks.

The make-shift dining room at Black Star Pirate BBQ.

A bicyclist destination in the East Bay.

The houseboats of Point San Pablo Harbor.

The beach at San Pablo Point.

Metal sculptures bought from Burning Man festivals scatter the Point San Pablo Harbor grounds.


There's an otherworldly barbecue joint behind the Bay Area's Richmond refineries

Crossing the decommissioned train tracks to arrive at Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

A while back, my husband Tim was on an ill-planned adventure with a friend &mdash an ambitious bike ride from our home in Alameda to, and across, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge&rsquos newly opened bike lane. But when they reached the route&rsquos on-ramp, it was inexplicably closed. Without a plan, they set off on the nearest surface road, a narrow paved lane along the San Pablo Bay, east of the bridge and behind Richmond&rsquos infamous refineries.

They didn&rsquot know where they were going. They were just riding. The narrow road wound along a stretch of San Pablo Peninsula with virtually no other traffic and no obvious destination. But where they ended up was remarkable &mdash remarkable enough that when they came home, they couldn&rsquot stop talking about it.

At the end of Stenmark Road, the paved lane turns to Point San Pablo Marina Road, and &mdash after a steep climb along the edge of hills of scrub oak and eucalyptus, Scotch broom and blackberry &mdash descends to a small marina and dead ends at the large gravel parking lot of Point San Pablo Harbor. But this marina is more than a place to berth a boat, it&rsquos a hidden community with an organic farm, a bunch of goats, a Burning Man-esque sculpture garden and Black Star Pirate BBQ, which itself is far more than a restaurant.

The interior of Black Star Pirate BBQ, where take-out containers are piled on the counter.

Black Star was also the reason that, on a recent Saturday, Tim and I decided to skip the ambitious bike ride and drive out to the point with our kids. Our friend Jonah, newly vaccinated, squeezed into the car with us, game to revisit this place he and Tim had stumbled upon months before.

But first we had to get there. And the drive itself is a revelation. It passes rocky mudflats where fishermen wade into the water, casting their lines, and a sliver of a park, Point Molate Beach, with grill pits and picnic tables and a beach stashed away behind some old railroad tracks. There&rsquos a block print-on-plywood sign advertising the area&rsquos Gun and Rod Club and some massive and heavily graffitied holding tanks. But the most incongruous sight is an imposing brick fortress surrounded by palm trees, a structure so surprising that it looks as if an historic East Coast armory was air-dropped onto a random plot of California bayfront.

A community hidden behind the Richmond refineries.

Technically within Richmond&rsquos city limits, once you round Castro Point the city &mdash its congestion, refineries, and the roaring traffic of Interstate 880 &mdash disappear. Ahead, on a tiny rocky island just offshore, is East Brother Light Station, an operational light station since 1873.

In the 1970s, the island&rsquos Victorian lighthouse &mdash clearly visible from the San Rafael Bridge, but always a mystery to me &mdash was at risk of being torn down when new navigation technology made it obsolete. Instead, a nonprofit was formed to turn it into an inn, which would pay to maintain the property&rsquos upkeep. The light station&rsquos five-room bed-and-breakfast has been closed throughout the pandemic, but during normal years, visitors are shuttled between Point San Pablo and the island twice a day.

When we reached the old armory-like building, which we assumed was some kind of decommissioned military installation we&rsquod somehow never heard of, I couldn&rsquot believe what I saw. How could it be that in a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this waterfront castle was sitting empty, unused and barely maintained? How had it not yet gotten the Presidio treatment? How, for better or worse, had it not become the next Cavallo Point?

A colorful chalkboard menu.

Across the street was a tidy row of what I guessed had been officer housing. But most of my assumptions about this intriguing 47-acre compound would turn out to be wrong.

The &ldquocastle&rdquo was constructed in 1907 not as a military fortress but as the anchor building at Winehaven, the company town of the California Wine Association, a cartel of the era&rsquos most powerful wine merchants. It was the indirect product of the 1906 earthquake and fires, which destroyed many of the city&rsquos wine depots. Built on the far side of a rapidly industrializing Richmond, Winehaven &mdash &ldquo

A well-loved marina garden.

Decades later, the U.S. Navy bought the property in 1941 and converted it to a fuel storage and transfer facility to support the war effort. Winehaven&rsquos grand hotel, which once hosted bohemian poet Joaquin Miller, was turned into barracks and a mess hall (it burned to the ground in 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the fueling station in the 1990s). But Winehaven, now a National Historic District, remains a vision &mdash a fascinating window into a California that might have been had Prohibition not changed the course of history.

The entire drive to Black Star Pirate BBQ only takes 10 or so minutes, if that, from the freeway. But it feels farther. In a good way. You might only be 20 miles from downtown San Francisco but you could easily be in another time, another place.

After climbing the steep hill over Point San Pablo and touching back down at the water, the first thing you&rsquore likely to notice is either a lively pen of head-butting goats or a giant, glistening blue-green mosaic-tiled crocodile.

This is a place that knows how to make an impression.

Burning Man sculpture art at Point San Pablo.

One part New Orleans, one part old-school Haight-Ashbury, Black Star is an organic barbecue joint over the water at the mouth of the Sacramento River Delta. Inside, it looks like a retro diner with red vinyl stools along a Formica counter (currently used as a staging area for pandemic-era takeout containers).

Outside, overlooking a funky collection of houseboats, wooden riverboats, a historic Chinese junk and the San Pablo Bay, there&rsquos a wide deck and an expansive gravel garden. Even on a busy afternoon, there was plenty of seating: Picnic tables shaded by parasols and surrounded by a colorful assortment of outdoor knickknacks, fountains and ephemera that would delight anyone with a taste for visual excess. And that, fortunately for us, includes both me and my 5-year-old daughter, who seemed convinced she&rsquod stumbled upon her own personal Fairyland.

When we arrived, Black Star had the slightly overwhelming, almost vibrating energy of an underground art show &mdash the kind of event everyone who attends talks about for days after. It was a feeling I hadn&rsquot experienced in over a year. Longer than that, if I&rsquom being honest. And, because it had been so long since I&rsquod been this excited about some new Bay Area discovery, I felt almost drunk on the place &mdash the same feeling I get when I land in a faraway, new-to-me city.

Suzie Vasco's decorative touch.

Everywhere I looked was a still life I wanted to capture: the hand-written chalkboard menu, with its flurry of color and script, the clutter of flowers (in planters and vases and painted on wooden tabletops), the boats in the marina, resting in the mud.

Then, the food arrived. We&rsquod ordered the three-meat, three-side combination to share. Served on a sheet tray lined with red-and-white checked paper, each meaty element of the meal &mdash the pulled pork with a squiggle of tangy vinegary, mustard-y sauce, the deliciously fatty, smoky ribs and the thick slices of tri-tip, a California classic, topped with house-made barbecue sauce &mdash was comforting and distinctly flavorful. This was no one note instrument.

The sides are always my favorite part of a Southern-style meal. Here, I would have happily abandoned the meat entirely to try them all. The greens were not just collards, but spinach and kale, chard and mustard greens, with layer after layer of flavor, a balance of bitter and sweet, grown in the harbor&rsquos garden. The beans were so rich I drank the pot liquor like soup. And the slaw was fresh, a springtime salad befitting the virtually cloudless sky. Really leaning into the season, I ordered a tubby little glass of rosé.

Three meats and three sides in the Point San Pablo Harbor patio.

How an out-of-the-way barbecue restaurant in one of the most neglected corners of the bay managed to do all of that &mdash to make me remember what creativity, at its most essential and vital, feels like &mdash became a mystery I needed to solve.

What is this place, I wanted to know.

Tony Carracci, Black Star&rsquos owner, and his partner Suzie Vasko, are characters &mdash the kind of Bay Area characters that it sometimes seems have disappeared entirely with the arrival of Big Tech. But it turns out they&rsquore still here, manning a galley way out among the mudflats behind the Richmond refineries.

Wearing black from head to toe, with tattooed sleeves and a barely tamed beard, Carracci looks like an Outlaw Country singer who discovered steampunk. Vasko, meanwhile, dresses a lot like the restaurant she helped build. Her long blond hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat decorated with glittery butterflies, her mask is bejeweled with rhinestones, and her slight frame is draped in layers of color and pattern. The pair have only been together for a year, introduced by a friend, and they were long-distance for much of that time: he in Point Reyes, her in Grass Valley. But they seem, from the outside, to complement each other in almost miraculous ways.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

Even so, it&rsquos hard to imagine this last year has been as effortless as they make it look. Starting a restaurant is notoriously difficult, even during non-pandemic times. And not only did they start a restaurant &mdash during a pandemic, in a place so out of the way the road there was unpaved until recently &mdash they did all of this while living together for the first time. Their home? A 40-foot sailboat. (Ask anyone who has done it, and they&rsquoll tell you that living on a sailboat is up there with starting a restaurant on the list of really good ways to test a relationship.)

But Carracci, the public face of Black Star, seems well acquainted with the ebbs and flows of life. His dad was a merchant marine from New Orleans who met his mom in Seattle. His parents moved to San Francisco to raise their fledgling family. Born at the tail end of the Beat era, with his childhood and adolescence spent in the city&rsquos famously hedonistic 1960s and '70s, Carracci was the oldest of five kids and a star athlete who played eight varsity sports.

Meeting him now, Tony the jock is hard to imagine. But he was a restless student &mdash a restless person &mdash and he says sports gave him discipline. He left home at 17, lived in his car until he finished high school, then went to work briefly in the shipyards (&ldquoI absolutely hated it,&rdquo he told Jeff Hunt on a recent episode of "Storied: San Francisco"). In what would be the first of many reinventions, Carracci moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a makeup artist. &ldquoIt was a good way to meet women,&rdquo he told "Storied: S.F." But after several years in the Pacific Northwest, Carracci came home to San Francisco.

Plenty of room out among the mud flats.

Restless, always restless, he tired of the makeup scene and went to work in kitchens. Eventually, he became the founding chef of Cha Cha Cha, the Haight's long-running Cuban-Cajun institution. Later, after bouncing around a bit, he stumbled into being an &ldquoaccidental nightclub owner&rdquo after he was offered a &ldquoyuppy club, sports bar, horrible place&rdquo for the right price. Carracci turned it into the Cat Club, the Folsom Street nightclub that&rsquos been a second home to generations of San Francisco misfits, and which Carracci ran for 12 years &mdash an almost matrimonial stint in his peripatetic life.

"My ambition, at that point in time, was to be the next Bill Graham," said Carracci.

During this same period, Carracci started The Pound in Hunter&rsquos Point, which during its five-year stint was &ldquothe place to see metal and hardcore punk in San Francisco,&rdquo according a eulogy to the club written when it closed. The San Francisco Port Authority, which owned the property, refused to renew his lease. That same year, Carracci left the Cat Club under circumstances that he describes as &ldquotragic." It seems to be the beginning of a prolonged period of either bad luck, or bad choices, in business.

Since then, he&rsquos bounced from one project to the next, with no stint seeming to last much longer than a couple years. After one more brief run at the nightclub business, he moved to Marin and became a wedding planner, which he describes as being a lot like running a nightclub, except there&rsquos a bride to deal with. He managed security at the Warfield, was head chef at San Francisco&rsquos first cider bar, Upcider, tried to start a West Oakland location of The Pound, and, most recently, ran a barbecue food truck in West Marin.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

This backstory felt too personal (and likely too convoluted) to delve into while discussing the merits of Carracci&rsquos potato salad and the weird and magical world he and Vasko have built down on the Point San Pablo waterfront. Maybe it&rsquos a talk for another time &mdash a conversation best had over smoked meat and beer?

For now, it seems like Carracci has hit a fresh stride. He and Vasko moved from the 40-foot sailboat into a 50-foot vintage trawler, which they&rsquove paired with a couple of other smaller boats to create a sort of composite home: His closet is in one boat, her art studio is in another. &ldquoI have a million dollar view,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoThere's nobody in front of me. Like when I look out in my back door, it's the bay.&rdquo

Carracci's barbecue truck, which is how he initially found Point San Pablo, became the inspiration for the Black Star. He has a 10-year lease on the restaurant and an arrangement &mdash he pays the marina&rsquos owner a percentage of his profits &mdash that served him well during the pandemic, when he had to unexpectedly close more than once and could barely scrape by on takeout.

But the pandemic had an upside. It gave Carracci and Vasko a lot of time to get creative with both the space and the food. &ldquoI&rsquod be in the restaurant and it'd be dead, so I'd just play,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI'd come up with all these different barbecue recipes.&rdquo

Meanwhile, Vasko was turning the restaurant&rsquos bare gravel yard into a living art project.

Suzie Vasco makes art of the backyard garden at Black Star.

&ldquoThe outside was nothing &mdash nothing out there. We brought the picnic tables, we brought in all the flowers, the sculptures &mdash everything you see,&rdquo said Carracci.

