It was a brilliant, crisp San Francisco day as Maurice Kanbar gazed out from atop his Pacific Heights building. On the eighth floor, he could clearly see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the San Francisco Bay in all its glory, with a bright blue sky and fast-rolling clouds above it all.
His restless mind, which works tirelessly on new inventions, was unusually calm. Even in his late 80s, when most of us simply choose to kick back and relax, he just couldn’t take his eyes off that limitless blue sky. It spoke to him of great opportunity ahead. A chance to do even more good.
You might recognize the name Kanbar. His family name adorns the Kanbar Cardiac Center at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and the Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, among other institutions he’s generously donated to through The Kanbar Charitable Trust. Since creating one of world’s best-selling premium vodka brands from San Francisco in the 1990s, and then selling it for loads of money, he’s given tens of millions of dollars away to charitable causes. Now, at 89 years old, he wants to do it one more time.And, what’s not to love about drinking great vodka for good causes. It’s such a perfect fit for the LGBTQ+ community in San Francisco (and beyond) that tirelessly throws a veritable smorgasbord of fabulous fundraisers to attend on any given day or night throughout the Castro and SOMA. Those who enjoy drinking altruistically simply must not miss the first two fundraisers that Kanbar and team at San Francisco’s Blue Angel Spirits are throwing for two legendary LGBTQ+ organizations in the frenetic week leading up to SF PRIDE, on the heels of Blue Angel vodka’s June 12th launch:
On Wednesday, June 13th, Blue Angel vodka is sponsoring a fundraiser at Beaux in the Castro to help raise money for a feature documentary 50 Years of Fabulous, a groundbreaking film about the Imperial Council that will make its San Francisco debut at Frameline42 (June 14-24), the longest-running, largest LGBTQ+ film festival in the world. The event will be co-hosted by Donna Sachet, Absolute Empress 30 and a producer of film, and Khmera Rouge, Absolute Empress 50, who is prominently featured in the newly released documentary. Partygoers will have the chance to dress up like an emperor or empress and pose for photos by Chris Knight with Left Coast Scenes.
The Imperial Council is the longest operating and one of largest LGBTQ+ organizations in the world. Founded in San Francisco in 1965 by Jose Sarria, the charitably minded group is synonymous with raising money for nonprofits that do good for the LGBTQ+ community. And they do it fabulously with gorgeous pomp and circumstance patterned after royal monarchies with volunteer members bearing titles of nobility bestowed upon them by their annually elected leaders: Emperor and Empress. During the last 53 years, the Imperial Court has grown to represent 86 different communities across Canada, Mexico and the United States. Its rich history and deep impact is masterfully documented in the new film, “50 Years of Fabulous.”
On Saturday, June 16th, fans of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus can attend a Blue Angel-sponsored launch party to support their world-premiere musical “Unbreakable.” The new musical, composed by and starring Tony Award-nominee Andrew Lippa, will be performed three times during SF PRIDE weekend from June 22-23 at the Nourse Theater. Partygoers will have the opportunity to meet Lippa, who’s flying in from New York City for the event, and cheer on the “boys” of the world’s largest gay men’s chorus. A much smaller SFGMC group first performed publicly on the steps of San Francisco City Hall after Harvey Milk’s candlelight vigil down Market Street on November 27, 1978.
Now, for nearly 40 years, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus has served as an international standard-bearer for a powerful mix of extraordinary musical excellence and mission-driven activism. The SFGMC was the first organization to courageously proclaim its orientation in its name and it’s credited with helping launch the LGBT choral movement that now spans the globe. “Unbreakable” is a diva-worthy encore to the kick-off of its 40th season with its soul-affirming performances in six red states – dubbed The Lavender Pen Tour – to share the SFGMC’s mission of community, activism and compassion in support of its LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters throughout the South. According to Tim Seelig, artistic director and conductor, it will be SFGMC’s most “over-the-top” concerts ever.
Kanbar has long had a passion for supporting such worthwhile organizations like the Imperial Court and the SFGMC. His philanthropy has most frequently centered on education, healthcare and the arts. Other organizations he’s generously donated to include KQED, for its “ImageMakers” series of independent films, and he recently donated $1 million to the Osher Center endowment campaign to help conduct research and train the next generation of doctors, nurses and pharmacists at UCSF’s world-class medical school. He also donated space at the Kanbar Performing Arts Center at 44 Page Street in the Civic Center’s performing arts district to the San Francisco Girls Chorus.
A broad assortment of inventions has created the wealth Kanbar has amassed during his lifetime. His drive to solve problems in creative ways that benefit humankind has long fueled his passion for philanthropy. Kanbar, who’s been inventing things for nearly eight decades from the age of 10, now has more than 50 patents. One of his most recent inventions is durable, collapsible eyeglasses to treat common vision problems in developing countries. They cost only 85 cents. His breakthrough invention was the D-Fuzz It, a device that removes balls of fuzz from fabric. He got a patent, created a model, skimped and saved, and ended up making everything from the device to the packaging. It made $200,000 its first year. He was 21. That product is still being made and sold today.
A big fan of movies, he created New York’s first multiplex cinema, the Quad Cinema, which was the first movie theater in Manhattan to have four auditoriums in one building. In 2006, he produced his first feature film, the animated “Hoodwinked!” that grossed $100 million worldwide. It was followed by “Hoodwinked Too.”
As a lifelong martini lover, Maurice has been on a quest to invent the cleanest, best-tasting vodka. Blue Angel is his most refined vodka yet. It’s created with a six-step distillation process that removes the congeners (impurities). That, paired with a process to purify the water the vodka is distilled with, gives Blue Angel its clean, great taste. With SKYY vodka’s recent move to New York via the Campari Group’s departure, Blue Angel is the only vodka brand to have its headquarters based in the San Francisco. It’s produced, bottle and warehoused across San Francisco Bay in Fairfield by Frank-Lin Distillers and distributed by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits.
So, if you’re in the mood for drinking altruistically and doing your small part to improve the world like Maurice Kanbar, consider attending the first two Blue Angel-sponsored fundraisers the week the vodka launches to benefit the Imperial Court and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.
Special Blue Angel drinks served at both events will directly benefit the nonprofits, in addition to a charitable cash donation to both organizations from the Kanbar Charitable Trust. There will be go go’s, step and repeats, raffle prizes and giveaways, special guests and DJs spinning. Come out and celebrate the launch of Maurice Kanbar’s Blue Angel vodka for good, and have a roaring good time while raising money for glitter-worthy causes.
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Celso Dulay is host and producer of San Francisco’s Glitter Bomb TV on YouTube and Facebook, where you “get all your gay in just one day.”