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: Eavesdropping in the TL, a call for bodega Yelp reviews and the underage hipsters of the Blackhawk Jazz Club at Hyde & Turk.
Eavesdropping in the Tenderloin is less an art than a necessity, but occasionally you're allowed the rare pleasure of a live police scanner: how’re things going with that drug deal? Who’s getting jumped today, you or that kid licking bills off a fat wad of twenties? Waiting for the light to change, a former resident of the Tenderloin waves his hand into the past and intones to his audience, “Errbody knows that’s where the Blackhawk was, but over here was a soda fountain, there was still a liquor store...don’t remember that over there." His message: times they do change, but into what?
What had been a soda fountain is as unlovely as anything gets in the Tenderloin. A new build, dirt clings to its nubby stucco, color fading into dirty sherbet. Beyond Chron wondered at the sense of it when it was built, and even now, it's something like an admonition of what might have been, had the Tenderloin received the treatment that was meted out on Fillmore. For a little perspective, it could be worse — and was — in 1906.
Turk and Hyde Mini Park is our second (official) playground of this tour, and mini it is. According to the Bay Area Women and Children’s Center, it was the most difficult of their sites to organize, eight years taking it from parking lot to park. Compare this to the amount of time it takes to conceive and open a parklet--yes, we know parklets are for adult play, like coffee drinking and the NY Times Crossword Puzzle--but even eight years for so small a space seems excessive. Given that many of the Mission’s playgrounds have been updated by the SF Parks & Recreation Bond, we’re happy to report that this little romper room is in line to receive some much needed aid.
Something we’ll never understand--and perhaps it is better this way--is why some Yelpers will jump at the opportunity to review a much-hyped but yet to open restaurant, while there are numerous Tenderloin bodegas that slip by without review or comment. It is too much to ask for reviews on par with the internet's best?
Dear readers, we know you took those Learning Annex writing classes. Get on these reviewless bodegas and tell us what was written in the dust coating a box of Jiffy corn bread mix, of the quality of light that issues forth from bottles of Strawberry flavored wine, of the rumble in the voice of the hobo who threatens to burn the place down: "I'll do it, I'll do it! Just you better give me back that chocolate bar!"
The Hyde-Turk Market deserves better.
Despite the historic aim of the Society, we try not to get too misty-eyed over the backward glance, too nostalgic for times not our own. Miles Davis recorded his intimate sessions at the Blackhawk jazz club in 1961; just two years prior he had been beaten by NYPD officers for escorting a Caucasian woman to a waiting cab. Nostalgia only works when you hunt and peck, and history isn’t written that way.
From 1949 until 1963, the Blackhawk was a beacon on the northeast corner of Turk and Hyde, a constant draw for talent, as well as underaged hipsters. The club cleverly got around liquor laws by keeping those without fake IDs safely ensconced in a cage behind chicken wire, where they would be protected from alcohol, if not the intoxicating effects of modern music. After its 1963 demise, the club became the Top Drawer, and after that? All we know is now it’s a parking lot. Next door’s 222 Club still a club, and used to be an afterwork haunt of ours when it opened at 6 and a friend worked behind the bar--its current opening time of 7 is a little too late for our convenience.
We don’t dare to improve upon what has been written on the Blackhawk, and as of late we’ve been given good reason to phone it in, what with the fine work of the Uptown Tenderloin Museum, setting plaques and making invisible histories apparent. Just a block east, between McAllister and Golden Gate, find another memento: the club's marquee memorialized in the Tenderloin Community mural.
Our favorite way to test the waters of history and beat back against the tide of nostalgia? Best find a copy of Davis’ In Person Saturday Night At The Blackhawk, Complete, and read one of the numerous first-hand accounts of the corner joint. You'll be forgiven a little longing, especially when encountering Herb Caen's Only in San Francisco, in which the city laureate conjures enough of that that soon-fading light, just enough to remember “the good jazz of Cal Tjader filtering out of the Blackhawk and getting lost under the stars that shine down on Turk Street, too...Oh, San Francisco.”