Welcome to a new chapter of Urbane Studies, in which our agents suss out the finer points of city lore by scrutinizing its individual street corners. Streets and boulevards tell stories of their own, but intersections are the anchors that often determine the character of a neighborhood. So, why don’t we do streets? Well, there are more songs about standing on street corners, so there’s that. Other publications might be aiming to cover every bar, every restaurant or every square mile of the city, but such exhaustive efforts are, well, exhausting. Either way, we hope to all learn something important — aside from where to find a decent apple fritter. Naturally, we begin in the Tenderloin:
You shall know the nature of its worn corners from the dim views behind dust-dimmed glass: coffee-scented water served from ancient urns, fluorescent pho joints, bodegas dark and as densely populated as the neighborhood itself: behold, the Tenderloin.
The cold expanse of Golden Gate between the concrete of the Burton Federal Building and the California State Building is best escaped quickly, comprising one of the area's fiercest wind tunnels. Given the traffic, Larkin may as well be a speedway. After a fashion, it will be once Phil'z opens on the Southeast corner, adding to extant kitty-corned caffeination stations: to the west, The Coffee Smith; to the north, Gateway Croissant. The fourth corner holds the Federal Building, staffed by men with guns, fueled on this coffee. No one is as shaky as expected.
The Coffee Smith offers a perfectly perfunctory cup, along with the usual starches, but not much to speak of in terms of ambiance--it’s a duck-in-duck-out sort of place, and accordingly shuts its doors once the drones go home. Not so with Gateway Croissant, an exemplar of the doughnutería variety.
Doubtless, this partiality derives from the hot chocolate, being of the machined variety, frothy-headed and best suited to tempering the insubstantial nature of Gateway coffee. This is after-lunch coffee, when you want for just enough forced enlightenment to get you through to happy hour. A half-hot chocolate/half-coffee hybrid is what you want.
The owners look as tired as anyone who spends most of their waking hours servicing Larkin & Golden Gate, but are deeply friendly and remember the orders of countless patrons regardless of their station in the world: theirs is an egalitarian doughnut. If you're lucky enough to find a free table at the window, take it — so much space and such a view occasions a moment of lingering.
Of note: Gateway offers the nearest jury duty doughnut.
Young whippersnappers won't remember that this intersection used to be home to the Federal Reserve Lounge, a watering hole that sprung up after the Federal Building’s completion in 1964. As of this writing, there are 13 reviews of the Phillip Burton Federal Building on Yelp. Burton the man is more interesting than the structure that bears his name, although one will find both a gym and a post office in this mid-century monster, among the first of the International Style tombstones to mar this one-time middle class neighborhood.
Before his too-early death at the age of 56, Congressman Burton aided in dissolving the House Committee on Un-American Activities, authored the bill that created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and was one of the first politicians to understand the need for AIDS research and funding. He is also credited with policies that introduced an influx of lobbyists to the congressional body.
Of note: if you join the gym located on the ground floor, you'll have to go through security, but you might just befriend U.S. Marshals who will insist that you don't need to work out. Thanks, United States Government, you look good, too.