&ldquoI'm blown away by her constantly with her creativity,&rdquo he added. &ldquoShe's really into taking nothing and making it into something, you know? So she does all the signs. She does all the plants, all the everything, everything you see out there, decoration-wise, is her. And it&rsquos really great for me because she&rsquos so good, I have to be really good to keep up with her.&rdquo

They built a stage and Carracci, the longtime nightclub owner, brings in musicians.

Then, &ldquoall these rockin&rsquo dudes&rdquo started throwing themselves at him. After a year without anywhere to perform, &ldquothey were fighting a bit to come and play somewhere,&rdquo Carracci said. &ldquoIt is just snowballed. I get at least five messages a day from people who want to play. And they're all really, really, really good musicians. Like not just OK musicians, they're all just insanely good.&rdquo

The chalkboard menu at Black Star.

It&rsquos easy to see how everyone would want a piece of what Carracci and Vasko have created at Black Star. The product of a hard year in the world, and a tough decade for Carracci, the place feels like it&rsquos hand-carved from the ruins of hardship &mdash that it&rsquos built on optimism. And because it&rsquos so unusual, and so improbable, it&rsquos hard to imagine it can last. Something about Black Star feels ephemeral. Only now, upon reflection, does it occur to me that the restaurant &mdash named after David Bowie&rsquos final album, the one he released as he was dying of liver cancer in 2016 &mdash is a kind of embodiment of its namesake. It&rsquos a mudflat fantasia amid a Burning Man sculpture garden and a bay of half-sunken boats.

Black Star got so deep under my skin that I took my kids back the very next day. Carracci and Vasko were throwing an Easter egg hunt. My son found a big blue egg in the mouth of the blue-and-green mosaic alligator sculpture. My daughter found another, a gleaming silver one, with a $10 off coupon to Black Star inside. Not that I need another reason to return.

Very special Black Star drinks.

The make-shift dining room at Black Star Pirate BBQ.

A bicyclist destination in the East Bay.

The houseboats of Point San Pablo Harbor.

The beach at San Pablo Point.

Metal sculptures bought from Burning Man festivals scatter the Point San Pablo Harbor grounds.


There's an otherworldly barbecue joint behind the Bay Area's Richmond refineries

Crossing the decommissioned train tracks to arrive at Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

A while back, my husband Tim was on an ill-planned adventure with a friend &mdash an ambitious bike ride from our home in Alameda to, and across, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge&rsquos newly opened bike lane. But when they reached the route&rsquos on-ramp, it was inexplicably closed. Without a plan, they set off on the nearest surface road, a narrow paved lane along the San Pablo Bay, east of the bridge and behind Richmond&rsquos infamous refineries.

They didn&rsquot know where they were going. They were just riding. The narrow road wound along a stretch of San Pablo Peninsula with virtually no other traffic and no obvious destination. But where they ended up was remarkable &mdash remarkable enough that when they came home, they couldn&rsquot stop talking about it.

At the end of Stenmark Road, the paved lane turns to Point San Pablo Marina Road, and &mdash after a steep climb along the edge of hills of scrub oak and eucalyptus, Scotch broom and blackberry &mdash descends to a small marina and dead ends at the large gravel parking lot of Point San Pablo Harbor. But this marina is more than a place to berth a boat, it&rsquos a hidden community with an organic farm, a bunch of goats, a Burning Man-esque sculpture garden and Black Star Pirate BBQ, which itself is far more than a restaurant.

The interior of Black Star Pirate BBQ, where take-out containers are piled on the counter.

Black Star was also the reason that, on a recent Saturday, Tim and I decided to skip the ambitious bike ride and drive out to the point with our kids. Our friend Jonah, newly vaccinated, squeezed into the car with us, game to revisit this place he and Tim had stumbled upon months before.

But first we had to get there. And the drive itself is a revelation. It passes rocky mudflats where fishermen wade into the water, casting their lines, and a sliver of a park, Point Molate Beach, with grill pits and picnic tables and a beach stashed away behind some old railroad tracks. There&rsquos a block print-on-plywood sign advertising the area&rsquos Gun and Rod Club and some massive and heavily graffitied holding tanks. But the most incongruous sight is an imposing brick fortress surrounded by palm trees, a structure so surprising that it looks as if an historic East Coast armory was air-dropped onto a random plot of California bayfront.

A community hidden behind the Richmond refineries.

Technically within Richmond&rsquos city limits, once you round Castro Point the city &mdash its congestion, refineries, and the roaring traffic of Interstate 880 &mdash disappear. Ahead, on a tiny rocky island just offshore, is East Brother Light Station, an operational light station since 1873.

In the 1970s, the island&rsquos Victorian lighthouse &mdash clearly visible from the San Rafael Bridge, but always a mystery to me &mdash was at risk of being torn down when new navigation technology made it obsolete. Instead, a nonprofit was formed to turn it into an inn, which would pay to maintain the property&rsquos upkeep. The light station&rsquos five-room bed-and-breakfast has been closed throughout the pandemic, but during normal years, visitors are shuttled between Point San Pablo and the island twice a day.

When we reached the old armory-like building, which we assumed was some kind of decommissioned military installation we&rsquod somehow never heard of, I couldn&rsquot believe what I saw. How could it be that in a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this waterfront castle was sitting empty, unused and barely maintained? How had it not yet gotten the Presidio treatment? How, for better or worse, had it not become the next Cavallo Point?

A colorful chalkboard menu.

Across the street was a tidy row of what I guessed had been officer housing. But most of my assumptions about this intriguing 47-acre compound would turn out to be wrong.

The &ldquocastle&rdquo was constructed in 1907 not as a military fortress but as the anchor building at Winehaven, the company town of the California Wine Association, a cartel of the era&rsquos most powerful wine merchants. It was the indirect product of the 1906 earthquake and fires, which destroyed many of the city&rsquos wine depots. Built on the far side of a rapidly industrializing Richmond, Winehaven &mdash &ldquo

A well-loved marina garden.

Decades later, the U.S. Navy bought the property in 1941 and converted it to a fuel storage and transfer facility to support the war effort. Winehaven&rsquos grand hotel, which once hosted bohemian poet Joaquin Miller, was turned into barracks and a mess hall (it burned to the ground in 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the fueling station in the 1990s). But Winehaven, now a National Historic District, remains a vision &mdash a fascinating window into a California that might have been had Prohibition not changed the course of history.

The entire drive to Black Star Pirate BBQ only takes 10 or so minutes, if that, from the freeway. But it feels farther. In a good way. You might only be 20 miles from downtown San Francisco but you could easily be in another time, another place.

After climbing the steep hill over Point San Pablo and touching back down at the water, the first thing you&rsquore likely to notice is either a lively pen of head-butting goats or a giant, glistening blue-green mosaic-tiled crocodile.

This is a place that knows how to make an impression.

Burning Man sculpture art at Point San Pablo.

One part New Orleans, one part old-school Haight-Ashbury, Black Star is an organic barbecue joint over the water at the mouth of the Sacramento River Delta. Inside, it looks like a retro diner with red vinyl stools along a Formica counter (currently used as a staging area for pandemic-era takeout containers).

Outside, overlooking a funky collection of houseboats, wooden riverboats, a historic Chinese junk and the San Pablo Bay, there&rsquos a wide deck and an expansive gravel garden. Even on a busy afternoon, there was plenty of seating: Picnic tables shaded by parasols and surrounded by a colorful assortment of outdoor knickknacks, fountains and ephemera that would delight anyone with a taste for visual excess. And that, fortunately for us, includes both me and my 5-year-old daughter, who seemed convinced she&rsquod stumbled upon her own personal Fairyland.

When we arrived, Black Star had the slightly overwhelming, almost vibrating energy of an underground art show &mdash the kind of event everyone who attends talks about for days after. It was a feeling I hadn&rsquot experienced in over a year. Longer than that, if I&rsquom being honest. And, because it had been so long since I&rsquod been this excited about some new Bay Area discovery, I felt almost drunk on the place &mdash the same feeling I get when I land in a faraway, new-to-me city.

Suzie Vasco's decorative touch.

Everywhere I looked was a still life I wanted to capture: the hand-written chalkboard menu, with its flurry of color and script, the clutter of flowers (in planters and vases and painted on wooden tabletops), the boats in the marina, resting in the mud.

Then, the food arrived. We&rsquod ordered the three-meat, three-side combination to share. Served on a sheet tray lined with red-and-white checked paper, each meaty element of the meal &mdash the pulled pork with a squiggle of tangy vinegary, mustard-y sauce, the deliciously fatty, smoky ribs and the thick slices of tri-tip, a California classic, topped with house-made barbecue sauce &mdash was comforting and distinctly flavorful. This was no one note instrument.

The sides are always my favorite part of a Southern-style meal. Here, I would have happily abandoned the meat entirely to try them all. The greens were not just collards, but spinach and kale, chard and mustard greens, with layer after layer of flavor, a balance of bitter and sweet, grown in the harbor&rsquos garden. The beans were so rich I drank the pot liquor like soup. And the slaw was fresh, a springtime salad befitting the virtually cloudless sky. Really leaning into the season, I ordered a tubby little glass of rosé.

Three meats and three sides in the Point San Pablo Harbor patio.

How an out-of-the-way barbecue restaurant in one of the most neglected corners of the bay managed to do all of that &mdash to make me remember what creativity, at its most essential and vital, feels like &mdash became a mystery I needed to solve.

What is this place, I wanted to know.

Tony Carracci, Black Star&rsquos owner, and his partner Suzie Vasko, are characters &mdash the kind of Bay Area characters that it sometimes seems have disappeared entirely with the arrival of Big Tech. But it turns out they&rsquore still here, manning a galley way out among the mudflats behind the Richmond refineries.

Wearing black from head to toe, with tattooed sleeves and a barely tamed beard, Carracci looks like an Outlaw Country singer who discovered steampunk. Vasko, meanwhile, dresses a lot like the restaurant she helped build. Her long blond hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat decorated with glittery butterflies, her mask is bejeweled with rhinestones, and her slight frame is draped in layers of color and pattern. The pair have only been together for a year, introduced by a friend, and they were long-distance for much of that time: he in Point Reyes, her in Grass Valley. But they seem, from the outside, to complement each other in almost miraculous ways.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

Even so, it&rsquos hard to imagine this last year has been as effortless as they make it look. Starting a restaurant is notoriously difficult, even during non-pandemic times. And not only did they start a restaurant &mdash during a pandemic, in a place so out of the way the road there was unpaved until recently &mdash they did all of this while living together for the first time. Their home? A 40-foot sailboat. (Ask anyone who has done it, and they&rsquoll tell you that living on a sailboat is up there with starting a restaurant on the list of really good ways to test a relationship.)

But Carracci, the public face of Black Star, seems well acquainted with the ebbs and flows of life. His dad was a merchant marine from New Orleans who met his mom in Seattle. His parents moved to San Francisco to raise their fledgling family. Born at the tail end of the Beat era, with his childhood and adolescence spent in the city&rsquos famously hedonistic 1960s and '70s, Carracci was the oldest of five kids and a star athlete who played eight varsity sports.

Meeting him now, Tony the jock is hard to imagine. But he was a restless student &mdash a restless person &mdash and he says sports gave him discipline. He left home at 17, lived in his car until he finished high school, then went to work briefly in the shipyards (&ldquoI absolutely hated it,&rdquo he told Jeff Hunt on a recent episode of "Storied: San Francisco"). In what would be the first of many reinventions, Carracci moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a makeup artist. &ldquoIt was a good way to meet women,&rdquo he told "Storied: S.F." But after several years in the Pacific Northwest, Carracci came home to San Francisco.

Plenty of room out among the mud flats.

Restless, always restless, he tired of the makeup scene and went to work in kitchens. Eventually, he became the founding chef of Cha Cha Cha, the Haight's long-running Cuban-Cajun institution. Later, after bouncing around a bit, he stumbled into being an &ldquoaccidental nightclub owner&rdquo after he was offered a &ldquoyuppy club, sports bar, horrible place&rdquo for the right price. Carracci turned it into the Cat Club, the Folsom Street nightclub that&rsquos been a second home to generations of San Francisco misfits, and which Carracci ran for 12 years &mdash an almost matrimonial stint in his peripatetic life.

"My ambition, at that point in time, was to be the next Bill Graham," said Carracci.

During this same period, Carracci started The Pound in Hunter&rsquos Point, which during its five-year stint was &ldquothe place to see metal and hardcore punk in San Francisco,&rdquo according a eulogy to the club written when it closed. The San Francisco Port Authority, which owned the property, refused to renew his lease. That same year, Carracci left the Cat Club under circumstances that he describes as &ldquotragic." It seems to be the beginning of a prolonged period of either bad luck, or bad choices, in business.

