Joshua Tehee

Bieber, beer and ‘Pokémon Go!’ Valley’s year in pop culture

President Barack Obama awards actress and singer (and Fresno native) Audra McDonald, the 2015 National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama awards actress and singer (and Fresno native) Audra McDonald, the 2015 National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) AP

American pop culture was tied up in politics and death this year. If it wasn’t actual death (recently Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke) it was fictional. RIP, Glenn.

Luckily, pop culture in the Valley wasn’t so morose. We had some celebrity sightings, a celebrity-theme restaurant and big moves from our own homegrown celebrities. Here is my list of the people, places and phenomena that led the area’s pop culture in 2016.

Note: This is my list. If you don’t like it, make your own.

The people

Justin Bieber – Sure, several notable artists played the Save Mart Center this year (Paul McCartney, Garth Brooks, Selena Gomez). Bieber stands out not so much for his performance. which was stunningly visual, but for the fact he hung out in the area before and after the concert. Prior to the show, he was at Shaver Lake taking in the scenery (and posting butt shots on social media). After the show, he hit the bars around town, playing pool and even doing an impromptu set with his band.

Audra McDonald – The actress/singer continued to cement her role as the most impressive artist to ever come out of Fresno (if there’s a better choice, let me know). In 2016, she added National Medal of Arts winner to her résumé. The honor came with a visit to the White House and a citation from President Barack Obama.

Bernie Sanders – The Valley saw the big three of this year’s president candidates come through on the campaign trail. Donald Trump should probably be the top name on this list. He is Time’s Person of the Year and his visit was not without its drama. But Democrat candidate Bernie Sanders was the only candidate whose visit ended up on Yelp. Sanders ended a 12-hour day of campaigning with a stop at a taco shop on Ventura Avenue in Southeast Fresno, which seems like a totally Fresno thing to do.

Derek Carr – Without being at all into sports, I know that the Oakland Raiders are finally having a season worth talking about. That’s thanks in big part to the team’s quarterback and one-time Fresno State standout Derek Carr, who dislocated a finger on his throwing hand and still managed to win a game.

The places

Fulton Street – No stretch of Fresno has been as hotly contested in recent years as the six blocks that make up the Fulton Mall. Opponents have clashed (and at points threatened lawsuits) over the idea of reopening the pedestrian mall to street traffic. In March, the city broke ground on a $20 million project to make that happen. While the two-way street has yet to officially open, several sections of the road have already been installed.

Dave and Busters – This arcade/bar and restaurant (think “Chuck E. Cheese for adults”) has been on the wish list of many Fresnans for years. Well, now it’s here. Dave and Busters opened in October with its massive collection of arcade games (there’s a giant “Ms. Pac Man”), booze-filled snow cones and foodstuffs. And then people started bringing their children.

Audie’s Olympic Tavern – This dive bar/nightclub was an institution in Fresno’s Tower District. Prior to becoming Audie’s, it operated for years as the Oly and later as Club Fred and was a hub for Fresno’s music scene. It hosted scores of obscure traveling bands (and some on their way to stardom) and just about any local band that cared to play. In March, a tenant dispute forced the club to close down after nine years. A new bar/nightclub was slated for the space, but has yet to open. The loss has been, and will continue to be, deeply felt.

The phenomena

‘Pokémon Go!’ – It took just five days for the free gaming app to surpass Twitter in terms of its daily users. Suddenly, hundreds of people were on the streets, at parks and museums on college campuses and at restaurants in search of the game’s adorable cartoon monsters, which appear in real-life locations via a cellphone camera and GPS.

I was inclined to not believe the hype until I spotted a cluster of 20-somethings around the door of my apartment building. It was in downtown Fresno on a random weeknight and the group seemed out of place, staring at their phones.

“Pokémon Go!?” I asked.

“Pokémon Go!”

No further explanation was needed.

Tupac and tacos – One of the oddest (though most visible) foodie happenings of the year was a pop-up restaurant inspired by rapper Tupac Shakur. The Powamekka Cafe opened for one night only, on the 20th anniversary of Tupac’s death. It was so cool, it got mentions in Rolling Stone and Billboard (and Time, People, Vibe … just Google it). The restaurant was the brainchild of Fresno Grizzlies marketing mastermind Sam Hansen, who was already riding high that week, thanks to the success of his Trump-inspired “Taco trucks on every corner” hats.

Craft beer – This was the year craft beer took over the Valley. By mid-spring it felt like there was some kind of craft-beer festival happening every other weekend. There was also a growth in number and size of local breweries and in restaurants and bars catering to craft beer. Tioga-Sequoia and House of Pendragon found competition from places like Pine and Palm, Tactical Ops, Mad Duck and Full Circle Brewing Company, which got new owners and a new brewer. Madera’s Riley’s Brewing Co. teamed up with Elbow Room owner Mike Shirinian to open a brew pub in Clovis. Me-N-Ed’s Pizzeria even got into the game with the self-serve Me-N-Ed’s on Tap.

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee