RARA-AVIS: visiting the City

From: Frederick Zackel (fzackel@wcnet.org)
Date: 13 Oct 2010

  • Next message: Mark R. Harris: "Re: RARA-AVIS: visiting the City"

    Some months ago I decided against Bouchercon in San Francisco. I lived there for twenty years, wrote three PI books about it, and have lots of family and friends still there. I could either visit my old haunts in San Francisco or I could hang onto the brass bar rail at the lobby bar at the Hyatt, but I couldn't do both.

    But I can help some people's visit there.

    You are going to San Francisco. Fantastic! Everybody’s Favorite City. No, that’s not just a marketing slogan. In fact, a few years ago the top 500 global movers & shakers were asked where they wanted to have their annual get-together, and everybody’s first choice was their usual vacation spot. But San Francisco was everybody’s number 2 spot. Oh, yeah, San Francisco, great!

    This list is not a complete one. But it’ll give you some places to get started. Dump the list when you start having fun. Oh, and I assume you are old enough to drink. In California the legal age is 21. OTOH, every joint listed will let you in for a good cup of coffee.

    San Francisco is a great walking city. Be a flaneur! The term flâneur comes from the French masculine noun flâneur—which has the basic meanings of
    "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", "loafer"—which itself comes from the French verb flâner, which means "to stroll."

    The naughty French poet Charles Baudelaire developed a derived meaning of flâneur—that of "a person who walks the city in order to experience it."

    On the other hand, go ride a cable car. The California Street turnaround is out front of the Regency. Shake the hand of your grip man. He's the guy in front pulling the lever. No, really, shake his hand. As an occupation, grip men do one helluva muscular job, and their handshakes make the Governator look like a girly man. If the grip man (the guy in front) is named Randy, ask him how the Grateful Dead are doing. Then say hi for me. Do not go anywhere with him for a drink after he gets off work. You will wear out the knees of your jeans crawling back to your hotel.

    If you are surrounded by crowds, watch for pickpockets. Locals bust them when they see them, but a few do slip through. Watch your wallets and your purses.

    Special treat: get off the cable car line at Powell street, at the top of the hill, walk downhill two blocks to Bush Street. Turn left on Bush and walk down to Burris Alley, above the Stockton Street Tunnel. Sam Spade’s partner was murdered at this location, and a large metal plaque that celebrates his death is here. Notice the plaque is bolted into the wall of the alley, about eight feet up; people kept trying to steal it. Notice the plaque says whodunit.

    Don’t tell people who killed Miles Archer!

    Across Bush Street from the scene of that fictional crime is a doorway with another plaque: Robert Louis Stevenson stayed there. He was on his honeymoon
    (with a hot young American divorcee. They went up to Silverado for more good times. Oh, and he wrote a book at those times, too.)

    (To digress: out on Sacramento Street, oh, maybe a dozen blocks west of here, around Laguna, is another doorway that says, Arthur Conan Doyle …ah … I’ll let you go look, ‘k? Oh, and the park across the street is called Dog S… ah … Dog Poop Park by the locals.)

    Climb back up the hill, up to California Street. (You’ll see the cable car line.) At the top of Nob Hill are the big hotels: the Fairmont, the Stanford Court, and the Mark Hopkins. Yes, the hotels are named after the Big Four railroad guys.

    Go to the Top of the Mark in the Mark Hopkins for a drink at twilight. Lovely. Look at the streets below. See all the taxicabs working these great hotels. When they have passengers, their top lights go out. When they are empty, their top lights are on. Around the big hotels, all those cabs, their lights go on and off.

    Fireflies in the night!!

    Because of the term's usage and theorization by Baudelaire and numerous thinkers in economic, cultural, literary and historical fields, the idea of the flâneur has accumulated significant meaning as a referent for understanding urban phenomena and modernity.

    Which means it’s time for a literary-style drink. (Stick out your littlest finger as you sip.)

    Go to North Beach. Visit Lawrence Ferlingetti’s City Lights Bookstore on Columbus. Across the alley is Vesuvio’s. Go have a beer in a great beatnick joint. If the bar is full, go upstairs and voyeur, another lovely French-based word. The martinis are killers.

    Directly across Columbus Street is Spec’s in the Alley. A lovely bar. Go play dominos over a beer. Look for Jack London Alley.