Since then, he&rsquos bounced from one project to the next, with no stint seeming to last much longer than a couple years. After one more brief run at the nightclub business, he moved to Marin and became a wedding planner, which he describes as being a lot like running a nightclub, except there&rsquos a bride to deal with. He managed security at the Warfield, was head chef at San Francisco&rsquos first cider bar, Upcider, tried to start a West Oakland location of The Pound, and, most recently, ran a barbecue food truck in West Marin.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

This backstory felt too personal (and likely too convoluted) to delve into while discussing the merits of Carracci&rsquos potato salad and the weird and magical world he and Vasko have built down on the Point San Pablo waterfront. Maybe it&rsquos a talk for another time &mdash a conversation best had over smoked meat and beer?

For now, it seems like Carracci has hit a fresh stride. He and Vasko moved from the 40-foot sailboat into a 50-foot vintage trawler, which they&rsquove paired with a couple of other smaller boats to create a sort of composite home: His closet is in one boat, her art studio is in another. &ldquoI have a million dollar view,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoThere's nobody in front of me. Like when I look out in my back door, it's the bay.&rdquo

Carracci's barbecue truck, which is how he initially found Point San Pablo, became the inspiration for the Black Star. He has a 10-year lease on the restaurant and an arrangement &mdash he pays the marina&rsquos owner a percentage of his profits &mdash that served him well during the pandemic, when he had to unexpectedly close more than once and could barely scrape by on takeout.

But the pandemic had an upside. It gave Carracci and Vasko a lot of time to get creative with both the space and the food. &ldquoI&rsquod be in the restaurant and it'd be dead, so I'd just play,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI'd come up with all these different barbecue recipes.&rdquo

Meanwhile, Vasko was turning the restaurant&rsquos bare gravel yard into a living art project.

Suzie Vasco makes art of the backyard garden at Black Star.

&ldquoThe outside was nothing &mdash nothing out there. We brought the picnic tables, we brought in all the flowers, the sculptures &mdash everything you see,&rdquo said Carracci.

&ldquoI'm blown away by her constantly with her creativity,&rdquo he added. &ldquoShe's really into taking nothing and making it into something, you know? So she does all the signs. She does all the plants, all the everything, everything you see out there, decoration-wise, is her. And it&rsquos really great for me because she&rsquos so good, I have to be really good to keep up with her.&rdquo

They built a stage and Carracci, the longtime nightclub owner, brings in musicians.

Then, &ldquoall these rockin&rsquo dudes&rdquo started throwing themselves at him. After a year without anywhere to perform, &ldquothey were fighting a bit to come and play somewhere,&rdquo Carracci said. &ldquoIt is just snowballed. I get at least five messages a day from people who want to play. And they're all really, really, really good musicians. Like not just OK musicians, they're all just insanely good.&rdquo

The chalkboard menu at Black Star.

It&rsquos easy to see how everyone would want a piece of what Carracci and Vasko have created at Black Star. The product of a hard year in the world, and a tough decade for Carracci, the place feels like it&rsquos hand-carved from the ruins of hardship &mdash that it&rsquos built on optimism. And because it&rsquos so unusual, and so improbable, it&rsquos hard to imagine it can last. Something about Black Star feels ephemeral. Only now, upon reflection, does it occur to me that the restaurant &mdash named after David Bowie&rsquos final album, the one he released as he was dying of liver cancer in 2016 &mdash is a kind of embodiment of its namesake. It&rsquos a mudflat fantasia amid a Burning Man sculpture garden and a bay of half-sunken boats.

Black Star got so deep under my skin that I took my kids back the very next day. Carracci and Vasko were throwing an Easter egg hunt. My son found a big blue egg in the mouth of the blue-and-green mosaic alligator sculpture. My daughter found another, a gleaming silver one, with a $10 off coupon to Black Star inside. Not that I need another reason to return.

Very special Black Star drinks.

The make-shift dining room at Black Star Pirate BBQ.

A bicyclist destination in the East Bay.

The houseboats of Point San Pablo Harbor.

The beach at San Pablo Point.

Metal sculptures bought from Burning Man festivals scatter the Point San Pablo Harbor grounds.


There's an otherworldly barbecue joint behind the Bay Area's Richmond refineries

Crossing the decommissioned train tracks to arrive at Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

A while back, my husband Tim was on an ill-planned adventure with a friend &mdash an ambitious bike ride from our home in Alameda to, and across, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge&rsquos newly opened bike lane. But when they reached the route&rsquos on-ramp, it was inexplicably closed. Without a plan, they set off on the nearest surface road, a narrow paved lane along the San Pablo Bay, east of the bridge and behind Richmond&rsquos infamous refineries.

They didn&rsquot know where they were going. They were just riding. The narrow road wound along a stretch of San Pablo Peninsula with virtually no other traffic and no obvious destination. But where they ended up was remarkable &mdash remarkable enough that when they came home, they couldn&rsquot stop talking about it.

At the end of Stenmark Road, the paved lane turns to Point San Pablo Marina Road, and &mdash after a steep climb along the edge of hills of scrub oak and eucalyptus, Scotch broom and blackberry &mdash descends to a small marina and dead ends at the large gravel parking lot of Point San Pablo Harbor. But this marina is more than a place to berth a boat, it&rsquos a hidden community with an organic farm, a bunch of goats, a Burning Man-esque sculpture garden and Black Star Pirate BBQ, which itself is far more than a restaurant.

The interior of Black Star Pirate BBQ, where take-out containers are piled on the counter.

Black Star was also the reason that, on a recent Saturday, Tim and I decided to skip the ambitious bike ride and drive out to the point with our kids. Our friend Jonah, newly vaccinated, squeezed into the car with us, game to revisit this place he and Tim had stumbled upon months before.

But first we had to get there. And the drive itself is a revelation. It passes rocky mudflats where fishermen wade into the water, casting their lines, and a sliver of a park, Point Molate Beach, with grill pits and picnic tables and a beach stashed away behind some old railroad tracks. There&rsquos a block print-on-plywood sign advertising the area&rsquos Gun and Rod Club and some massive and heavily graffitied holding tanks. But the most incongruous sight is an imposing brick fortress surrounded by palm trees, a structure so surprising that it looks as if an historic East Coast armory was air-dropped onto a random plot of California bayfront.

A community hidden behind the Richmond refineries.

Technically within Richmond&rsquos city limits, once you round Castro Point the city &mdash its congestion, refineries, and the roaring traffic of Interstate 880 &mdash disappear. Ahead, on a tiny rocky island just offshore, is East Brother Light Station, an operational light station since 1873.

In the 1970s, the island&rsquos Victorian lighthouse &mdash clearly visible from the San Rafael Bridge, but always a mystery to me &mdash was at risk of being torn down when new navigation technology made it obsolete. Instead, a nonprofit was formed to turn it into an inn, which would pay to maintain the property&rsquos upkeep. The light station&rsquos five-room bed-and-breakfast has been closed throughout the pandemic, but during normal years, visitors are shuttled between Point San Pablo and the island twice a day.

When we reached the old armory-like building, which we assumed was some kind of decommissioned military installation we&rsquod somehow never heard of, I couldn&rsquot believe what I saw. How could it be that in a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this waterfront castle was sitting empty, unused and barely maintained? How had it not yet gotten the Presidio treatment? How, for better or worse, had it not become the next Cavallo Point?

A colorful chalkboard menu.

Across the street was a tidy row of what I guessed had been officer housing. But most of my assumptions about this intriguing 47-acre compound would turn out to be wrong.

The &ldquocastle&rdquo was constructed in 1907 not as a military fortress but as the anchor building at Winehaven, the company town of the California Wine Association, a cartel of the era&rsquos most powerful wine merchants. It was the indirect product of the 1906 earthquake and fires, which destroyed many of the city&rsquos wine depots. Built on the far side of a rapidly industrializing Richmond, Winehaven &mdash &ldquo

A well-loved marina garden.

Decades later, the U.S. Navy bought the property in 1941 and converted it to a fuel storage and transfer facility to support the war effort. Winehaven&rsquos grand hotel, which once hosted bohemian poet Joaquin Miller, was turned into barracks and a mess hall (it burned to the ground in 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the fueling station in the 1990s). But Winehaven, now a National Historic District, remains a vision &mdash a fascinating window into a California that might have been had Prohibition not changed the course of history.

The entire drive to Black Star Pirate BBQ only takes 10 or so minutes, if that, from the freeway. But it feels farther. In a good way. You might only be 20 miles from downtown San Francisco but you could easily be in another time, another place.

After climbing the steep hill over Point San Pablo and touching back down at the water, the first thing you&rsquore likely to notice is either a lively pen of head-butting goats or a giant, glistening blue-green mosaic-tiled crocodile.

This is a place that knows how to make an impression.

Burning Man sculpture art at Point San Pablo.

One part New Orleans, one part old-school Haight-Ashbury, Black Star is an organic barbecue joint over the water at the mouth of the Sacramento River Delta. Inside, it looks like a retro diner with red vinyl stools along a Formica counter (currently used as a staging area for pandemic-era takeout containers).

Outside, overlooking a funky collection of houseboats, wooden riverboats, a historic Chinese junk and the San Pablo Bay, there&rsquos a wide deck and an expansive gravel garden. Even on a busy afternoon, there was plenty of seating: Picnic tables shaded by parasols and surrounded by a colorful assortment of outdoor knickknacks, fountains and ephemera that would delight anyone with a taste for visual excess. And that, fortunately for us, includes both me and my 5-year-old daughter, who seemed convinced she&rsquod stumbled upon her own personal Fairyland.

When we arrived, Black Star had the slightly overwhelming, almost vibrating energy of an underground art show &mdash the kind of event everyone who attends talks about for days after. It was a feeling I hadn&rsquot experienced in over a year. Longer than that, if I&rsquom being honest. And, because it had been so long since I&rsquod been this excited about some new Bay Area discovery, I felt almost drunk on the place &mdash the same feeling I get when I land in a faraway, new-to-me city.

Suzie Vasco's decorative touch.

Everywhere I looked was a still life I wanted to capture: the hand-written chalkboard menu, with its flurry of color and script, the clutter of flowers (in planters and vases and painted on wooden tabletops), the boats in the marina, resting in the mud.

Then, the food arrived. We&rsquod ordered the three-meat, three-side combination to share. Served on a sheet tray lined with red-and-white checked paper, each meaty element of the meal &mdash the pulled pork with a squiggle of tangy vinegary, mustard-y sauce, the deliciously fatty, smoky ribs and the thick slices of tri-tip, a California classic, topped with house-made barbecue sauce &mdash was comforting and distinctly flavorful. This was no one note instrument.

The sides are always my favorite part of a Southern-style meal. Here, I would have happily abandoned the meat entirely to try them all. The greens were not just collards, but spinach and kale, chard and mustard greens, with layer after layer of flavor, a balance of bitter and sweet, grown in the harbor&rsquos garden. The beans were so rich I drank the pot liquor like soup. And the slaw was fresh, a springtime salad befitting the virtually cloudless sky. Really leaning into the season, I ordered a tubby little glass of rosé.

Three meats and three sides in the Point San Pablo Harbor patio.

How an out-of-the-way barbecue restaurant in one of the most neglected corners of the bay managed to do all of that &mdash to make me remember what creativity, at its most essential and vital, feels like &mdash became a mystery I needed to solve.

What is this place, I wanted to know.

Tony Carracci, Black Star&rsquos owner, and his partner Suzie Vasko, are characters &mdash the kind of Bay Area characters that it sometimes seems have disappeared entirely with the arrival of Big Tech. But it turns out they&rsquore still here, manning a galley way out among the mudflats behind the Richmond refineries.

Wearing black from head to toe, with tattooed sleeves and a barely tamed beard, Carracci looks like an Outlaw Country singer who discovered steampunk. Vasko, meanwhile, dresses a lot like the restaurant she helped build. Her long blond hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat decorated with glittery butterflies, her mask is bejeweled with rhinestones, and her slight frame is draped in layers of color and pattern. The pair have only been together for a year, introduced by a friend, and they were long-distance for much of that time: he in Point Reyes, her in Grass Valley. But they seem, from the outside, to complement each other in almost miraculous ways.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

Even so, it&rsquos hard to imagine this last year has been as effortless as they make it look. Starting a restaurant is notoriously difficult, even during non-pandemic times. And not only did they start a restaurant &mdash during a pandemic, in a place so out of the way the road there was unpaved until recently &mdash they did all of this while living together for the first time. Their home? A 40-foot sailboat. (Ask anyone who has done it, and they&rsquoll tell you that living on a sailboat is up there with starting a restaurant on the list of really good ways to test a relationship.)

But Carracci, the public face of Black Star, seems well acquainted with the ebbs and flows of life. His dad was a merchant marine from New Orleans who met his mom in Seattle. His parents moved to San Francisco to raise their fledgling family. Born at the tail end of the Beat era, with his childhood and adolescence spent in the city&rsquos famously hedonistic 1960s and '70s, Carracci was the oldest of five kids and a star athlete who played eight varsity sports.

