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: a museum of booze, Pakistani food and a wake for a long-gone cable car line at Jones and O'Farrell.
Encompassing the twinned loves of San Franciscans--novelty and luxury--Bourbon & Branch manages to charm still, even if the idea of forced theme rankles our sense of populism. Many is the night we’ve nestled snugly into the dark speakeasy, shrugging off the cares of the world along with any nagging sobriety. The fuss of reservations and passwords notwithstanding, there is something deeply civilized about a place where a nice lady brings you drinks so that you may sit in snookered bliss, carried along by Billie Holiday or Django Reinhardt or whatever ye olde jazz sets the aural temper. Absent are the distractions of every other public space: mobile phones, flash photography, the feral woots of the amateur drunk. As we said, real civilized-like.
With August’s conventioneering hordes in town we couldn’t score accommodations in the main bar, and were shunted off to Wilson & Wilson, the gumshoe-themed bar-within-a-bar that once housed the well-regarded Thai restaurant, Bang San. We gladly endured the rebuff, for Wilson & Wilson may be our new favorite splurge, although we skipped the $30 cocktail prix fixe because we can make ourselves a fine aperitif at home. Most of the rest of the bar, you should be so lucky to find at home, as it is verily a museum of booze (go ahead, call it a boozeum). Next to the 17-year Hibiki, an 18-year Hakushu. Then you spy the Redbreast, both a 12 and a 15; far above, Lady Luck, and the impossibly rare Racer 5 Charbay, made from distilled hops. Predictably, one will pay handsomely to gain entrance into this portion of the museum, so we stick with cocktails, prevailing on the kindness of strangers to gain sniffs at the drams of dearer quaffs.
For those who are able to afford this city’s most recent rents, Charbay is on offer for $360 at B&B’s retail store, Cask. Actually, it’s $340, but we encourage you to spring for the optional $20 engraving—consider adding our phone number, say, for each time you crack open the bottle. We patiently await your call.
Pakwan is probably more familiar to San Franciscans in its Mission location on 16th Street: it’s the reason you smell like the inside of a tandoor oven the morning after a bender. We’ve never been thrilled by the Mission location, seeing as it serves as a canteen to the over-served (see also: why brunch is often mediocre when you’re sober). The TL Pakwan is another matter entirely, poised on a block with no fewer than three Pakistani restaurants. In a savvy business move they’ve set themselves apart from their competitors by serving South Indian food, but results are mixed. For those unaware of regional differentiation in the Subcontinent's cuisine, this is tantamount to a South Carolina BBQ joint adding a vegan menu. At its spice-marinated heart, Pakistani food is deeply meatatarian, and while the South Indian portion of the menu is not done well, you are surprised to find it done at all. Stick with the classics: the spicy saag and pillowy naan are quite good.
Not feeling smoky enough after your visit to this more genteel Pakwan? Head across the street to Gazebo Smoke Shop. This is a well-stocked outfitter, and those who desire diminished lung capacity but increased smoking pleasure can purchase any number of water pipes, tobaccos, and Snoop Dogg-endorsed flavored blunt papers herein.
To the north, X-press Market is a revelation, vast and well-stocked, good for Union Square’s itinerant population as well as the neighborhood. During our last visit, we found two kinds of sesame candy, aloe juice, and doughnuts. When the endtimes come, keep this one on your radar.
Because we can't leave off without a little historic backstory: once upon a time, the Jones Street Shuttle rattled and clanged its way through the intersection of Jones and O’Farrell. “The first victim of cable-car economies,” the Shuttle’s final ride took place in early 1954 after the Board of Supervisors elected to scrap several cable car lines to save the city almost half a million dollars. Instead of picketing, a good-natured wake was held by transit enthusiasts who mourned what they expected to be the total demise of the 19th century-style conveyance. But we’ve been there before, no use dallying in the past when there’s drinking to be done. See you at the bar.