    Across Broadway and uphill from there is North Beach, the Italian section. Take Fresno Street for the Fresno Street Saloon, which has a very distinguished reputation as one of the wildest saloons in San Francisco history. Weekends are nuts. If you dance on the safe to the loud music, you’re following in distinguished if unsteady footsteps. (I deny that they are mine.)

    North Beach has fabulous restaurants and great bars. It has fortune cookie factories and Old Country bakeries. This is a great hang-out. It is busy day and night.

    Stop and eat wherever you are. Trust your instincts. If you see a gelato store … go buy a cone now. Also, while you are there, get a loaf of sourdough bread, some Gallo salami, or maybe See’s candy. Gorge yourself in your room later. Have fun. Get some red wine or Anchor Steam beer,

    If you rented a car -- and why would you do that? -- drive up through Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights. (Or walk straight west from Laguna and Washington. When you read PresidioBlvd., call a taxi to get you home.) See the grand mansions. Eat at the Filmore Grill. Is Jack’s Jazz Club at Geary & Filmore still there?

    If you have time, drive through the Presidio, by the way. Go to the end of Pacific Street and turn right. You cannot miss it. Once this was an army base. The most beautiful army base in the world. It was given back to us civilians!

    Once you get into the Presidio, look for the signs to Crissy Field. They will help you discover how to get underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Go there when the weather is nasty. Bring all your cameras. A nasty picture under the Bridge is much classier than the same old same old.

    On your way back from the bridge, go to Union Street. At Perry’s, all the bartenders’ names are Michael. (Tradition.) The front bar is known as Divorce Row. On Union Street, shop until you drop. The Balboa Café is wonderful. The Mauna Loa at Union and Filmore has a slick pool table. Watch out for hustlers. Ask if they remember me.

    Nightlife in San Francisco can be bizarre, and if you think you can handle it, the bizarre happens at a couple, three spots. South of Market is the biggest area. SoMa is huge. Look for Slim’s as a starter. (It is Boz Scaggs’ nightclub; great music almost every night.) Follow the crowds. You may enjoy the Stud, for instant.The Stud may have the weirdest bar crowd you have ever seen. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! But it is safe and it thrives! Ask the gay leather bikers leaning against the bar and they'll tell you other great joints in the neighborhoods. And yes it is safe.

    The Hotel Utah is forever changing; check it out.

    and is built like a bear, it might be Dave himself. Give him my very best.

    More nightlife is in the Haight Ashbury and in the Castro and a few other spots. Minnie’s Can Do is an old haunt of mine back when she was up in the Filmore. If you see her, give her my best. She won't remember me. But I love her.

    If you get squemish about the prices at the Regency, go see Dave, the bartender who owns the joint at Dave’s between Mission and Market on Third. Dave works days (he owns the joint) and he has a great white beard Downtown and tired of shopping at the great stores?

    John’s Grill is at 63 Ellis at Powell Street, where the cable cars turn around. Have the Sam Spade Special (pork chops & tomatoes) or try the scallops (my favorite.)

    Kuleto’s is around the corner, if you don’t want a sit-down place.

    By the way, there are speakeasies under hotels on the streets around here, yes, left over from Prohibition. Now the bartenders on the first floor use these basement rooms to store the hotel liquor. (Don’t ask me how I know.) A bunch of us guys used to go below the floorboards and drink until the sunrise. Dave may remember. He may not.

    When you walk Market street, check out the Garden Court at the Sheraton Palace Hotel, 2 New Montgomery Street. President Harding of Ohio died upstairs. He may have been murdered.

    Chinatown is special after midnight. Oh, go there first in the daytime, too. Go walk Grant Avenue, which is the touristy spot. But walk uphill from Grant Avenue to Stockton Street and the neighborhood markets. See the real daytime Chinatown scene. The Chinese culture demands absolutely fresh food daily. This includes … live fish … and live duck … and live pigeon. (Minced squab is a Chinese delicacy, by the way.)

    Buy something cheap and kitschy on Grant Avenue. It’s okay. Everybody does. I have this bright yellow T-shirt with a flaming red dragon. Lovely.

    Go eat at Sam Wo’s which is uphill at 813 Washington between Grant and Stockton, a classic, a real San Francisco treat. The food at Sam Wo's is not great, but the ambience is. Going right through the kitchen to get to the stairs to the upstairs dining room, ah, that's SF!

    But Chinatown after midnight is open all night, and after the bars close everybody goes to Chinatown for its all-night restaurants. Jackson Street and Washington Street are your best bets. The Far East has clams in black bean sauce, while the Golden Dragon is more sit-down. Speaking of the Golden Dragon, across Washington from its main restaurant is its take-out store. Char sui bow is barbecue beef. Delicious. Oh, and try the duck.