Meeting him now, Tony the jock is hard to imagine. But he was a restless student &mdash a restless person &mdash and he says sports gave him discipline. He left home at 17, lived in his car until he finished high school, then went to work briefly in the shipyards (&ldquoI absolutely hated it,&rdquo he told Jeff Hunt on a recent episode of "Storied: San Francisco"). In what would be the first of many reinventions, Carracci moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a makeup artist. &ldquoIt was a good way to meet women,&rdquo he told "Storied: S.F." But after several years in the Pacific Northwest, Carracci came home to San Francisco.

Plenty of room out among the mud flats.

Restless, always restless, he tired of the makeup scene and went to work in kitchens. Eventually, he became the founding chef of Cha Cha Cha, the Haight's long-running Cuban-Cajun institution. Later, after bouncing around a bit, he stumbled into being an &ldquoaccidental nightclub owner&rdquo after he was offered a &ldquoyuppy club, sports bar, horrible place&rdquo for the right price. Carracci turned it into the Cat Club, the Folsom Street nightclub that&rsquos been a second home to generations of San Francisco misfits, and which Carracci ran for 12 years &mdash an almost matrimonial stint in his peripatetic life.

"My ambition, at that point in time, was to be the next Bill Graham," said Carracci.

During this same period, Carracci started The Pound in Hunter&rsquos Point, which during its five-year stint was &ldquothe place to see metal and hardcore punk in San Francisco,&rdquo according a eulogy to the club written when it closed. The San Francisco Port Authority, which owned the property, refused to renew his lease. That same year, Carracci left the Cat Club under circumstances that he describes as &ldquotragic." It seems to be the beginning of a prolonged period of either bad luck, or bad choices, in business.

Since then, he&rsquos bounced from one project to the next, with no stint seeming to last much longer than a couple years. After one more brief run at the nightclub business, he moved to Marin and became a wedding planner, which he describes as being a lot like running a nightclub, except there&rsquos a bride to deal with. He managed security at the Warfield, was head chef at San Francisco&rsquos first cider bar, Upcider, tried to start a West Oakland location of The Pound, and, most recently, ran a barbecue food truck in West Marin.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

This backstory felt too personal (and likely too convoluted) to delve into while discussing the merits of Carracci&rsquos potato salad and the weird and magical world he and Vasko have built down on the Point San Pablo waterfront. Maybe it&rsquos a talk for another time &mdash a conversation best had over smoked meat and beer?

For now, it seems like Carracci has hit a fresh stride. He and Vasko moved from the 40-foot sailboat into a 50-foot vintage trawler, which they&rsquove paired with a couple of other smaller boats to create a sort of composite home: His closet is in one boat, her art studio is in another. &ldquoI have a million dollar view,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoThere's nobody in front of me. Like when I look out in my back door, it's the bay.&rdquo

Carracci's barbecue truck, which is how he initially found Point San Pablo, became the inspiration for the Black Star. He has a 10-year lease on the restaurant and an arrangement &mdash he pays the marina&rsquos owner a percentage of his profits &mdash that served him well during the pandemic, when he had to unexpectedly close more than once and could barely scrape by on takeout.

But the pandemic had an upside. It gave Carracci and Vasko a lot of time to get creative with both the space and the food. &ldquoI&rsquod be in the restaurant and it'd be dead, so I'd just play,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI'd come up with all these different barbecue recipes.&rdquo

Meanwhile, Vasko was turning the restaurant&rsquos bare gravel yard into a living art project.

Suzie Vasco makes art of the backyard garden at Black Star.

&ldquoThe outside was nothing &mdash nothing out there. We brought the picnic tables, we brought in all the flowers, the sculptures &mdash everything you see,&rdquo said Carracci.

&ldquoI'm blown away by her constantly with her creativity,&rdquo he added. &ldquoShe's really into taking nothing and making it into something, you know? So she does all the signs. She does all the plants, all the everything, everything you see out there, decoration-wise, is her. And it&rsquos really great for me because she&rsquos so good, I have to be really good to keep up with her.&rdquo

They built a stage and Carracci, the longtime nightclub owner, brings in musicians.

Then, &ldquoall these rockin&rsquo dudes&rdquo started throwing themselves at him. After a year without anywhere to perform, &ldquothey were fighting a bit to come and play somewhere,&rdquo Carracci said. &ldquoIt is just snowballed. I get at least five messages a day from people who want to play. And they're all really, really, really good musicians. Like not just OK musicians, they're all just insanely good.&rdquo

The chalkboard menu at Black Star.

It&rsquos easy to see how everyone would want a piece of what Carracci and Vasko have created at Black Star. The product of a hard year in the world, and a tough decade for Carracci, the place feels like it&rsquos hand-carved from the ruins of hardship &mdash that it&rsquos built on optimism. And because it&rsquos so unusual, and so improbable, it&rsquos hard to imagine it can last. Something about Black Star feels ephemeral. Only now, upon reflection, does it occur to me that the restaurant &mdash named after David Bowie&rsquos final album, the one he released as he was dying of liver cancer in 2016 &mdash is a kind of embodiment of its namesake. It&rsquos a mudflat fantasia amid a Burning Man sculpture garden and a bay of half-sunken boats.

Black Star got so deep under my skin that I took my kids back the very next day. Carracci and Vasko were throwing an Easter egg hunt. My son found a big blue egg in the mouth of the blue-and-green mosaic alligator sculpture. My daughter found another, a gleaming silver one, with a $10 off coupon to Black Star inside. Not that I need another reason to return.

Very special Black Star drinks.

The make-shift dining room at Black Star Pirate BBQ.

A bicyclist destination in the East Bay.

The houseboats of Point San Pablo Harbor.

The beach at San Pablo Point.

Metal sculptures bought from Burning Man festivals scatter the Point San Pablo Harbor grounds.


There's an otherworldly barbecue joint behind the Bay Area's Richmond refineries

Crossing the decommissioned train tracks to arrive at Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

A while back, my husband Tim was on an ill-planned adventure with a friend &mdash an ambitious bike ride from our home in Alameda to, and across, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge&rsquos newly opened bike lane. But when they reached the route&rsquos on-ramp, it was inexplicably closed. Without a plan, they set off on the nearest surface road, a narrow paved lane along the San Pablo Bay, east of the bridge and behind Richmond&rsquos infamous refineries.

They didn&rsquot know where they were going. They were just riding. The narrow road wound along a stretch of San Pablo Peninsula with virtually no other traffic and no obvious destination. But where they ended up was remarkable &mdash remarkable enough that when they came home, they couldn&rsquot stop talking about it.

At the end of Stenmark Road, the paved lane turns to Point San Pablo Marina Road, and &mdash after a steep climb along the edge of hills of scrub oak and eucalyptus, Scotch broom and blackberry &mdash descends to a small marina and dead ends at the large gravel parking lot of Point San Pablo Harbor. But this marina is more than a place to berth a boat, it&rsquos a hidden community with an organic farm, a bunch of goats, a Burning Man-esque sculpture garden and Black Star Pirate BBQ, which itself is far more than a restaurant.

The interior of Black Star Pirate BBQ, where take-out containers are piled on the counter.

Black Star was also the reason that, on a recent Saturday, Tim and I decided to skip the ambitious bike ride and drive out to the point with our kids. Our friend Jonah, newly vaccinated, squeezed into the car with us, game to revisit this place he and Tim had stumbled upon months before.

But first we had to get there. And the drive itself is a revelation. It passes rocky mudflats where fishermen wade into the water, casting their lines, and a sliver of a park, Point Molate Beach, with grill pits and picnic tables and a beach stashed away behind some old railroad tracks. There&rsquos a block print-on-plywood sign advertising the area&rsquos Gun and Rod Club and some massive and heavily graffitied holding tanks. But the most incongruous sight is an imposing brick fortress surrounded by palm trees, a structure so surprising that it looks as if an historic East Coast armory was air-dropped onto a random plot of California bayfront.

A community hidden behind the Richmond refineries.

Technically within Richmond&rsquos city limits, once you round Castro Point the city &mdash its congestion, refineries, and the roaring traffic of Interstate 880 &mdash disappear. Ahead, on a tiny rocky island just offshore, is East Brother Light Station, an operational light station since 1873.

In the 1970s, the island&rsquos Victorian lighthouse &mdash clearly visible from the San Rafael Bridge, but always a mystery to me &mdash was at risk of being torn down when new navigation technology made it obsolete. Instead, a nonprofit was formed to turn it into an inn, which would pay to maintain the property&rsquos upkeep. The light station&rsquos five-room bed-and-breakfast has been closed throughout the pandemic, but during normal years, visitors are shuttled between Point San Pablo and the island twice a day.

When we reached the old armory-like building, which we assumed was some kind of decommissioned military installation we&rsquod somehow never heard of, I couldn&rsquot believe what I saw. How could it be that in a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this waterfront castle was sitting empty, unused and barely maintained? How had it not yet gotten the Presidio treatment? How, for better or worse, had it not become the next Cavallo Point?

A colorful chalkboard menu.

Across the street was a tidy row of what I guessed had been officer housing. But most of my assumptions about this intriguing 47-acre compound would turn out to be wrong.

The &ldquocastle&rdquo was constructed in 1907 not as a military fortress but as the anchor building at Winehaven, the company town of the California Wine Association, a cartel of the era&rsquos most powerful wine merchants. It was the indirect product of the 1906 earthquake and fires, which destroyed many of the city&rsquos wine depots. Built on the far side of a rapidly industrializing Richmond, Winehaven &mdash &ldquo

A well-loved marina garden.

Decades later, the U.S. Navy bought the property in 1941 and converted it to a fuel storage and transfer facility to support the war effort. Winehaven&rsquos grand hotel, which once hosted bohemian poet Joaquin Miller, was turned into barracks and a mess hall (it burned to the ground in 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the fueling station in the 1990s). But Winehaven, now a National Historic District, remains a vision &mdash a fascinating window into a California that might have been had Prohibition not changed the course of history.

The entire drive to Black Star Pirate BBQ only takes 10 or so minutes, if that, from the freeway. But it feels farther. In a good way. You might only be 20 miles from downtown San Francisco but you could easily be in another time, another place.

After climbing the steep hill over Point San Pablo and touching back down at the water, the first thing you&rsquore likely to notice is either a lively pen of head-butting goats or a giant, glistening blue-green mosaic-tiled crocodile.

This is a place that knows how to make an impression.

Burning Man sculpture art at Point San Pablo.

One part New Orleans, one part old-school Haight-Ashbury, Black Star is an organic barbecue joint over the water at the mouth of the Sacramento River Delta. Inside, it looks like a retro diner with red vinyl stools along a Formica counter (currently used as a staging area for pandemic-era takeout containers).

Outside, overlooking a funky collection of houseboats, wooden riverboats, a historic Chinese junk and the San Pablo Bay, there&rsquos a wide deck and an expansive gravel garden. Even on a busy afternoon, there was plenty of seating: Picnic tables shaded by parasols and surrounded by a colorful assortment of outdoor knickknacks, fountains and ephemera that would delight anyone with a taste for visual excess. And that, fortunately for us, includes both me and my 5-year-old daughter, who seemed convinced she&rsquod stumbled upon her own personal Fairyland.

When we arrived, Black Star had the slightly overwhelming, almost vibrating energy of an underground art show &mdash the kind of event everyone who attends talks about for days after. It was a feeling I hadn&rsquot experienced in over a year. Longer than that, if I&rsquom being honest. And, because it had been so long since I&rsquod been this excited about some new Bay Area discovery, I felt almost drunk on the place &mdash the same feeling I get when I land in a faraway, new-to-me city.

Suzie Vasco's decorative touch.

Everywhere I looked was a still life I wanted to capture: the hand-written chalkboard menu, with its flurry of color and script, the clutter of flowers (in planters and vases and painted on wooden tabletops), the boats in the marina, resting in the mud.

Then, the food arrived. We&rsquod ordered the three-meat, three-side combination to share. Served on a sheet tray lined with red-and-white checked paper, each meaty element of the meal &mdash the pulled pork with a squiggle of tangy vinegary, mustard-y sauce, the deliciously fatty, smoky ribs and the thick slices of tri-tip, a California classic, topped with house-made barbecue sauce &mdash was comforting and distinctly flavorful. This was no one note instrument.

The sides are always my favorite part of a Southern-style meal. Here, I would have happily abandoned the meat entirely to try them all. The greens were not just collards, but spinach and kale, chard and mustard greens, with layer after layer of flavor, a balance of bitter and sweet, grown in the harbor&rsquos garden. The beans were so rich I drank the pot liquor like soup. And the slaw was fresh, a springtime salad befitting the virtually cloudless sky. Really leaning into the season, I ordered a tubby little glass of rosé.

Three meats and three sides in the Point San Pablo Harbor patio.

How an out-of-the-way barbecue restaurant in one of the most neglected corners of the bay managed to do all of that &mdash to make me remember what creativity, at its most essential and vital, feels like &mdash became a mystery I needed to solve.

