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: an examination of Tenderloin housing market trends, and a conversation with a drunk at the Nite Cap at Hyde & O'Farrell.
“Hi there, come on in. Looks like you brought all your paperwork with you, almost can’t see you underneath all that. Your arms must be tired, haha. But what’s that binder? Oh, that’s fine, we won’t need letters of recommendation from past landlords or the mayor, just the credit report and proof that you can pay half a year’s rent. Ideally we prefer 12 months in advance, but we want to be fair. Good thing you showed up early, yesterday we had 60 people waiting, but that photo of the gold bars didn’t hurt."
"So here we are. Yeah, can’t let you in to see it, as you have to sign the lease now. The pictures on Craigslist aren’t of the same place, but close enough. Hope you don’t mind, but really, the place is just such a steal at $1700. At least you’ll have a nice view of The Frontenac, just across the street. You don’t want to know how much those places go for, I mean look at that awning.”
You wake up gasping for air. Only, you’re not asleep, you’re at an open house for a Tenderloin studio at the corner of O’Farrell & Hyde, and the thought of trying to nestle a bed beside a mini fridge is making you claustrophobic. That, and the 20 or so other people who're trying to figure out where one is supposed to put a bed in this room. When you lived a few blocks up the street, you paid $675 for half a one bedroom with a nice porch and a backyard. Mice gnawed at your pantry, but then again you’d willingly signed onto a “charming garden apartment.” Besides, two studios could fit in that one bedroom--or rather, in its spacious living room.
Of note: if you think studio prices in the Tenderloin are bad, there’s a first floor Tenderloin apartment on AirBnB going for $2624 a month. Someone needs a hug; you, probably.
Smaller than you think it will be, wood paneling and low cottage cheese ceilings mark the Nite Cap as a neighborhood clubhouse. Kids barely on the right side of legality give lip when their IDs are demanded, but play nice once the bartender calls them “honey.” Quiet old-timers bookend the bar, while the rest of the joint is noisy with neighbors who need to escape the closeness of their quarters for the Nite Cap's own measure of coziness. No telling who put “Okie from Muskogee" on the jukebox. The well-used pool table floats in the middle of a flocked bar carpet so worn that it resembles nothing so much as the ruddy lichen of a forest floor. A lone girl downs her second can of Tecate: “Gotta go to work.” This is a good place.
The quiet drinker on left begins to stare with a drunk intensity and questions, "Is there enough light? You sure must like to read."
There is, and reading is fundamental. Ready yourself for the conversation about bringing books to a bar, because here it comes. Your answer? Because the library doesn't serve Black Butte Porter — yet.
Then he throws a good one: "But is it a boy book or a girl book?"
Feeling silly that we'd never checked between our books' legs, but this is not the time or place for Virginia Woolf-style feminism, so maybe it's best to roll with this one. Good choice, we end up discussing Utopian societies. Our side of the conversation might have been the more lucid, and he admits he's on his "severalth" special, the $7 shot of Jameson and a Tecate.
At the end of a long week, trouble stirs between a regular and the bartender, so maybe it's time to pay a visit to our old friends across the street.
To the west, a jaundiced face gazes a gazely stare down O'Farrell. After leaving the tense beginnings of a barfight across the street, consider visiting Hyde-O'Farrell Market, where the beverage selection never fails to astonish. A grey cat charms the boys buying tallboys, and the same brothers are there behind the counter, friendly and assertive in their bodega kingdom.
Of note regarding police response: in the time it takes to leave the bar, cross the street, pet a bodega kitty and purchase a couple cans of Vernor's, the police will have shown up to eject a patron at the Nite Cap. How's that for service?