If you want to get a chalkboard squeaky clean, use Coca-Cola.
“People really shouldn’t drink that stuff,” says Sara Walker, noting that the fizzy brown soda scrubs chalk even better than acetone. As chalk-artist-in-residence at Jose Pistola’s, she would know.
Anyone who’s walked up the Center City bar’s back staircase lately — and if you’ve been to the cruelly-located third floor bathroom, you have — is familiar with Walker’s work. Portraits of beer world celebs line the wall, depicted in impressive likeness.
Those back wall images are semi-permanent, kept pristine thanks to layers and layers of spray on lacquer. But most chalk art at restaurants is not. No matter how much time is spent or how detailed the result, it can get messed up by a careless lean or washed away by an unexpected splash of water.
There is one way to make sketches live on for posterity: Capture them on social media.
That’s the thinking behind the #BoardCity competition now underway at 13 bars, shops and cafes around Philly. Every week in August, each venue created an original drawing on their sidewalk A-frames, according to theme.
Photos are posted on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and at the end of the week whichever one gets the most likes/faves/hearts/mentions is declared winner.
All this stems from the mind of Pistola’s social media guy Nick Cejas, who came up with the idea for the competition last year after Walker’s elaborate sidewalk drawing got swooshed out of existence by a sudden rainstorm during Philly Beer Week.
“I felt so bad that she put in so much hard work and no one got to enjoy it,” he says. “One night watching Broad City on Comedy Central the play on words dawned on me.”
For Week 1, Cejas chose the theme of politics (the DNC was here, so yeah). The theme offered plenty of opportunity for jokes, but also plenty of opportunity to go too far, per Desiree Howie at Bing Bing Dim Sum, who won the week with her drawing of a Trumpling.
“You’re constantly like, ‘Am I gonna offend someone?’” says Howie, who’s also a server at the East Passyunk spot. “In the grand scheme of things, though, someone’s always going to be offended. If I watch people walk by and point and laugh, then my job is done.”
Week 2 was 80s, because 80s.
Week 3 was “In Memoriam,” where the directive was to pay homage to a celebrity who died.
If you go by Board City, the most popular celeb we lost in 2016 wasn’t Prince, or even David Bowie. It was Miss Cleo. Or rather, it would have been if she was a cat.
Joe Ronaca, who co-owns Kawaii Kitty Cafe with Kristin Eissler, said he wasn’t even aware of the #BoardCity competition until the first week was underway and someone tagged the cafe. He reached out to Cejas and joined the fun. Kind of too bad for the other participants, since Kawaii actually won both Week 2 and Week 3.
“We have the cat community behind us… and there’s a lot of cat people,” Ronaca says. The one thing he couldn’t figure out was how to get the board clean. Coca-Cola, dude!
At Bing Bing, Howie uses a different method: She brushes over the entire thing with a coat chalkboard paint so she can start from a literal clean slate.
This week’s theme is “High Art,” and then the competition culminates in a grand finale party set for Sept. 6 at Jose Pistola’s.
Poster prints of the chalk art will hang on the wall in frames, gallery-style, and a panel of judges will vote on the ultimate winner.