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: Mangosteen, a giant PG&E nightlight, the Phoenix Hotel, and a street-naming history lesson at Larkin and Eddy.
You’re holding up rather well, so how about a little history? Promise, it won’t hurt one bit.
Here we are at the confluence of two great names, William Eddy and Thomas Larkin.
Larkin was a pre-gold rush Alta Californian, one of those peculiar diplomat-businessmen who managed to bet on the right horse in the right race, eventually becoming the first (and last) American Consul in 1843. Whether thwarting British attempts to annex the future U.S. possession, keeping the war with Mexico "peaceful," or having the savvy to elect the non-white William Leidesdorff to be his Vice-Consul, Larkin deserves to be remembered for more than his contribution to street signage.
Arriving on the scene just prior to California statehood, William Eddy was appointed City Surveyor in 1849, thereby assuming responsibility for the official survey of the city from 9th Street to the Bay. His was a historical snapshot as the village of Yerba Buena metamorphosed into the metropolis San Francisco. Taking a look at his map, you'll note that the city as such was considerably smaller, and that what we know as the geographic Tenderloin of recent memory was then a sleepy place, of suburbs and sand dunes.
Eddy went on to become the Surveyor General for the new state, and thanks to historical map czar David Rumsey, you can mail your PG&E bills with this nice bit of work.
Oh wait, you pay your bills online, sorry. But that brings us back to the present.
If you’ve ever wondered about that blocky number on the northeast corner of Eddy & Larkin, you probably won't be surprised to discover that it was designed in-house by PG&E. This '60s cubic triumph glows at night; consider it a nightlight, albeit one with a sickly, greeny-yellow cast.
Due south, the been-there-forever Fox Market has undergone some changes. We can’t speak to the warmth of the new typography, but it conforms to a cleaner aesthetic in lack of grit and serif. The new signage can be seen from a good distance. Do you want to take this new sign out for a drink, clap it on the back and say “we should do this again, real soon?” No, the new sign is far too sensible to do such a thing, doesn’t drink and takes vitamins. But we can always remember the old times, eh?
Many changes are still to be undertaken, claims the new owner. This recent version of the bodega stocks the manna that is Bit o’ Honey, so there’s that.
We here at The Society do not claim an aptitude regarding food reviews, for we do not wish to perpetrate crimes against both vowel and adjective. Unctuous, crunchy, toothsome: while not immune to the pleasures of the feedbag, we feel it’s better to leave off to the professionals. Our first proper restaurant on our trip through the Tenderloin is Mangosteen, a restaurant named for the Queen of Fruit. Your audible-eating fears may be realized at Mangosteen, which possesses an amply noodled menu. While sensitive to cultural foodways, slurping and smacking are often antithetical to appetite--take it to go if this is a problem, otherwise, enjoy what can only be called Southeast Asian spa-chic amid much noodle-sucking. Eschew the garlic noodles for something you can’t get everywhere, like the banana blossom salad, a crunchy, tangled mess of non-banana-flavored flowers. We like it with tofu--nice textural balance.
Of note: the lion sculptures that loosely create the Little Saigon gateway on either side of Larkin were erected in 2008 after a long struggle to create a cultural designation for the area, which runs the length of Larkin Street from McAllister to Geary.
Now to cross the street toward one of the neighborhood’s first dilemmas, The Phoenix Hotel and its bar, currently called Chambers Eat+Drink. In reality, there’s no dilemma at all, but for the placement of posh-ish accommodations in the Tenderloin (and a pool!), all of which functions not unlike a theme park. Were it to exist on any other corner, it would lose its raison d'être in contrast: you can’t go slumming in the suburbs.
Patrons can get a thrill out of paying $159 a night to stay on the corner, while along the oft-muraled parking lot retaining wall the more permanent residents of the Tenderloin pitch a sidewalk tent.
But we are no haters: inside Chambers, with its smoky topaz-tinted mirrors and rec room appeal, the drinks are better than what you'll find in much of the neighborhood, and a it follows they're priced as such. We should note that by "drinks outside" we mean "a plastic flask of vodka." Naturally, no one’s as friendly as at Harrington’s Pub, and the physical bar barely seats 6, so it’s clear that this is more a lounge than a bar, what with the booths and nooks (feel free to split hairs in the comments).
Of note: in its turn as the Bambuddha Lounge, a large sculpture of the reclining Buddha could be seen atop the bar's roof. This was the Buddha as he attained Paranirvana, meaning he was about to die--not very politic for a bar set in a Southeast Asian neighborhood. Nowadays, if you wander by, you’ll see a new mural going up just west of the hotel, at 665 Eddy--and no unfortunately placed Buddha.