Every week we bring you Urbane Studies, a weekly feature in which our Tenderloin correspondent digs out the finer points of city lore on individual street corners. This week: Stuff Junkies Mumble, the Admiral Hotel and the Painted Lady alternatives at Leavenworth and O'Farrell.
As we crest the gentle rise of Leavenworth and O’Farrell, let’s catch our breath and set for a spell, given that we’re at what feels like a halfway point. Some participants in our close reading of place may have come to anticipate the antics of the Tenderloin: Stuff Junkies Mumble, What This One Guy Did, Poop of Lower Larkin. If this is your aim, consider raising your expectations. For while life is a little closer here, a little more dire at times, there’s a point to drive home, and it’s just that: this is home. Densely packed as it is, it’s an alarmingly normal place where outsiders only notice the outliers.
You’re probably old enough to understand that real life, it can be boring, but treasure awaits those paying patient attention to lesser details. As for the rest of you, chances are you’re wearing furry pants in the desert: godspeed! The balance of us are here in the quotidian city, making it work. And work it does: one minute you’re taking high-contrast pictures of chairs against a green wall on Jones, and in the next a couple ladies of the 'Loin determinedly rush you for an impromptu fashion shoot. These moments are wonderful, fleeting--but they comprise the florid ornament of life, while the rest of the time you endeavor to not step in anything too terrible on your walk to the doughnut shop. This may as well constitute a philosophy of living.
A precedent has been established, one we didn’t expect as we moved away from our start on Larkin: the most neighborhoodly-feeling intersections are on busy O’Farrell. More people seem to be keeping an eye out for one another, shopkeepers and regulars call one another by name, stoop-sitters nodding to passerby. Not all is friendly, as those on the corner know. Deena’s Market is a bit gray around the gills, but this could have something to do with the hours it keeps. From what we’ve gathered at various times of late night (or early morning, if you’re the glass-half-full sort) they’re always open. No booze, some mystery homemade iced treats in the freezer case, this place is a good candidate for a bodega cat. Not for pest maintenance, just to cheer folks up, mostly. If pink is your thing, you'll enjoy the Admiral Hotel above the market.
On the other hand, we can’t profess enough love for our friends at the Right Way Market. Here you’ll find a dizzying array of Mexican popsicles, diverse salty morsels, homemade tamales, and a plastic-fronted cabinet of pan dulce, that dry bread-like pastry that wants for dipping in overly-sweet coffee. The market has just begun serving sandwiches, but our quarry is the rare cucumber-lime-chile paleta, a popsicle that both heats and cools the palate in a tug o' war of flavor. Everyone’s a winner.
After a visit to El Tesoro, you’ll require something cooler than a chile popsicle, seeing as this taqueria is blessed with the most plentiful bucket of jalapeño escabeche seen in recent memory. And why should this be a surprise? Tesoro is Spanish for treasure. During last week’s visit, quality was not adversely influenced by the Barcelona-Real Madrid match being broadcast to an absorbed crowd: a not unimportant detail. While the taco is not as inexpensive as we would like it to be, it is nevertheless a large fork-and-knife salad-like affair, ensuring that no one leaves hungry. We recommend the "private" dining room downstairs from the salsa bar, near the window, with its excellent view of the grandiose apartment building across the street.
And of that grandeur, whatever residents have said about the bedbugs, 601 O’Farrell is a real looker dating back to 1918. Not much to mention here, beside the building’s portmanteau of a name: The Farrelworth. While many visitors to the city flock westward to visit the architectural tarts of Alamo Square and environs, we hope they enjoy the Tenderloin, too. After the same fashion that the Chicago fire allowed that city to cleave from its past, so the 1906 earthquake and fire allowed San Francisco to break with its architectural pastiche of frontier-style woodwork mixed with European romanticism. The Ladies, while lovely, are really a mess of styles. This is not to say that the stony edifices of the Tenderloin are free of multiple personalities--but they do have their names. In the span of our wander, we’ve also come upon the Jekyll Apartments (on Hyde), the Ben-Hur (named for the silent film), Hyde Manor (designated by a tiny sign), as well as the Eros, the Ovid, the Ivanhoe. What Painted Lady can claim an alias as exotic as the Zee, the Fashionette?
A quiet place, this, despite the noise one hears about knife crime and such. But what no one reports: the man behind the counter who sees to it that your favorite popsicle is in stock; the garbage collector who asks the time, then complains that it’s not quitting time yet, but agrees that he at least got to have a few nice words with a kind neighbor. It may not be the fireworks that many expect from the place, and that’s the way we like it.