An oversized plexiglass Santa with a ten-foot connection once looked out over San Francisco’s Castro district every December. That weed-smoking Santa stood on the roof of the popular Cafe Flore on Castro and Noe streets, creating a doobie-esque holiday attraction in the late 2000s that kept weed-loving passers-by merry.
Santa’s joint was a custom engineering masterpiece. The end of Saint Nick’s spliff would really glow red and real smoke would come out, creating the hilarious illusion that Santa was indeed lighting up his Christmas trees.
But in recent years, that much-loved local favorite has curiously disappeared from the top of Cafe Flore. What ever happened to that blunt smoking Santa? And how did the fat man get his fat?
SF Weekly dug deep into Santa’s pocket to find the secret history of this short-lived green Christmas tradition.
Our story begins in 2006, when MySpace was the hottest thing on the internet, California had just re-elected Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor, and de Castro was still reeling from a horrific Halloween night mass shooting that injured nine people and marked the beginning of the end of that event. Cannabis was still in the “medical marijuana” phase where you needed a doctor’s card to buy weed, and pharmacies were still routinely raided by the FBI.
That was the year this Santa showed up in front of Cafe Flore, but he didn’t have a joint and he wasn’t on the roof. The cafe’s then-owner, JD Petras, had scored this six-foot-tall Plexiglas Santa when a Seattle, Washington mall went bankrupt and sold all its Christmas decorations.
The life-sized Kris Kringle was placed in front of the dining patio of Cafe Flore, creating a popular attraction ‘on Santa’s lap’ in the Castro. This was in the pre-smartphone era, when we still took our photos by lugging around heavy-duty devices known as digital cameras.
JD Petras was a businessman, but also quite a well-known local prankster and an anointed member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, known as ‘Sister Porn Again’. Petras would also post a Burning Man statue to Cafe Flore every August and co-founded a Burning Man camp for gay men called Jiffy Lube.
In 2001, Petras had designed a giant animated sculpture of two 12-foot-tall men having anal sex that was erected at Burning Man. The enraged and deeply offended Nevada police demanded that the statue be removed, which it was, but it established Petras as a folk hero for his creations of subversively funny large-scale artwork.
The Santa mall in question was not originally intended to be stoner Saint Nick smoking a cockroach. But his right hand, sculpted right next to his face, contained a perfectly cigarette-sized gap between his ring finger and little finger that was just begging for a holiday horn.
Led by Petras, a team of three artists broke down the image of Santa Claus to give him a new look with a joint that both lit up and blew real smoke. That process took two full years. But in the meantime, every holiday season, the jointless Santa was still placed in front of Cafe Flore’s patio, and customers had no idea how merry that statue of Santa would soon become.
The connection itself was also made of fiberglass, so it could withstand the annual December rains and wind. The design crew implanted a smoke machine into its fiberglass shell and placed a red lighting mechanism in the joint to create the impression that the marijuana cigarette was indeed lit.
The fully functioning joint-smoking Santa made his official Castro debut in December 2009. He was placed atop the roof of Cafe Flore, right in front of a billboard that often featured highly homerotic gay beefcake ads.
The juxtaposition of a tall Santa smoking a joint in front of a billboard featuring often handsome, shirtless gay men was an instant hit at the Castro. Santa’s 2009 debut also coincided with the rising popularity of smartphones, and owners of the just-released iPhone 3 (and its new competitor dubbed Android) couldn’t get enough of snapping photos of this clearly-only-in-San. Francisco face.
Saint Nick and his joint were set to roll out next December. The display remained an attraction for a few glorious holidays, but this Santa has not been seen at Cafe Flore in recent years.
His disappearance was no accident as Cafe Flore is technically not Cafe Flore anymore. Petras brought in new partners in 2014 to manage the restaurant, though he retained ownership of the building. In 2017, that ownership group sold it to new owners, who renamed the restaurant and bar simply Flore.
Flore’s new ownership team is led by Terrance Alan, himself a longtime activist in the San Francisco cannabis movement. Alan was previously the head of the San Francisco Cannabis State Legalization Task Force that helped enact the recreational use laws that came into effect here in early 2018.
But where is he now? Unfortunately the new Flore has not kept the old sculpture of Cafe Flore Santa Claus. Alan tells SF Weekly that Santa was part of clearing out old equipment and furniture when the cafe changed hands in 2017.
According to Petras employees, Santa was sold to an unknown customer at a garage sale last summer for an undisclosed price. Petras has not returned comment on this article at press time and we can only hope Santa is still smoking somewhere.
But the future of Flore still looks green. Alan and the new ownership group recently received approval to open a new cannabis dispensary across the street, which will be known as Flore Store. So Cafe Flore’s legacy as the place where Dennis Peron Brownie met Mary and devised plans for the original 1996 medical marijuana law Proposition 215 will live on.
Santa may be gone and his whereabouts unknown, but for us he will always pass the spirit of Christmas (joints).