It’s built on great views and great people. After living here for the past three years, I’ve grown accustomed to the warm hospitality of my pho lady, who knows exactly what I want every time I see her; the familiar yet grumpy nod of my butcher when I ask for my cuts; and the drunken talk I share with many of The City’s barkeeps.
But like many new to San Francisco — be they residents or visitors — I wound up at Fisherman’s Wharf. I needed a job.
Everyone comes to the northern tip of the old Barbary Coast looking for an authentic experience, one that perhaps the Fisherman’s Wharf of a century ago could provide. But today, the area is more like Disneyland — a sea of overpriced crab, lazy sea lions, kitschy street acts and run-of-the-mill tourist merchandise.
But boy, does it pay.
Fisherman’s Wharf is an international attraction that millions flock to each year, and the meals are not cheap even if the food is pretty average.
Some people I serve at the restaurant where I work come to San Francisco for the Wharf and never leave the Wharf.
Unfortunately, they are indeed missing out on the City by the Bay.
Occasionally, though, restaurant guests will ask for a bar recommendation after their meals. And every so often, I come across guests who not only want a good recommendation, but also someone to show them the way. Little do they know that their waiter is a bar columnist who loves nothing more than a good pub crawl.
Take Nina, who tends bar at a Cleveland dive. She was in The City tagging along with a friend who came here for a medical convention. Nina, in between licking crab off her fingers, asked me if I’d be willing to show her around while her friend was attending meetings.
My first thought was to give her something that might feel familiar. Her best money comes on Sundays when the Browns are losing and people are washing down the pain with pints accompanied by shots of tequila and pickle backs. So I eased her into the San Francisco bar scene with a visit to Tempest, the South of Market dive frequented by bike messengers, hipsters and journalists. Indeed, she told me the place reminded her of her Cleveland bar.
From there, we dipped down to the Upper Haight for a few glasses of rum punch at Hobson’s Choice, followed by a stroll through Golden Gate Park for a smoke and to watch the silhouettes of the towering trees as they swayed in the light breeze.
Then it was off to the Mission for a couple of beers on the back patio at Zeitgeist and a carnitas burrito at Pancho Villa. We capped off the night grooving to some Latin sounds over a couple of mezcal and grapefruit shots before she headed back to her hotel.
Another time, I found myself fulfilling the dreams of starry-eyed lovers who barely knew the romance that hides inside San Francisco’s narrow streets.
Take Ronny and Carlos, your modern-day Lucy and Ricky, who came to The City for the first time to celebrate their four-year anniversary. Both are in their mid-20s and wait tables at the Olive Garden in Redlands. They, like most visitors, went to Alcatraz and Ghirardelli Square before sitting at one of my tables. Toward the end of their meal, I tipped them off to a couple of my favorite spots in North Beach and they in turn invited me to join.
We met at Saloon, the place that’s been around since the Lincoln administration (you can smell the long nights in the wood). We toasted our beers while we danced to some good old rhythm and blues. We kept the night moving with some milky glasses of absinthe at Vesuvio Cafe. Carlos swore he was mildly hallucinating when he looked at the artwork and stained glass in the two-story bar once popular with the Beats. Then we headed to Chinatown for last call with a couple of Chinese Mai Tais under the oversized lantern at Li Po.
But before they went back to their hotel, I wanted to show them The City from above. We marched up to the roof at my place in Nob Hill to check out the lit-up skyline. I stood next to Ronny and Carlos with an ice-cold Anchor Steam in hand.
“This is the San Francisco we wanted to see,” Ronny said to Carlos as she went in for a kiss. “Happy anniversary.”
There I was, playing third wheel for a couple I barely knew but couldn’t be happier for.
“Ah, she’s good to me,” I told myself as I gazed at the moonlight reflecting off the Bay and the pinnacle of the Transamerica Pyramid.
San Francisco, she’s my lady. And I love to show her off.