The giant bikini-clad image of Carol Doda that flirted with drivers and pedestrians from the original neon sign marking the entrance to North Beach’s Condor Club is long gone. But thanks to muralist Natalie Gabriel (@nattypaints), the iconic stripper who shimmied her way to international fame as a topless dancer in the 60s and 70s now graces the wall of Bodega wine bar (700 Columbus Avenue). From a dreamy scene dominated by a pastel palette of orange, pink, purple and blue clouds, mountains and sea, Doda’s face gazes out at passersby with an expression that’s both sultry and innocent.
Artist Natalie Gabriel. | Photo credit: Christopher Michel
“I wanted to put Carol in the center of a glitter path, or reflection of the sun or moon, on the water,” explains Gabriel, who graduated from Academy of Art University in 2017 with a BFA in painting and has lived in North Beach for the past four years.
She tells Hoodline that people have remarked on the mural’s calming, uplifting presence. “I didn’t intentionally set out to give them that experience, but it’s a nice by-product. The color palette reflects what I feel when I look at a sunset or sky in the Bay Area.”
Her mural replaces the pouty red lips that prolific street artist fnnch painted on the wall in 2016 when it was Melt Café. The opportunity to paint the Doda mural came to Gabriel through her friend and mentor, prominent artist and long-time North Beach resident Jeremy Fish. Last spring, the owners of Bodega reached out to Fish about doing a mural for them. He couldn’t take on the project but said he’d help them find someone who could and contacted Gabriel.
“Jeremy was the connecting point for this project, from getting the wall to the concept,” says Gabriel. “The mural is a beautiful manifestation of our friendship. Jeremy is such a sweet person and generous mentor to other artists. And a great organizer for North Beach.”
When she met with Lalo Luevano, co-owner of Bodega, to show him her work, he was struck by some of her portraits. So she and Fish put their heads together to come up with a local worthy of being immortalized in a mural. From the get-go, they wanted to bestow that honor on a woman who’d played a significant role in the history of North Beach and the city. It didn’t take long for them to settle on Doda. Gabriel says Luevano loved the idea— he felt that Doda fit the restaurant’s fun, upbeat image.
Gabriel at work on her mural over Thanksgiving weekend. | Photo credit: Tim Marsolais
As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in an article about Doda after her death in 2015, she was much more than the stripper who launched the topless craze that swept the city and the country in the 60s. Former Mayor Willy Brown called the multi-talented artist “bright, beautiful, creative and outrageous.” The late columnist Herb Caen agreed — Doda was a regular character in his column. Dick Winn, who performed showtunes with Doda in her later years, called his friend one of the fastest comedians he’d ever worked with. He also praised her for being a “wonderfully caring person who listened to you and gave good advice.”
After several months of planning and fine-tuning the concept for the mural, Gabriel completed it over the long Thanksgiving weekend, working mainly with spray paint. The job was mostly a one-woman show. But since her family was in town for the holiday, she couldn’t resist putting her dad to work on Thanksgiving morning.
“The wall is a good size, so I was using an extendable ladder that I had to move every few minutes,” Gabriel says. “It can be pretty taxing, so my dad helped me move it around, which made things go quicker.”
Gabriel and Bodega will host a block party-style celebration in front of the mural this Saturday, January 28, from 2 to 6 p.m., to honor Doda and welcome her return to the neighborhood. In addition to paying your respects to Doda, you can enjoy drinks, snacks, and live music at the event. And buy limited edition prints of images from the mural and other selections of Gabriel’s art.