What is this place, I wanted to know.

Tony Carracci, Black Star&rsquos owner, and his partner Suzie Vasko, are characters &mdash the kind of Bay Area characters that it sometimes seems have disappeared entirely with the arrival of Big Tech. But it turns out they&rsquore still here, manning a galley way out among the mudflats behind the Richmond refineries.

Wearing black from head to toe, with tattooed sleeves and a barely tamed beard, Carracci looks like an Outlaw Country singer who discovered steampunk. Vasko, meanwhile, dresses a lot like the restaurant she helped build. Her long blond hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat decorated with glittery butterflies, her mask is bejeweled with rhinestones, and her slight frame is draped in layers of color and pattern. The pair have only been together for a year, introduced by a friend, and they were long-distance for much of that time: he in Point Reyes, her in Grass Valley. But they seem, from the outside, to complement each other in almost miraculous ways.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

Even so, it&rsquos hard to imagine this last year has been as effortless as they make it look. Starting a restaurant is notoriously difficult, even during non-pandemic times. And not only did they start a restaurant &mdash during a pandemic, in a place so out of the way the road there was unpaved until recently &mdash they did all of this while living together for the first time. Their home? A 40-foot sailboat. (Ask anyone who has done it, and they&rsquoll tell you that living on a sailboat is up there with starting a restaurant on the list of really good ways to test a relationship.)

But Carracci, the public face of Black Star, seems well acquainted with the ebbs and flows of life. His dad was a merchant marine from New Orleans who met his mom in Seattle. His parents moved to San Francisco to raise their fledgling family. Born at the tail end of the Beat era, with his childhood and adolescence spent in the city&rsquos famously hedonistic 1960s and '70s, Carracci was the oldest of five kids and a star athlete who played eight varsity sports.

Meeting him now, Tony the jock is hard to imagine. But he was a restless student &mdash a restless person &mdash and he says sports gave him discipline. He left home at 17, lived in his car until he finished high school, then went to work briefly in the shipyards (&ldquoI absolutely hated it,&rdquo he told Jeff Hunt on a recent episode of "Storied: San Francisco"). In what would be the first of many reinventions, Carracci moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a makeup artist. &ldquoIt was a good way to meet women,&rdquo he told "Storied: S.F." But after several years in the Pacific Northwest, Carracci came home to San Francisco.

Plenty of room out among the mud flats.

Restless, always restless, he tired of the makeup scene and went to work in kitchens. Eventually, he became the founding chef of Cha Cha Cha, the Haight's long-running Cuban-Cajun institution. Later, after bouncing around a bit, he stumbled into being an &ldquoaccidental nightclub owner&rdquo after he was offered a &ldquoyuppy club, sports bar, horrible place&rdquo for the right price. Carracci turned it into the Cat Club, the Folsom Street nightclub that&rsquos been a second home to generations of San Francisco misfits, and which Carracci ran for 12 years &mdash an almost matrimonial stint in his peripatetic life.

"My ambition, at that point in time, was to be the next Bill Graham," said Carracci.

During this same period, Carracci started The Pound in Hunter&rsquos Point, which during its five-year stint was &ldquothe place to see metal and hardcore punk in San Francisco,&rdquo according a eulogy to the club written when it closed. The San Francisco Port Authority, which owned the property, refused to renew his lease. That same year, Carracci left the Cat Club under circumstances that he describes as &ldquotragic." It seems to be the beginning of a prolonged period of either bad luck, or bad choices, in business.

Since then, he&rsquos bounced from one project to the next, with no stint seeming to last much longer than a couple years. After one more brief run at the nightclub business, he moved to Marin and became a wedding planner, which he describes as being a lot like running a nightclub, except there&rsquos a bride to deal with. He managed security at the Warfield, was head chef at San Francisco&rsquos first cider bar, Upcider, tried to start a West Oakland location of The Pound, and, most recently, ran a barbecue food truck in West Marin.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

This backstory felt too personal (and likely too convoluted) to delve into while discussing the merits of Carracci&rsquos potato salad and the weird and magical world he and Vasko have built down on the Point San Pablo waterfront. Maybe it&rsquos a talk for another time &mdash a conversation best had over smoked meat and beer?

For now, it seems like Carracci has hit a fresh stride. He and Vasko moved from the 40-foot sailboat into a 50-foot vintage trawler, which they&rsquove paired with a couple of other smaller boats to create a sort of composite home: His closet is in one boat, her art studio is in another. &ldquoI have a million dollar view,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoThere's nobody in front of me. Like when I look out in my back door, it's the bay.&rdquo

Carracci's barbecue truck, which is how he initially found Point San Pablo, became the inspiration for the Black Star. He has a 10-year lease on the restaurant and an arrangement &mdash he pays the marina&rsquos owner a percentage of his profits &mdash that served him well during the pandemic, when he had to unexpectedly close more than once and could barely scrape by on takeout.

But the pandemic had an upside. It gave Carracci and Vasko a lot of time to get creative with both the space and the food. &ldquoI&rsquod be in the restaurant and it'd be dead, so I'd just play,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI'd come up with all these different barbecue recipes.&rdquo

Meanwhile, Vasko was turning the restaurant&rsquos bare gravel yard into a living art project.

Suzie Vasco makes art of the backyard garden at Black Star.

&ldquoThe outside was nothing &mdash nothing out there. We brought the picnic tables, we brought in all the flowers, the sculptures &mdash everything you see,&rdquo said Carracci.

&ldquoI'm blown away by her constantly with her creativity,&rdquo he added. &ldquoShe's really into taking nothing and making it into something, you know? So she does all the signs. She does all the plants, all the everything, everything you see out there, decoration-wise, is her. And it&rsquos really great for me because she&rsquos so good, I have to be really good to keep up with her.&rdquo

They built a stage and Carracci, the longtime nightclub owner, brings in musicians.

Then, &ldquoall these rockin&rsquo dudes&rdquo started throwing themselves at him. After a year without anywhere to perform, &ldquothey were fighting a bit to come and play somewhere,&rdquo Carracci said. &ldquoIt is just snowballed. I get at least five messages a day from people who want to play. And they're all really, really, really good musicians. Like not just OK musicians, they're all just insanely good.&rdquo

The chalkboard menu at Black Star.

It&rsquos easy to see how everyone would want a piece of what Carracci and Vasko have created at Black Star. The product of a hard year in the world, and a tough decade for Carracci, the place feels like it&rsquos hand-carved from the ruins of hardship &mdash that it&rsquos built on optimism. And because it&rsquos so unusual, and so improbable, it&rsquos hard to imagine it can last. Something about Black Star feels ephemeral. Only now, upon reflection, does it occur to me that the restaurant &mdash named after David Bowie&rsquos final album, the one he released as he was dying of liver cancer in 2016 &mdash is a kind of embodiment of its namesake. It&rsquos a mudflat fantasia amid a Burning Man sculpture garden and a bay of half-sunken boats.

Black Star got so deep under my skin that I took my kids back the very next day. Carracci and Vasko were throwing an Easter egg hunt. My son found a big blue egg in the mouth of the blue-and-green mosaic alligator sculpture. My daughter found another, a gleaming silver one, with a $10 off coupon to Black Star inside. Not that I need another reason to return.

Very special Black Star drinks.

The make-shift dining room at Black Star Pirate BBQ.

A bicyclist destination in the East Bay.

The houseboats of Point San Pablo Harbor.

The beach at San Pablo Point.

Metal sculptures bought from Burning Man festivals scatter the Point San Pablo Harbor grounds.


There's an otherworldly barbecue joint behind the Bay Area's Richmond refineries

Crossing the decommissioned train tracks to arrive at Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

A while back, my husband Tim was on an ill-planned adventure with a friend &mdash an ambitious bike ride from our home in Alameda to, and across, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge&rsquos newly opened bike lane. But when they reached the route&rsquos on-ramp, it was inexplicably closed. Without a plan, they set off on the nearest surface road, a narrow paved lane along the San Pablo Bay, east of the bridge and behind Richmond&rsquos infamous refineries.

They didn&rsquot know where they were going. They were just riding. The narrow road wound along a stretch of San Pablo Peninsula with virtually no other traffic and no obvious destination. But where they ended up was remarkable &mdash remarkable enough that when they came home, they couldn&rsquot stop talking about it.

At the end of Stenmark Road, the paved lane turns to Point San Pablo Marina Road, and &mdash after a steep climb along the edge of hills of scrub oak and eucalyptus, Scotch broom and blackberry &mdash descends to a small marina and dead ends at the large gravel parking lot of Point San Pablo Harbor. But this marina is more than a place to berth a boat, it&rsquos a hidden community with an organic farm, a bunch of goats, a Burning Man-esque sculpture garden and Black Star Pirate BBQ, which itself is far more than a restaurant.

The interior of Black Star Pirate BBQ, where take-out containers are piled on the counter.

Black Star was also the reason that, on a recent Saturday, Tim and I decided to skip the ambitious bike ride and drive out to the point with our kids. Our friend Jonah, newly vaccinated, squeezed into the car with us, game to revisit this place he and Tim had stumbled upon months before.

But first we had to get there. And the drive itself is a revelation. It passes rocky mudflats where fishermen wade into the water, casting their lines, and a sliver of a park, Point Molate Beach, with grill pits and picnic tables and a beach stashed away behind some old railroad tracks. There&rsquos a block print-on-plywood sign advertising the area&rsquos Gun and Rod Club and some massive and heavily graffitied holding tanks. But the most incongruous sight is an imposing brick fortress surrounded by palm trees, a structure so surprising that it looks as if an historic East Coast armory was air-dropped onto a random plot of California bayfront.

A community hidden behind the Richmond refineries.

Technically within Richmond&rsquos city limits, once you round Castro Point the city &mdash its congestion, refineries, and the roaring traffic of Interstate 880 &mdash disappear. Ahead, on a tiny rocky island just offshore, is East Brother Light Station, an operational light station since 1873.

In the 1970s, the island&rsquos Victorian lighthouse &mdash clearly visible from the San Rafael Bridge, but always a mystery to me &mdash was at risk of being torn down when new navigation technology made it obsolete. Instead, a nonprofit was formed to turn it into an inn, which would pay to maintain the property&rsquos upkeep. The light station&rsquos five-room bed-and-breakfast has been closed throughout the pandemic, but during normal years, visitors are shuttled between Point San Pablo and the island twice a day.

When we reached the old armory-like building, which we assumed was some kind of decommissioned military installation we&rsquod somehow never heard of, I couldn&rsquot believe what I saw. How could it be that in a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this waterfront castle was sitting empty, unused and barely maintained? How had it not yet gotten the Presidio treatment? How, for better or worse, had it not become the next Cavallo Point?

A colorful chalkboard menu.

Across the street was a tidy row of what I guessed had been officer housing. But most of my assumptions about this intriguing 47-acre compound would turn out to be wrong.

The &ldquocastle&rdquo was constructed in 1907 not as a military fortress but as the anchor building at Winehaven, the company town of the California Wine Association, a cartel of the era&rsquos most powerful wine merchants. It was the indirect product of the 1906 earthquake and fires, which destroyed many of the city&rsquos wine depots. Built on the far side of a rapidly industrializing Richmond, Winehaven &mdash &ldquo

A well-loved marina garden.

Decades later, the U.S. Navy bought the property in 1941 and converted it to a fuel storage and transfer facility to support the war effort. Winehaven&rsquos grand hotel, which once hosted bohemian poet Joaquin Miller, was turned into barracks and a mess hall (it burned to the ground in 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the fueling station in the 1990s). But Winehaven, now a National Historic District, remains a vision &mdash a fascinating window into a California that might have been had Prohibition not changed the course of history.

The entire drive to Black Star Pirate BBQ only takes 10 or so minutes, if that, from the freeway. But it feels farther. In a good way. You might only be 20 miles from downtown San Francisco but you could easily be in another time, another place.

After climbing the steep hill over Point San Pablo and touching back down at the water, the first thing you&rsquore likely to notice is either a lively pen of head-butting goats or a giant, glistening blue-green mosaic-tiled crocodile.

This is a place that knows how to make an impression.

Burning Man sculpture art at Point San Pablo.

One part New Orleans, one part old-school Haight-Ashbury, Black Star is an organic barbecue joint over the water at the mouth of the Sacramento River Delta. Inside, it looks like a retro diner with red vinyl stools along a Formica counter (currently used as a staging area for pandemic-era takeout containers).

Outside, overlooking a funky collection of houseboats, wooden riverboats, a historic Chinese junk and the San Pablo Bay, there&rsquos a wide deck and an expansive gravel garden. Even on a busy afternoon, there was plenty of seating: Picnic tables shaded by parasols and surrounded by a colorful assortment of outdoor knickknacks, fountains and ephemera that would delight anyone with a taste for visual excess. And that, fortunately for us, includes both me and my 5-year-old daughter, who seemed convinced she&rsquod stumbled upon her own personal Fairyland.

When we arrived, Black Star had the slightly overwhelming, almost vibrating energy of an underground art show &mdash the kind of event everyone who attends talks about for days after. It was a feeling I hadn&rsquot experienced in over a year. Longer than that, if I&rsquom being honest. And, because it had been so long since I&rsquod been this excited about some new Bay Area discovery, I felt almost drunk on the place &mdash the same feeling I get when I land in a faraway, new-to-me city.

Suzie Vasco's decorative touch.

Everywhere I looked was a still life I wanted to capture: the hand-written chalkboard menu, with its flurry of color and script, the clutter of flowers (in planters and vases and painted on wooden tabletops), the boats in the marina, resting in the mud.

Then, the food arrived. We&rsquod ordered the three-meat, three-side combination to share. Served on a sheet tray lined with red-and-white checked paper, each meaty element of the meal &mdash the pulled pork with a squiggle of tangy vinegary, mustard-y sauce, the deliciously fatty, smoky ribs and the thick slices of tri-tip, a California classic, topped with house-made barbecue sauce &mdash was comforting and distinctly flavorful. This was no one note instrument.

The sides are always my favorite part of a Southern-style meal. Here, I would have happily abandoned the meat entirely to try them all. The greens were not just collards, but spinach and kale, chard and mustard greens, with layer after layer of flavor, a balance of bitter and sweet, grown in the harbor&rsquos garden. The beans were so rich I drank the pot liquor like soup. And the slaw was fresh, a springtime salad befitting the virtually cloudless sky. Really leaning into the season, I ordered a tubby little glass of rosé.

Three meats and three sides in the Point San Pablo Harbor patio.

How an out-of-the-way barbecue restaurant in one of the most neglected corners of the bay managed to do all of that &mdash to make me remember what creativity, at its most essential and vital, feels like &mdash became a mystery I needed to solve.

What is this place, I wanted to know.

Tony Carracci, Black Star&rsquos owner, and his partner Suzie Vasko, are characters &mdash the kind of Bay Area characters that it sometimes seems have disappeared entirely with the arrival of Big Tech. But it turns out they&rsquore still here, manning a galley way out among the mudflats behind the Richmond refineries.

Wearing black from head to toe, with tattooed sleeves and a barely tamed beard, Carracci looks like an Outlaw Country singer who discovered steampunk. Vasko, meanwhile, dresses a lot like the restaurant she helped build. Her long blond hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat decorated with glittery butterflies, her mask is bejeweled with rhinestones, and her slight frame is draped in layers of color and pattern. The pair have only been together for a year, introduced by a friend, and they were long-distance for much of that time: he in Point Reyes, her in Grass Valley. But they seem, from the outside, to complement each other in almost miraculous ways.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

Even so, it&rsquos hard to imagine this last year has been as effortless as they make it look. Starting a restaurant is notoriously difficult, even during non-pandemic times. And not only did they start a restaurant &mdash during a pandemic, in a place so out of the way the road there was unpaved until recently &mdash they did all of this while living together for the first time. Their home? A 40-foot sailboat. (Ask anyone who has done it, and they&rsquoll tell you that living on a sailboat is up there with starting a restaurant on the list of really good ways to test a relationship.)

But Carracci, the public face of Black Star, seems well acquainted with the ebbs and flows of life. His dad was a merchant marine from New Orleans who met his mom in Seattle. His parents moved to San Francisco to raise their fledgling family. Born at the tail end of the Beat era, with his childhood and adolescence spent in the city&rsquos famously hedonistic 1960s and '70s, Carracci was the oldest of five kids and a star athlete who played eight varsity sports.

Meeting him now, Tony the jock is hard to imagine. But he was a restless student &mdash a restless person &mdash and he says sports gave him discipline. He left home at 17, lived in his car until he finished high school, then went to work briefly in the shipyards (&ldquoI absolutely hated it,&rdquo he told Jeff Hunt on a recent episode of "Storied: San Francisco"). In what would be the first of many reinventions, Carracci moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a makeup artist. &ldquoIt was a good way to meet women,&rdquo he told "Storied: S.F." But after several years in the Pacific Northwest, Carracci came home to San Francisco.

Plenty of room out among the mud flats.

Restless, always restless, he tired of the makeup scene and went to work in kitchens. Eventually, he became the founding chef of Cha Cha Cha, the Haight's long-running Cuban-Cajun institution. Later, after bouncing around a bit, he stumbled into being an &ldquoaccidental nightclub owner&rdquo after he was offered a &ldquoyuppy club, sports bar, horrible place&rdquo for the right price. Carracci turned it into the Cat Club, the Folsom Street nightclub that&rsquos been a second home to generations of San Francisco misfits, and which Carracci ran for 12 years &mdash an almost matrimonial stint in his peripatetic life.

"My ambition, at that point in time, was to be the next Bill Graham," said Carracci.

During this same period, Carracci started The Pound in Hunter&rsquos Point, which during its five-year stint was &ldquothe place to see metal and hardcore punk in San Francisco,&rdquo according a eulogy to the club written when it closed. The San Francisco Port Authority, which owned the property, refused to renew his lease. That same year, Carracci left the Cat Club under circumstances that he describes as &ldquotragic." It seems to be the beginning of a prolonged period of either bad luck, or bad choices, in business.

Since then, he&rsquos bounced from one project to the next, with no stint seeming to last much longer than a couple years. After one more brief run at the nightclub business, he moved to Marin and became a wedding planner, which he describes as being a lot like running a nightclub, except there&rsquos a bride to deal with. He managed security at the Warfield, was head chef at San Francisco&rsquos first cider bar, Upcider, tried to start a West Oakland location of The Pound, and, most recently, ran a barbecue food truck in West Marin.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

This backstory felt too personal (and likely too convoluted) to delve into while discussing the merits of Carracci&rsquos potato salad and the weird and magical world he and Vasko have built down on the Point San Pablo waterfront. Maybe it&rsquos a talk for another time &mdash a conversation best had over smoked meat and beer?

For now, it seems like Carracci has hit a fresh stride. He and Vasko moved from the 40-foot sailboat into a 50-foot vintage trawler, which they&rsquove paired with a couple of other smaller boats to create a sort of composite home: His closet is in one boat, her art studio is in another. &ldquoI have a million dollar view,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoThere's nobody in front of me. Like when I look out in my back door, it's the bay.&rdquo

Carracci's barbecue truck, which is how he initially found Point San Pablo, became the inspiration for the Black Star. He has a 10-year lease on the restaurant and an arrangement &mdash he pays the marina&rsquos owner a percentage of his profits &mdash that served him well during the pandemic, when he had to unexpectedly close more than once and could barely scrape by on takeout.

But the pandemic had an upside. It gave Carracci and Vasko a lot of time to get creative with both the space and the food. &ldquoI&rsquod be in the restaurant and it'd be dead, so I'd just play,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI'd come up with all these different barbecue recipes.&rdquo

Meanwhile, Vasko was turning the restaurant&rsquos bare gravel yard into a living art project.

Suzie Vasco makes art of the backyard garden at Black Star.

&ldquoThe outside was nothing &mdash nothing out there. We brought the picnic tables, we brought in all the flowers, the sculptures &mdash everything you see,&rdquo said Carracci.

&ldquoI'm blown away by her constantly with her creativity,&rdquo he added. &ldquoShe's really into taking nothing and making it into something, you know? So she does all the signs. She does all the plants, all the everything, everything you see out there, decoration-wise, is her. And it&rsquos really great for me because she&rsquos so good, I have to be really good to keep up with her.&rdquo

They built a stage and Carracci, the longtime nightclub owner, brings in musicians.

Then, &ldquoall these rockin&rsquo dudes&rdquo started throwing themselves at him. After a year without anywhere to perform, &ldquothey were fighting a bit to come and play somewhere,&rdquo Carracci said. &ldquoIt is just snowballed. I get at least five messages a day from people who want to play. And they're all really, really, really good musicians. Like not just OK musicians, they're all just insanely good.&rdquo

The chalkboard menu at Black Star.

It&rsquos easy to see how everyone would want a piece of what Carracci and Vasko have created at Black Star. The product of a hard year in the world, and a tough decade for Carracci, the place feels like it&rsquos hand-carved from the ruins of hardship &mdash that it&rsquos built on optimism. And because it&rsquos so unusual, and so improbable, it&rsquos hard to imagine it can last. Something about Black Star feels ephemeral. Only now, upon reflection, does it occur to me that the restaurant &mdash named after David Bowie&rsquos final album, the one he released as he was dying of liver cancer in 2016 &mdash is a kind of embodiment of its namesake. It&rsquos a mudflat fantasia amid a Burning Man sculpture garden and a bay of half-sunken boats.

Black Star got so deep under my skin that I took my kids back the very next day. Carracci and Vasko were throwing an Easter egg hunt. My son found a big blue egg in the mouth of the blue-and-green mosaic alligator sculpture. My daughter found another, a gleaming silver one, with a $10 off coupon to Black Star inside. Not that I need another reason to return.

Very special Black Star drinks.

The make-shift dining room at Black Star Pirate BBQ.

A bicyclist destination in the East Bay.

The houseboats of Point San Pablo Harbor.

The beach at San Pablo Point.

Metal sculptures bought from Burning Man festivals scatter the Point San Pablo Harbor grounds.


There's an otherworldly barbecue joint behind the Bay Area's Richmond refineries

Crossing the decommissioned train tracks to arrive at Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

A while back, my husband Tim was on an ill-planned adventure with a friend &mdash an ambitious bike ride from our home in Alameda to, and across, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge&rsquos newly opened bike lane. But when they reached the route&rsquos on-ramp, it was inexplicably closed. Without a plan, they set off on the nearest surface road, a narrow paved lane along the San Pablo Bay, east of the bridge and behind Richmond&rsquos infamous refineries.

They didn&rsquot know where they were going. They were just riding. The narrow road wound along a stretch of San Pablo Peninsula with virtually no other traffic and no obvious destination. But where they ended up was remarkable &mdash remarkable enough that when they came home, they couldn&rsquot stop talking about it.

At the end of Stenmark Road, the paved lane turns to Point San Pablo Marina Road, and &mdash after a steep climb along the edge of hills of scrub oak and eucalyptus, Scotch broom and blackberry &mdash descends to a small marina and dead ends at the large gravel parking lot of Point San Pablo Harbor. But this marina is more than a place to berth a boat, it&rsquos a hidden community with an organic farm, a bunch of goats, a Burning Man-esque sculpture garden and Black Star Pirate BBQ, which itself is far more than a restaurant.

The interior of Black Star Pirate BBQ, where take-out containers are piled on the counter.

Black Star was also the reason that, on a recent Saturday, Tim and I decided to skip the ambitious bike ride and drive out to the point with our kids. Our friend Jonah, newly vaccinated, squeezed into the car with us, game to revisit this place he and Tim had stumbled upon months before.

But first we had to get there. And the drive itself is a revelation. It passes rocky mudflats where fishermen wade into the water, casting their lines, and a sliver of a park, Point Molate Beach, with grill pits and picnic tables and a beach stashed away behind some old railroad tracks. There&rsquos a block print-on-plywood sign advertising the area&rsquos Gun and Rod Club and some massive and heavily graffitied holding tanks. But the most incongruous sight is an imposing brick fortress surrounded by palm trees, a structure so surprising that it looks as if an historic East Coast armory was air-dropped onto a random plot of California bayfront.

A community hidden behind the Richmond refineries.

Technically within Richmond&rsquos city limits, once you round Castro Point the city &mdash its congestion, refineries, and the roaring traffic of Interstate 880 &mdash disappear. Ahead, on a tiny rocky island just offshore, is East Brother Light Station, an operational light station since 1873.

In the 1970s, the island&rsquos Victorian lighthouse &mdash clearly visible from the San Rafael Bridge, but always a mystery to me &mdash was at risk of being torn down when new navigation technology made it obsolete. Instead, a nonprofit was formed to turn it into an inn, which would pay to maintain the property&rsquos upkeep. The light station&rsquos five-room bed-and-breakfast has been closed throughout the pandemic, but during normal years, visitors are shuttled between Point San Pablo and the island twice a day.

When we reached the old armory-like building, which we assumed was some kind of decommissioned military installation we&rsquod somehow never heard of, I couldn&rsquot believe what I saw. How could it be that in a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this waterfront castle was sitting empty, unused and barely maintained? How had it not yet gotten the Presidio treatment? How, for better or worse, had it not become the next Cavallo Point?

A colorful chalkboard menu.

Across the street was a tidy row of what I guessed had been officer housing. But most of my assumptions about this intriguing 47-acre compound would turn out to be wrong.

The &ldquocastle&rdquo was constructed in 1907 not as a military fortress but as the anchor building at Winehaven, the company town of the California Wine Association, a cartel of the era&rsquos most powerful wine merchants. It was the indirect product of the 1906 earthquake and fires, which destroyed many of the city&rsquos wine depots. Built on the far side of a rapidly industrializing Richmond, Winehaven &mdash &ldquo

A well-loved marina garden.

