Welcome to the latest chapter of Urbane Studies, in which our agents suss out the finer points of city lore by scrutinizing its individual street corners. This week: talking mental health at the Conard House, discussing Jimmie Dean Sausage at the Brown Jug, and a corner store cat named Whiskey at the intersection of Hyde & Eddy.
We're back to the Tenderloin, and the timing couldn't be better, as last week’s cinematic interregnum offered a chance to show another side of Hyde Street, one that eludes even the natives.
“I’ve lived here all my life and didn’t know what this was,” admits Charlene, on her smoke break outside the mental health outreach center, Conard House. She’s just begun working at Hyde and Eddy, having spent most of her time at the organization's SOMA office. We chat about the layers of history, the structural details hinting at the filmic past of the block, the MGM lion medallions roaring beneath the cornices of this dun-colored building. But history is being made even here, as Conard attempts to normalize life for San Franciscans living with mental illness.
The organization's operations began in a Pacific Heights Victorian in 1960, a point that can’t be lost on anyone who knows the city. Post-war, San Francisco continued to act as a magnet for the slightly-off to the off the rails, and as the kids say, shit was about to get real: politics, drugs, and subcultural shifts made over San Francisco, and traditional facilities would be tested.
Social worker, activist, and Conard House founder Elaine Mikels was instrumental in creating San Francisco’s first halfway house for mental health. Having been closeted for much of her youth, Mikels was hospitalized for her resultant depression. The treatment she received convinced her that deinstitutionalization and structured independence were the paths to balance. (Of note: If you can track down a copy, Mikels’ autobiography, Just Lucky I Guess: From Closet Lesbian to Radical Dyke, would make a timely offering for your book club this month.)
Cadillac Market is nestled in at the ground floor of the Adrian Hotel (1907), just adjacent to that diner dignitary, the Lafayette Coffee Shop. Given the proximity of such fine examples, this is as good an opportunity as any to talk signage. Enjoy them while you can, kids. While many of the Tenderloin's beacons of light have undergone significant refurbishment, one can’t but have noticed that many of the oldish-but-not-historic ones are being replaced by the cheaper to maintain tube-and-panel jobs. While these do get their wordy point across (liquor-food-candy-ice cream-chips-beer), the simple twists of neon gas possess a certain elegant economy of their own.
“Hey, you look lucky--want to buy some lottery tickets? What’s your sign?” The independent businessman in front of Cadillac Market is a Pisces, and a singer--a baritone. But he admits he’ll sing anything: "I got the range." It’s the way you make some money, any way you can. He sees the toy vending machines that catch our interest in front of Cadillac Market. “Those aren’t as fun as the money you can win playing lottery,” he advises. He speaks the truth, but hey: tiny toy ninjas.
Kitty-corner from Cadillac Market, you’ll find New Princess Market, unrelated by blood or money to SF Princess Market, nearer Golden Gate. For sheer volume of goods contained, it is indeed royal, and what’s more, they’ve a ginger cat named Whiskey. Doesn’t look like he catches much in the way of mice, being a dozy sort of puss lounging at the foot of beverage cases, nary a mew when you pet him: a mellow fellow. The New Princess is more market than bodega, possessing a nice variety of groceries, but also a bewildering number of energy drinks. Sleep is over-rated, given that rooms at the Adrian Hotel go for $40 a night.
“The reasons for drinking alcohol are manifold, ranging from those for the connoisseur’s delight in a rare vintage wine to those for setting out to get blind drunk.”
--Richard Serjeant, “A Man May Drink: Aspects of a Pleasure
So begins Richard Serjeant’s 1964 treatise on alcohol, overstuffed with tweed and touched with the smoke of a fine cigar, it is a book that may not have aged as well as some, but like a strange foreign liqueur, it has its charms.
The Brown Jug Saloon, it too has its charms. A couple stoners argue the merits of Jimmie Dean sausage; a loner stares at one of the Jug's three televisions, curses the players in a game just begun; the jukebox plays most of 1991’s “2 Legit 2 Quit.” The bartender wonders when Vanilla Ice’s signature song will play, but doesn’t have to wonder long. The top shelf stuff includes Templeton Rye, but cast an eye down toward what represents a museum of rarely seen booze (a boozeum?): John L. Sullivan Irish Whiskey, Everclear, McCormick Tequila (Imported). Here is a bar that means business.
For anyone who says that they’re surprised that the bartenders are friendly, let me remind you of the ways in which the world is closer here. It’s not the Palace, where they get paid to like you--or act like it. If you visit a Tenderloin bar--be it on a dare, or dare we say, slumming--act nice. The Golden Rule will get you a long way, and there's room for you if you want. Never did like that diminishing sobriquet, dive bar, and so while some may call the Jug a dive, we'll call it as we see it: a Tenderloin bar with a website, and drink specials for Hastings students and Twitter employees. Welcome to the neighborhood.
Previously: All Urbane Studies with the Tenderloin Geographic Society