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. 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. This week: Kahn & Keville's folk wisdom and the birthplace of the Muni FastPass at Turk & Larkin.
“Old San Francisco maps indicate that all the streets associated with the Tenderloin remarkably existed in 1853, with the exception of Tyler Street that became Golden Gate Avenue in the twentieth century.” --Larry Wonderling, Ph.D., San Francisco Tenderloin
It’s a funny thing, perhaps you’ve noticed--but this city doesn’t change very much, despite protests otherwise. Certainly attitudes and economies exert their influences, and in the instance of the Tenderloin, so much hasn’t changed that sometimes it’s hard to remember what has.
Moving up the street past Golden Gate né Tyler, Turk & Larkin’s southwest corner is occupied by the Phillip Burton Federal Building. As this ground was covered last week, we’ll call it a wash and leave off reminiscing back to when the area was called "Tire Row." Yes, this is related to the number of repair joints and garages, as this is where many of 19th century San Francisco's stables were located. Parking culture: it's not just for Los Angeles.
Minding the traffic, we cross the street to the northeastern corner of the intersection, where SF Print has stood its ground for 18 years, according to its website--nearly 19, if you speak with the man behind the counter. He agrees that despite recent changes, it’s going to take a lot more than positive thinking to break the negative mindset citizens hold toward the Tenderloin.
Most of SF Print’s clientele is neighborhood business and Hastings students, and they routinely offer ridiculous specials, like the one that yields 1000 postcards for $68. Now there’s nothing stopping you from starting that afterhours hip-hop club night in your office. We strongly recommend that you call it “Notorious C.U.B.E.Z.”
You might lack intimate knowledge of the Tenderloin, but surely you know Kahn & Keville--or at least their sign. Historical landmark, “San Francisco’s biggest fortune cookie” (so said Herb Caen), but mostly an oracle of timely, sensible commentary. Whether they’re taking on C.W. Nevius or offering a soothing affirmation, we familiar passerby are ever eager for the grace of their good word.
Of note: Kahn & Keville have been in business since 1912, but messages have only been appearing on the marquee for the last 55 years, since 1957.
If there is a unit of measure designating the friendliness of bars, its scientific name is unknown to this writer. It is, however, determined in degrees by the quickness of a smile, or better yet, the rapidity with which one learns another’s life story. Harry’s Harrington Pub, not to be confused with Henry Harrington’s similarly eponymous bar on Front Street, offers itself up as an exemplar of the city’s third places.
In the time it takes to enjoy a neat whiskey, you might learn more about your neighbor than you’d like, but you'll have proof that the city's hardly as aloof as you had remembered it. If you're lucky, you'll be instructed not to marry foreign women 15 years your junior, and not to underestimate the biting power of the toothless.
Of note: this pub possesses something of a pedigree, being the site where former U.C. Hastings student and future inventor of NextBus Ken Schmier hounded an alcoholic Muni official to offer monthly passes. Schmier's overtures were fruitless until he crashed a Public Utilities Commision meeting with a large mock-up of a Fast Pass, where the concept found its legs. To date, no one has pulled such a stunt with a Clipper Card, but we urge the bold to show up with a giant fake check to write off Muni's eternal woes.