San Francisco – Music, Madness and Maltese Falcons

downtown lights sI’m with Sam Spade when it comes to dinner – lamb chops, perfectly grilled, with a baked potato would be my choice too. Spade’s addition of sliced tomatoes doesn’t work for me, but to each his own.

lamb chops s

Like his creator, Dashiell Hammett’s detective liked to grab a bite at John’s Grill, one of San Francisco’s oldest and most venerable restaurants. He even mentions it by name in The Maltese Falcon and there’s some who say he actually conceived and wrote part of the book in here.

With a guest list that comprises half of America’s glitterati as well as nearly every major public servant of note in the city, John’s Grill doesn’t rely on history to keep the customers coming back. My chops – of course, I had to order Sam Spade’s lamb chops – were perfectly grilled, slightly pink and succulent. And the starter of prawn cocktail – we are aiming for classic fare here – features the largest, fattest prawns I’ve ever seen.

maltese falcon s

No visit to John’s Grill is complete without seeing the Maltese Falcon. So I dutifully take the steps to the second floor. And there it is, large, brooding and forbidding. But, in fact, explains the manager, the original Maltese Falcon was stolen five years ago and the current one is a replacement. I wouldn’t have known the difference. And it’s fun to see this piece of movie history.

Jesus dancers

It’s our first night in San Francisco so we had to head to this classic eatery. But even more fun is our walk back to the hotel along Powell St. On the first corner, a group of young people are making a joyful noise unto the Lord, and carrying signs suggesting the rest of us repent and find Jesus. A small crowd has gathered and are dancing along to the music.

street corner bandtrumpeter

On the very next corner, a terrific band comprising drums and guitar is producing a great sound. This pair too, has their followers dancing along to the music. It doesn’t stop there. In the square opposite Macy’s, a lone trumpeter offers a melancholy tune.

Who knew San Francisco was so musical and so much fun on a Sunday night? What a wonderful welcome for a pair of road weary travellers.

We have to make one last stop. We’re staying at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins, named for a founder of the Central Pacific Railroad whose mansion once stood on this spot. It first opened in 1926.

San Franciscans proclaimed the magnificent building on the crest of Nob Hill “architecturally perfect, flawless in its erection, comprehensive in its accommodations.” It should be noted that while everything is close by, its location at the top of the hill means the walk home is always uphill! But it’s worth the walk.

250px-2009-0722-MarkHopkinsHotelIn the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s, the glamorous Peacock Court in this hotel hosted dance bands like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Xavier Cugat, as well as the era’s top entertainers (Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour, and Rudy Vallee). Guests have included US. Presidents, statesman, international royalty, and Hollywood celebrities. Twenties and thirties film idol John Barrymore was a frequent guest. His pet monkey, Clementine, was less welcome at the hotel after she climbed the curtains in Barrymore’s suite, shredding the brocade as she went.

In 1939 hotel owner George D. Smith created a sensation when he converted the 11-room penthouse on the hotel’s 19th floor into a glass-walled cocktail lounge featuring a 360-degree view of San Francisco. This became known as the Top of The Mark. And that’s our final destination tonight.

At the Top of the Mark, young soldiers or sailors spent their last evening with their girlfriends or wives, before they left for postings overseas during World War II. One corner of this historic lounge is known as Weepers Corner, in memory of the many farewell tears shed.

view from the top of the markThe city from this vantage point is indeed spectacular. We stop to drink in the spectacular view while we enjoy a final nightcap. Our first day is done.

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