    Good food outside of Chinatown? Tommy's Joint on Van Ness & O'Farrell. Or try Original Joe's downhill from the Hilton. There, order the house burger and the steak fries, but save half of it for later, once you get home.

    Try the deli across the street from the Geary theater. Almost like New York.
    (Or parts of west LA.)

    Check out the Castro; it’s the gay neighborhood and unlike anything you will ever see in the Midwest. Great stores, great restaurants, and great saloons. And the street scene is perfect safe for anybody. Do not let your preconceptions sabotage a great time. The people there are fine wonderful people. And they have a wicked sense of humor! (Thirty years in the closet and you came out wearing THAT!!??)

    At Fisherman’s Wharf, do try the crab from the sidewalk vendors. Oh, if you're going to San Francisco, bring a fall jacket, or a hoodie, or ... Take a sweatshirt or hoodie with you before you go to the Wharf; it’s cold on the water! Oh, and that horrible smell! That's low tide (for all our Midwesterners.)

    You might want to skip the touristy restaurants and have more reasonably priced San Francisco seafood at …

    Any bar & grill in the city. A bar & grill caters to business lunches, mostly, so each place has to have great steaks, salads, seafood, pasta, everything, because so much of their business is done on expense account for clients. A secret tip? The best steak on the menu is the loss leader in almost every bar and grill. The restaurant has to have it on the menu, but never can price it what it realistically should be priced.

    Best bar & grills? Moose's 1652 Stockton in North Beach. Taddich’s, of course. The Financial District or near the big hotels by Union Square. Union Street (which is not the same as Union Square) which is also called Cow Hollow and is in the Marina District.

    Take the Hyde Street cable cars from downtown up and over the hills towards Fisherman’s Wharf. Get off at Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world. It was constructed that way so that horse-drawn wagons could get down off the hills. Notice the sidewalks are … stairs. Walk down Lombard Street. Then do downhill into North Beach, north to the wharf, or go climb a street back toward downtown.

    If you don’t want the crookedest street in the world, check out Filbert street, two blocks south of Lombard and Hyde Streets. That is the steepest street in the world. Notice the stairs instead of a sidewalk. It is a 31.5% grade. Unless you know what the hell you are doing, DO NOT DRIVE DOWN FILBERT STREET. Your cab driver will do it, though, for no extra charge.

    If you have time, and do take the time, take the Sausalito ferry (the terminal is by the Ferry Bldg at the foot of Market Street, sort of behind the Regency) across the bay, passing the Rock (aka Alcatraz) and go have a sexy drink at the No Name Bar at 757 Bridgeway in Sausalito. The sign hanging outside on the Bridgeway has nothing written on it. Hence, the No Name Bar. Try the Anchor Steam Beer or the Ramos Fizz. And on Bridgeway, buy a souvenir for yourself.

    In Sausalito, go visit the houseboats. Yes, the houseboats. They are north of the downtown. I lived on one for three years and I still miss the sound of seagulls pacing up and down on the roof, the smell of low tide, the great house parties where at dawn everybody on the pier saluted the sunrise through the bottom of the brandy bottle ….

    A word about the homeless. Ignore them. Do not give them money. You can do nothing to change their situations; even the City & County is most often powerless. Statistically, half of them are mentally ill drug or alcohol abusers. They can be dangerous. They are not harmless.

    Use common sense. If it’s late at night on a street deserted except for the homeless, get the heck out of there as fast as possible. If you find yourself in a questionable environment, go inside the nearest bar – whatever kind of bar it is – and ask the bartender to call you a cab.

    Cabs are the secret treasure in San Francisco. If the city ios busy, cabbies are 'way too busy to bother ripping you off. Stick with Veterans Cab, Desoto Cab or Yellow Cab.

    Be careful, be cautious, and realize you are in a very big city, and bad guys are not just in the novels we read and write.

    Trust and verify. Most of all, enjoy.

    Have an Anchor Steam for me. I do so miss my City by the Bay.

    Fred Zackel



    RARA-AVIS home page: http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ Yahoo! Groups Links

    <*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

    <*> Your email settings:
        Individual Email | Traditional

    <*> To change settings online go to:
        (Yahoo! ID required)

    <*> To change settings via email:

    <*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

    <*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 13 Oct 2010 EDT