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. This week: Halal pizza, strip clubs, playgrounds and 2-for-1 deals at Larkin & O'Farrell
Shrugging uselessly against the biting wind as it whips down Larkin, walk on, on past men with faces like pounded meat, beaten down by life and what they drank or smoked or shot to dodge it. A woman spits bitterly into the street, eyeing a pox upon all who pass her, especially the others of her kind who, like her, have given up on softness. No use cursing the men who turned them hard, it’s not worth it. A gale of horns as someone jaywalks into the rush of downtown-bound traffic. The Germans have a word for it: lebensmüde, weary of life.
Oh hello again. Nevermind us, we’re ending our time here on Larkin, and things are not quite as bad as all that. It’s just a city, is all, and whether your glasses are tinted rose or blacked out, the city is as the city does to you. But an important point: whether O’Farrell distinguishes itself as the Northern border of the Tenderloin, no one can quite agree. Just as likely, a case could be made for Geary, or recently-plagued Post Street. For our purposes, the Tenderloin’s northern border shall be O’Farrell, named for Jasper O’Farrell, the Irish-born surveyor responsible for laying out the diagonal slash of Market Street (you’ll remember his was the map William Eddy improved upon after Alta California was drawn into the Union).
What with the continuous eastbound traffic, this is a particularly kinetic intersection, but you’ll notice a couple waystations here. Piccolo Pizza, for example. This is a Tenderloin slice, an object lesson that reminds us that pizza is more American than Italian. It’s halal, for one thing--no pork here, so the Canadian bacon and pepperoni are likely turkey and beef--and although you’re dubious, it will be a fine slice. A greaseless, well-crusted, properly tomato-pasted slice, probably drunken manna. Importantly, the basket of accoutrements at the counter includes an oregano shaker. Men shake hands with one another, call each other friend. At one point a Latino man offered up a phrase in Arabic. The garbage bin near the door proclaims “MAHALO.” Perfect.
For years, it was a shooting gallery, a sleeping place, blight upon a neighborhood already struggling with a bad sense of self. From 1983 until 1995, MacAulay Park was not the toddler-friendly playspace it is today, but a nest for rats and a boon to crime. Five years after being shuttered, the park was born anew, and today serves as a safe haven for the neighborhood’s many children. While we may mourn the loss of the risque pictures of pretty ladies at New Century strip club across the street, area moms are unlikely to share our sentimental attitude (we grew up with our dad’s Playboy magazine--read them for the cartoons).
Of note: the park is named for Sgt. John MacAulay, a highly decorated SFPD officer, who in 1982 was fatally wounded near Van Ness & Willow Avenue while in pursuit of a robbery suspect. His department colleagues, as well as the Bay Area Women’s & Children’s Center, were instrumental in turning the once-forsaken plot into a much-needed playground.
J&E Delicatessen: a bright, well-lit bodega, where the Hindu proprietors are friendly, although this might be on account of your having all your own teeth and bathing regularly. So be it. This is one of the few bodegas where someone will notice you not finding what you need and ask if you need assistance.
Show me the man who issues a negative review of a bar with a 2-for-1 happy hour, and I’ll show you a man who is in AA. For truly, only if the bar were to charge $10 for the pleasure would this be some sort of scam. It's no scam, it's 800 Larkin, where $6 nets you two well drinks, or one convincing glass of “I’ll go home after three.” Remember to tip for each of your drinks to keep it civilized, as your bartender won’t be seeing the double that you do.
Normally eschewing the amateur quality of Friday happy hour, we brought a friend to steel our resolve, which turned out well enough, as she was responsible for foraging the snack table, a benefit of the occasion. While refilling our cracker supply, she was warned off the contents of the crockpot. The resonant bass of the adjacent woofer prevented learning the exact nature of the trouble: something to do with old or cold. To wit: party people, if you love the untz-untz-untz of bumpy club music, this is a DJ bar. That said, conversation is not totally impossible, and as always it was fine to catch up with a friend outside of work.
Of note: if you come across a gent who waves a well-sucked cannabis lolly while he speaks (for emphasis), tries to bet you a thousand dollars (and then five hundred, finally two), and tells you about life and what you know (how old are you? You don't know shit!), buy him a drink for us--or as it were, two.