I recently saw an obituary for a dear old friend, and the memories came flooding back.
San Francisco in the early sixties was a wonderful playground for lively young adults. This was before manhattanization, and there was a balanced variety of businesses and industry, a busy waterfront, and distinct neighborhoods filled with middle and working-class families along with relatively cheap apartments for us singles.
Driving in to SF from the south at night, you could watch the light show of the huge goblet atop the Hamms Brewery filling and emptying, filling and emptying... Driving along the Embarcadero (pre-freeway) you could smell coffee roasting at the Folgers (or was it Hills Brothers?) plant. A little further on was the produce marketplace, where the Embarcadero Centers now sit.
My friend was the perfect escort - very nice, handsome, fun-loving and financially-blessed. We each lived on Telegraph Hill, so our ramblings stayed pretty much in the area.
The most romantic place of all was Skipper Kent's - a Trader Vic's knockoff - on lower Columbus near Francisco. It had a big tropical fish tank, palm fronds and tapa cloth, Japanese glass fishing floats, giant seashells, and dreamy guitars on the sound system. Lighting was low and drinks were large and embellished with fruit and/or paper parasols. (They don't make kitsch the way they used to!) Food was more-or-less Pacific Rim (early fusion?) but food wasn't the point.
Another very special romantic hideaway was The Shadows, tucked away on the eastern slope of Telegraph Hill. The view of the bay, set off by the dim lighting of the elegant dining room, provided the ambience. The food was German with steakhouse leanings. A romantic German restaurant you may ask? Yes indeed, it actually worked.
Then there was Xochimilco on Broadway for cerveza and tacos and a loud jukebox with mariachi music. Nearby was the Sinaloa Cantina, a jolly place with Mexican standard gringo fare and a semi-naughty floorshow. These two were it for Mexican places in our part of town.
Koe's Auberge, on I believe Powell near Pacific, was a very personal one-man take on a little French restaurant, with a tiny menu and modest prices. We felt so sophisticated forking into our coq au vin.
There were the cheap jolly Italian places nearby. The cheapest of all was a sprawling restaurant at the NW foot of Telegraph Hill near Fisherman's Wharf (I forget the name). They were a big favorite with the local Italian neighborhood and always seemed to be having wedding-related celebrations or family events going on in the side rooms. Other, smaller Italian family-style places we liked were La Pantera and New Pisa on Grant, and Green Valley and Gold Spike nearby.
Maybe San Francisco was more magical then, or maybe the world just looks best through 23-year-old eyes.
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