Decades later, the U.S. Navy bought the property in 1941 and converted it to a fuel storage and transfer facility to support the war effort. Winehaven&rsquos grand hotel, which once hosted bohemian poet Joaquin Miller, was turned into barracks and a mess hall (it burned to the ground in 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the fueling station in the 1990s). But Winehaven, now a National Historic District, remains a vision &mdash a fascinating window into a California that might have been had Prohibition not changed the course of history.

The entire drive to Black Star Pirate BBQ only takes 10 or so minutes, if that, from the freeway. But it feels farther. In a good way. You might only be 20 miles from downtown San Francisco but you could easily be in another time, another place.

After climbing the steep hill over Point San Pablo and touching back down at the water, the first thing you&rsquore likely to notice is either a lively pen of head-butting goats or a giant, glistening blue-green mosaic-tiled crocodile.

This is a place that knows how to make an impression.

Burning Man sculpture art at Point San Pablo.

One part New Orleans, one part old-school Haight-Ashbury, Black Star is an organic barbecue joint over the water at the mouth of the Sacramento River Delta. Inside, it looks like a retro diner with red vinyl stools along a Formica counter (currently used as a staging area for pandemic-era takeout containers).

Outside, overlooking a funky collection of houseboats, wooden riverboats, a historic Chinese junk and the San Pablo Bay, there&rsquos a wide deck and an expansive gravel garden. Even on a busy afternoon, there was plenty of seating: Picnic tables shaded by parasols and surrounded by a colorful assortment of outdoor knickknacks, fountains and ephemera that would delight anyone with a taste for visual excess. And that, fortunately for us, includes both me and my 5-year-old daughter, who seemed convinced she&rsquod stumbled upon her own personal Fairyland.

When we arrived, Black Star had the slightly overwhelming, almost vibrating energy of an underground art show &mdash the kind of event everyone who attends talks about for days after. It was a feeling I hadn&rsquot experienced in over a year. Longer than that, if I&rsquom being honest. And, because it had been so long since I&rsquod been this excited about some new Bay Area discovery, I felt almost drunk on the place &mdash the same feeling I get when I land in a faraway, new-to-me city.

Suzie Vasco's decorative touch.

Everywhere I looked was a still life I wanted to capture: the hand-written chalkboard menu, with its flurry of color and script, the clutter of flowers (in planters and vases and painted on wooden tabletops), the boats in the marina, resting in the mud.

Then, the food arrived. We&rsquod ordered the three-meat, three-side combination to share. Served on a sheet tray lined with red-and-white checked paper, each meaty element of the meal &mdash the pulled pork with a squiggle of tangy vinegary, mustard-y sauce, the deliciously fatty, smoky ribs and the thick slices of tri-tip, a California classic, topped with house-made barbecue sauce &mdash was comforting and distinctly flavorful. This was no one note instrument.

The sides are always my favorite part of a Southern-style meal. Here, I would have happily abandoned the meat entirely to try them all. The greens were not just collards, but spinach and kale, chard and mustard greens, with layer after layer of flavor, a balance of bitter and sweet, grown in the harbor&rsquos garden. The beans were so rich I drank the pot liquor like soup. And the slaw was fresh, a springtime salad befitting the virtually cloudless sky. Really leaning into the season, I ordered a tubby little glass of rosé.

Three meats and three sides in the Point San Pablo Harbor patio.

How an out-of-the-way barbecue restaurant in one of the most neglected corners of the bay managed to do all of that &mdash to make me remember what creativity, at its most essential and vital, feels like &mdash became a mystery I needed to solve.

What is this place, I wanted to know.

Tony Carracci, Black Star&rsquos owner, and his partner Suzie Vasko, are characters &mdash the kind of Bay Area characters that it sometimes seems have disappeared entirely with the arrival of Big Tech. But it turns out they&rsquore still here, manning a galley way out among the mudflats behind the Richmond refineries.

Wearing black from head to toe, with tattooed sleeves and a barely tamed beard, Carracci looks like an Outlaw Country singer who discovered steampunk. Vasko, meanwhile, dresses a lot like the restaurant she helped build. Her long blond hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat decorated with glittery butterflies, her mask is bejeweled with rhinestones, and her slight frame is draped in layers of color and pattern. The pair have only been together for a year, introduced by a friend, and they were long-distance for much of that time: he in Point Reyes, her in Grass Valley. But they seem, from the outside, to complement each other in almost miraculous ways.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

Even so, it&rsquos hard to imagine this last year has been as effortless as they make it look. Starting a restaurant is notoriously difficult, even during non-pandemic times. And not only did they start a restaurant &mdash during a pandemic, in a place so out of the way the road there was unpaved until recently &mdash they did all of this while living together for the first time. Their home? A 40-foot sailboat. (Ask anyone who has done it, and they&rsquoll tell you that living on a sailboat is up there with starting a restaurant on the list of really good ways to test a relationship.)

But Carracci, the public face of Black Star, seems well acquainted with the ebbs and flows of life. His dad was a merchant marine from New Orleans who met his mom in Seattle. His parents moved to San Francisco to raise their fledgling family. Born at the tail end of the Beat era, with his childhood and adolescence spent in the city&rsquos famously hedonistic 1960s and '70s, Carracci was the oldest of five kids and a star athlete who played eight varsity sports.

Meeting him now, Tony the jock is hard to imagine. But he was a restless student &mdash a restless person &mdash and he says sports gave him discipline. He left home at 17, lived in his car until he finished high school, then went to work briefly in the shipyards (&ldquoI absolutely hated it,&rdquo he told Jeff Hunt on a recent episode of "Storied: San Francisco"). In what would be the first of many reinventions, Carracci moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a makeup artist. &ldquoIt was a good way to meet women,&rdquo he told "Storied: S.F." But after several years in the Pacific Northwest, Carracci came home to San Francisco.

Plenty of room out among the mud flats.

Restless, always restless, he tired of the makeup scene and went to work in kitchens. Eventually, he became the founding chef of Cha Cha Cha, the Haight's long-running Cuban-Cajun institution. Later, after bouncing around a bit, he stumbled into being an &ldquoaccidental nightclub owner&rdquo after he was offered a &ldquoyuppy club, sports bar, horrible place&rdquo for the right price. Carracci turned it into the Cat Club, the Folsom Street nightclub that&rsquos been a second home to generations of San Francisco misfits, and which Carracci ran for 12 years &mdash an almost matrimonial stint in his peripatetic life.

"My ambition, at that point in time, was to be the next Bill Graham," said Carracci.

During this same period, Carracci started The Pound in Hunter&rsquos Point, which during its five-year stint was &ldquothe place to see metal and hardcore punk in San Francisco,&rdquo according a eulogy to the club written when it closed. The San Francisco Port Authority, which owned the property, refused to renew his lease. That same year, Carracci left the Cat Club under circumstances that he describes as &ldquotragic." It seems to be the beginning of a prolonged period of either bad luck, or bad choices, in business.

Since then, he&rsquos bounced from one project to the next, with no stint seeming to last much longer than a couple years. After one more brief run at the nightclub business, he moved to Marin and became a wedding planner, which he describes as being a lot like running a nightclub, except there&rsquos a bride to deal with. He managed security at the Warfield, was head chef at San Francisco&rsquos first cider bar, Upcider, tried to start a West Oakland location of The Pound, and, most recently, ran a barbecue food truck in West Marin.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

This backstory felt too personal (and likely too convoluted) to delve into while discussing the merits of Carracci&rsquos potato salad and the weird and magical world he and Vasko have built down on the Point San Pablo waterfront. Maybe it&rsquos a talk for another time &mdash a conversation best had over smoked meat and beer?

For now, it seems like Carracci has hit a fresh stride. He and Vasko moved from the 40-foot sailboat into a 50-foot vintage trawler, which they&rsquove paired with a couple of other smaller boats to create a sort of composite home: His closet is in one boat, her art studio is in another. &ldquoI have a million dollar view,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoThere's nobody in front of me. Like when I look out in my back door, it's the bay.&rdquo

Carracci's barbecue truck, which is how he initially found Point San Pablo, became the inspiration for the Black Star. He has a 10-year lease on the restaurant and an arrangement &mdash he pays the marina&rsquos owner a percentage of his profits &mdash that served him well during the pandemic, when he had to unexpectedly close more than once and could barely scrape by on takeout.

But the pandemic had an upside. It gave Carracci and Vasko a lot of time to get creative with both the space and the food. &ldquoI&rsquod be in the restaurant and it'd be dead, so I'd just play,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI'd come up with all these different barbecue recipes.&rdquo

Meanwhile, Vasko was turning the restaurant&rsquos bare gravel yard into a living art project.

Suzie Vasco makes art of the backyard garden at Black Star.

&ldquoThe outside was nothing &mdash nothing out there. We brought the picnic tables, we brought in all the flowers, the sculptures &mdash everything you see,&rdquo said Carracci.

&ldquoI'm blown away by her constantly with her creativity,&rdquo he added. &ldquoShe's really into taking nothing and making it into something, you know? So she does all the signs. She does all the plants, all the everything, everything you see out there, decoration-wise, is her. And it&rsquos really great for me because she&rsquos so good, I have to be really good to keep up with her.&rdquo

They built a stage and Carracci, the longtime nightclub owner, brings in musicians.

Then, &ldquoall these rockin&rsquo dudes&rdquo started throwing themselves at him. After a year without anywhere to perform, &ldquothey were fighting a bit to come and play somewhere,&rdquo Carracci said. &ldquoIt is just snowballed. I get at least five messages a day from people who want to play. And they're all really, really, really good musicians. Like not just OK musicians, they're all just insanely good.&rdquo

The chalkboard menu at Black Star.

It&rsquos easy to see how everyone would want a piece of what Carracci and Vasko have created at Black Star. The product of a hard year in the world, and a tough decade for Carracci, the place feels like it&rsquos hand-carved from the ruins of hardship &mdash that it&rsquos built on optimism. And because it&rsquos so unusual, and so improbable, it&rsquos hard to imagine it can last. Something about Black Star feels ephemeral. Only now, upon reflection, does it occur to me that the restaurant &mdash named after David Bowie&rsquos final album, the one he released as he was dying of liver cancer in 2016 &mdash is a kind of embodiment of its namesake. It&rsquos a mudflat fantasia amid a Burning Man sculpture garden and a bay of half-sunken boats.

Black Star got so deep under my skin that I took my kids back the very next day. Carracci and Vasko were throwing an Easter egg hunt. My son found a big blue egg in the mouth of the blue-and-green mosaic alligator sculpture. My daughter found another, a gleaming silver one, with a $10 off coupon to Black Star inside. Not that I need another reason to return.

Very special Black Star drinks.

The make-shift dining room at Black Star Pirate BBQ.

A bicyclist destination in the East Bay.

The houseboats of Point San Pablo Harbor.

The beach at San Pablo Point.

Metal sculptures bought from Burning Man festivals scatter the Point San Pablo Harbor grounds.


There's an otherworldly barbecue joint behind the Bay Area's Richmond refineries

Crossing the decommissioned train tracks to arrive at Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

A while back, my husband Tim was on an ill-planned adventure with a friend &mdash an ambitious bike ride from our home in Alameda to, and across, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge&rsquos newly opened bike lane. But when they reached the route&rsquos on-ramp, it was inexplicably closed. Without a plan, they set off on the nearest surface road, a narrow paved lane along the San Pablo Bay, east of the bridge and behind Richmond&rsquos infamous refineries.

They didn&rsquot know where they were going. They were just riding. The narrow road wound along a stretch of San Pablo Peninsula with virtually no other traffic and no obvious destination. But where they ended up was remarkable &mdash remarkable enough that when they came home, they couldn&rsquot stop talking about it.

At the end of Stenmark Road, the paved lane turns to Point San Pablo Marina Road, and &mdash after a steep climb along the edge of hills of scrub oak and eucalyptus, Scotch broom and blackberry &mdash descends to a small marina and dead ends at the large gravel parking lot of Point San Pablo Harbor. But this marina is more than a place to berth a boat, it&rsquos a hidden community with an organic farm, a bunch of goats, a Burning Man-esque sculpture garden and Black Star Pirate BBQ, which itself is far more than a restaurant.

The interior of Black Star Pirate BBQ, where take-out containers are piled on the counter.

Black Star was also the reason that, on a recent Saturday, Tim and I decided to skip the ambitious bike ride and drive out to the point with our kids. Our friend Jonah, newly vaccinated, squeezed into the car with us, game to revisit this place he and Tim had stumbled upon months before.

But first we had to get there. And the drive itself is a revelation. It passes rocky mudflats where fishermen wade into the water, casting their lines, and a sliver of a park, Point Molate Beach, with grill pits and picnic tables and a beach stashed away behind some old railroad tracks. There&rsquos a block print-on-plywood sign advertising the area&rsquos Gun and Rod Club and some massive and heavily graffitied holding tanks. But the most incongruous sight is an imposing brick fortress surrounded by palm trees, a structure so surprising that it looks as if an historic East Coast armory was air-dropped onto a random plot of California bayfront.

A community hidden behind the Richmond refineries.

Technically within Richmond&rsquos city limits, once you round Castro Point the city &mdash its congestion, refineries, and the roaring traffic of Interstate 880 &mdash disappear. Ahead, on a tiny rocky island just offshore, is East Brother Light Station, an operational light station since 1873.

In the 1970s, the island&rsquos Victorian lighthouse &mdash clearly visible from the San Rafael Bridge, but always a mystery to me &mdash was at risk of being torn down when new navigation technology made it obsolete. Instead, a nonprofit was formed to turn it into an inn, which would pay to maintain the property&rsquos upkeep. The light station&rsquos five-room bed-and-breakfast has been closed throughout the pandemic, but during normal years, visitors are shuttled between Point San Pablo and the island twice a day.

When we reached the old armory-like building, which we assumed was some kind of decommissioned military installation we&rsquod somehow never heard of, I couldn&rsquot believe what I saw. How could it be that in a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, this waterfront castle was sitting empty, unused and barely maintained? How had it not yet gotten the Presidio treatment? How, for better or worse, had it not become the next Cavallo Point?

A colorful chalkboard menu.

Across the street was a tidy row of what I guessed had been officer housing. But most of my assumptions about this intriguing 47-acre compound would turn out to be wrong.

The &ldquocastle&rdquo was constructed in 1907 not as a military fortress but as the anchor building at Winehaven, the company town of the California Wine Association, a cartel of the era&rsquos most powerful wine merchants. It was the indirect product of the 1906 earthquake and fires, which destroyed many of the city&rsquos wine depots. Built on the far side of a rapidly industrializing Richmond, Winehaven &mdash &ldquo

A well-loved marina garden.

Decades later, the U.S. Navy bought the property in 1941 and converted it to a fuel storage and transfer facility to support the war effort. Winehaven&rsquos grand hotel, which once hosted bohemian poet Joaquin Miller, was turned into barracks and a mess hall (it burned to the ground in 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the fueling station in the 1990s). But Winehaven, now a National Historic District, remains a vision &mdash a fascinating window into a California that might have been had Prohibition not changed the course of history.

The entire drive to Black Star Pirate BBQ only takes 10 or so minutes, if that, from the freeway. But it feels farther. In a good way. You might only be 20 miles from downtown San Francisco but you could easily be in another time, another place.

After climbing the steep hill over Point San Pablo and touching back down at the water, the first thing you&rsquore likely to notice is either a lively pen of head-butting goats or a giant, glistening blue-green mosaic-tiled crocodile.

This is a place that knows how to make an impression.

Burning Man sculpture art at Point San Pablo.

One part New Orleans, one part old-school Haight-Ashbury, Black Star is an organic barbecue joint over the water at the mouth of the Sacramento River Delta. Inside, it looks like a retro diner with red vinyl stools along a Formica counter (currently used as a staging area for pandemic-era takeout containers).

Outside, overlooking a funky collection of houseboats, wooden riverboats, a historic Chinese junk and the San Pablo Bay, there&rsquos a wide deck and an expansive gravel garden. Even on a busy afternoon, there was plenty of seating: Picnic tables shaded by parasols and surrounded by a colorful assortment of outdoor knickknacks, fountains and ephemera that would delight anyone with a taste for visual excess. And that, fortunately for us, includes both me and my 5-year-old daughter, who seemed convinced she&rsquod stumbled upon her own personal Fairyland.

When we arrived, Black Star had the slightly overwhelming, almost vibrating energy of an underground art show &mdash the kind of event everyone who attends talks about for days after. It was a feeling I hadn&rsquot experienced in over a year. Longer than that, if I&rsquom being honest. And, because it had been so long since I&rsquod been this excited about some new Bay Area discovery, I felt almost drunk on the place &mdash the same feeling I get when I land in a faraway, new-to-me city.

Suzie Vasco's decorative touch.

Everywhere I looked was a still life I wanted to capture: the hand-written chalkboard menu, with its flurry of color and script, the clutter of flowers (in planters and vases and painted on wooden tabletops), the boats in the marina, resting in the mud.

Then, the food arrived. We&rsquod ordered the three-meat, three-side combination to share. Served on a sheet tray lined with red-and-white checked paper, each meaty element of the meal &mdash the pulled pork with a squiggle of tangy vinegary, mustard-y sauce, the deliciously fatty, smoky ribs and the thick slices of tri-tip, a California classic, topped with house-made barbecue sauce &mdash was comforting and distinctly flavorful. This was no one note instrument.

The sides are always my favorite part of a Southern-style meal. Here, I would have happily abandoned the meat entirely to try them all. The greens were not just collards, but spinach and kale, chard and mustard greens, with layer after layer of flavor, a balance of bitter and sweet, grown in the harbor&rsquos garden. The beans were so rich I drank the pot liquor like soup. And the slaw was fresh, a springtime salad befitting the virtually cloudless sky. Really leaning into the season, I ordered a tubby little glass of rosé.

Three meats and three sides in the Point San Pablo Harbor patio.

How an out-of-the-way barbecue restaurant in one of the most neglected corners of the bay managed to do all of that &mdash to make me remember what creativity, at its most essential and vital, feels like &mdash became a mystery I needed to solve.

What is this place, I wanted to know.

Tony Carracci, Black Star&rsquos owner, and his partner Suzie Vasko, are characters &mdash the kind of Bay Area characters that it sometimes seems have disappeared entirely with the arrival of Big Tech. But it turns out they&rsquore still here, manning a galley way out among the mudflats behind the Richmond refineries.

Wearing black from head to toe, with tattooed sleeves and a barely tamed beard, Carracci looks like an Outlaw Country singer who discovered steampunk. Vasko, meanwhile, dresses a lot like the restaurant she helped build. Her long blond hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat decorated with glittery butterflies, her mask is bejeweled with rhinestones, and her slight frame is draped in layers of color and pattern. The pair have only been together for a year, introduced by a friend, and they were long-distance for much of that time: he in Point Reyes, her in Grass Valley. But they seem, from the outside, to complement each other in almost miraculous ways.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

Even so, it&rsquos hard to imagine this last year has been as effortless as they make it look. Starting a restaurant is notoriously difficult, even during non-pandemic times. And not only did they start a restaurant &mdash during a pandemic, in a place so out of the way the road there was unpaved until recently &mdash they did all of this while living together for the first time. Their home? A 40-foot sailboat. (Ask anyone who has done it, and they&rsquoll tell you that living on a sailboat is up there with starting a restaurant on the list of really good ways to test a relationship.)

But Carracci, the public face of Black Star, seems well acquainted with the ebbs and flows of life. His dad was a merchant marine from New Orleans who met his mom in Seattle. His parents moved to San Francisco to raise their fledgling family. Born at the tail end of the Beat era, with his childhood and adolescence spent in the city&rsquos famously hedonistic 1960s and '70s, Carracci was the oldest of five kids and a star athlete who played eight varsity sports.

Meeting him now, Tony the jock is hard to imagine. But he was a restless student &mdash a restless person &mdash and he says sports gave him discipline. He left home at 17, lived in his car until he finished high school, then went to work briefly in the shipyards (&ldquoI absolutely hated it,&rdquo he told Jeff Hunt on a recent episode of "Storied: San Francisco"). In what would be the first of many reinventions, Carracci moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a makeup artist. &ldquoIt was a good way to meet women,&rdquo he told "Storied: S.F." But after several years in the Pacific Northwest, Carracci came home to San Francisco.

Plenty of room out among the mud flats.

Restless, always restless, he tired of the makeup scene and went to work in kitchens. Eventually, he became the founding chef of Cha Cha Cha, the Haight's long-running Cuban-Cajun institution. Later, after bouncing around a bit, he stumbled into being an &ldquoaccidental nightclub owner&rdquo after he was offered a &ldquoyuppy club, sports bar, horrible place&rdquo for the right price. Carracci turned it into the Cat Club, the Folsom Street nightclub that&rsquos been a second home to generations of San Francisco misfits, and which Carracci ran for 12 years &mdash an almost matrimonial stint in his peripatetic life.

"My ambition, at that point in time, was to be the next Bill Graham," said Carracci.

During this same period, Carracci started The Pound in Hunter&rsquos Point, which during its five-year stint was &ldquothe place to see metal and hardcore punk in San Francisco,&rdquo according a eulogy to the club written when it closed. The San Francisco Port Authority, which owned the property, refused to renew his lease. That same year, Carracci left the Cat Club under circumstances that he describes as &ldquotragic." It seems to be the beginning of a prolonged period of either bad luck, or bad choices, in business.

Since then, he&rsquos bounced from one project to the next, with no stint seeming to last much longer than a couple years. After one more brief run at the nightclub business, he moved to Marin and became a wedding planner, which he describes as being a lot like running a nightclub, except there&rsquos a bride to deal with. He managed security at the Warfield, was head chef at San Francisco&rsquos first cider bar, Upcider, tried to start a West Oakland location of The Pound, and, most recently, ran a barbecue food truck in West Marin.

Tony Carracci and Suzie Vasco. Black Star Pirate BBQ, Richmond, CA.

This backstory felt too personal (and likely too convoluted) to delve into while discussing the merits of Carracci&rsquos potato salad and the weird and magical world he and Vasko have built down on the Point San Pablo waterfront. Maybe it&rsquos a talk for another time &mdash a conversation best had over smoked meat and beer?

For now, it seems like Carracci has hit a fresh stride. He and Vasko moved from the 40-foot sailboat into a 50-foot vintage trawler, which they&rsquove paired with a couple of other smaller boats to create a sort of composite home: His closet is in one boat, her art studio is in another. &ldquoI have a million dollar view,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoThere's nobody in front of me. Like when I look out in my back door, it's the bay.&rdquo

Carracci's barbecue truck, which is how he initially found Point San Pablo, became the inspiration for the Black Star. He has a 10-year lease on the restaurant and an arrangement &mdash he pays the marina&rsquos owner a percentage of his profits &mdash that served him well during the pandemic, when he had to unexpectedly close more than once and could barely scrape by on takeout.

But the pandemic had an upside. It gave Carracci and Vasko a lot of time to get creative with both the space and the food. &ldquoI&rsquod be in the restaurant and it'd be dead, so I'd just play,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI'd come up with all these different barbecue recipes.&rdquo

Meanwhile, Vasko was turning the restaurant&rsquos bare gravel yard into a living art project.

Suzie Vasco makes art of the backyard garden at Black Star.

&ldquoThe outside was nothing &mdash nothing out there. We brought the picnic tables, we brought in all the flowers, the sculptures &mdash everything you see,&rdquo said Carracci.

&ldquoI'm blown away by her constantly with her creativity,&rdquo he added. &ldquoShe's really into taking nothing and making it into something, you know? So she does all the signs. She does all the plants, all the everything, everything you see out there, decoration-wise, is her. And it&rsquos really great for me because she&rsquos so good, I have to be really good to keep up with her.&rdquo

They built a stage and Carracci, the longtime nightclub owner, brings in musicians.

Then, &ldquoall these rockin&rsquo dudes&rdquo started throwing themselves at him. After a year without anywhere to perform, &ldquothey were fighting a bit to come and play somewhere,&rdquo Carracci said. &ldquoIt is just snowballed. I get at least five messages a day from people who want to play. And they're all really, really, really good musicians. Like not just OK musicians, they're all just insanely good.&rdquo

The chalkboard menu at Black Star.

It&rsquos easy to see how everyone would want a piece of what Carracci and Vasko have created at Black Star. The product of a hard year in the world, and a tough decade for Carracci, the place feels like it&rsquos hand-carved from the ruins of hardship &mdash that it&rsquos built on optimism. And because it&rsquos so unusual, and so improbable, it&rsquos hard to imagine it can last. Something about Black Star feels ephemeral. Only now, upon reflection, does it occur to me that the restaurant &mdash named after David Bowie&rsquos final album, the one he released as he was dying of liver cancer in 2016 &mdash is a kind of embodiment of its namesake. It&rsquos a mudflat fantasia amid a Burning Man sculpture garden and a bay of half-sunken boats.

Black Star got so deep under my skin that I took my kids back the very next day. Carracci and Vasko were throwing an Easter egg hunt. My son found a big blue egg in the mouth of the blue-and-green mosaic alligator sculpture. My daughter found another, a gleaming silver one, with a $10 off coupon to Black Star inside. Not that I need another reason to return.

Very special Black Star drinks.

The make-shift dining room at Black Star Pirate BBQ.

A bicyclist destination in the East Bay.

The houseboats of Point San Pablo Harbor.

The beach at San Pablo Point.

Metal sculptures bought from Burning Man festivals scatter the Point San Pablo Harbor grounds.