San Francisco open your golden gates

The next day was Saturday, and we were men on a mission. St. Patrick’s Day was the following Friday, but as this is a standard working day in the US, the big parade was on the Saturday. The route was along Market Street to City Hall. As expected, it was an impressive spectacle. The Americans take their Irishness very seriously and the whole phenomenon of the Parade was invented by Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century. Local politicians, trade unions, bars and Irish dancing schools dominated the festivities. Not being a fan of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, I found this iteration quite moving. It was all so very heartfelt and earnest. Afterwards we repaired to the Lookout Bar on Market Street where a drag brunch was taking place. It reeked of insincerity and lack of talent. There is nothing quite as disappointing as an American drag queen – they seem to think wearing a wheelbarrow full of make-up, a spangly frock and lip syncing a song is deserving of financial remuneration by everyone in the bar. While I disagree, tipping them is not voluntary. As they pass you, they have their claws out for cash rewards. We popped into Fabulosa book store where I purchased the novel ‘My policeman’. After the show we headed over to the HiTops gay sports bar where we pretended to be butch while drinking a beer. That evening I dined on a small chicken calzone in the Sausage Factory – an Italian restaurant on Castro Street. I say ‘small’ but American ‘small’ would feed a family of four.

On Sunday we rose early and dined in Crepes on Cole – a family-owned diner in the Haight where I availed of the free coffee refills. Afterwards we walked to the Golden Gate Park where we wandered through the AIDS Memorial Grove and onwards to the DeYoung Museum – a gallery of fine arts. Afterwards we bussed it over to Polk Street in the Nob Hill District. An old compadre from my Amsterdam days was now living in this neighbourhood with her husband and baby. It was pleasant to catch up while meandering about the neighbourhood without any pressure. The evening was spent at the Midnight Sun video bar where the Academy Awards were showing on the big screen. I find it hard to fathom that Laurie Strode from Halloween is now known as ‘Academy Award winner Jamie Lee Curtis’.


On Monday we took the ferry to Alcatraz Island – a former high security prison and Indian reservation. Having visited this myself on my previous visit I knew what to expect – my fellow traveller had not done this previously however, so I tagged along without complaint. It’s an interesting destination. Following a recommendation, upon returning to the mainland we visited the Musee Mecanique – an old-fashioned warehouse housing an array of antique coin-operated mechanical instruments and vintage arcade games. This was a fascinating place where we spent several hours. I won some candies. That evening we visited the Mission District and the Roxie cinema to see the Belgian film ‘Close’. The Roxie is San Francisco’s oldest continually running cinema. Opened in 1913, these days it’s a 49-seater, not-for-profit, art-house movie-theatre. The Mission is a somewhat grimy part of town. Lots of gentrified bars greeted us as we exited the movie-house while a woman smoked meth at the smashed in bus stop that would take us home.

Roxie Theater

Tuesday dawned and the rain was falling. We didn’t mind – we were taking an excursion to the Muir Woods National Monument where the giant redwood trees grow. We had booked a five-hour guided trip with a one hour stop in the coastal village of Sausalito on the way back. We met our guide ‘Mitch’ on Union Square (it’s probably his real name but for artistic purposes it’s more dramatic to pretend it’s a pseudonym) at 13.30. He was slick enough to tell us en route that weather sometimes prevents access to the forest. Lo and behold when we arrived at 14.25 the Woods were closed because of rain. We were allowed take a picture in front of the sign before ‘Mitch’ took off again. Minus a passenger. We had to head back to collect him. We felt suspicion – surely ‘Mitch’ knew the woods would be closed when we departed an hour earlier. We’d paid a hefty price for the tour. We were ejected from the bus in Sausalito for an hour in the torrential rain where we dined on moist cod tacos in the world’s surliest taqueria. We felt morose as we crossed the Golden Gate bridge back to the city. The day had been a washout. Luckily, it ended on a high note with cocktails at the Tunnel Top dive bar where were spent a few hours with a Midwestern couple escaping their meth-strewn family in Oregon for a weekend in San Fran.  Later we dined at the Moroccan themed Café Mystique on Castro Street.

Cable car

On Wednesday, the sun was shining which made our trip to the Napa and Sonoma Valley Wine region very pleasant. We partook of the delicious new world wines with gusto and were quite squiffy when we arrived back in town in the late afternoon. I invoked my inner Judy Garland as we took the Powell Street Cable car from Powell to Fisherman’s Wharf. ‘Clang, clang, clang went the trolley’ I bellowed internally. That evening we ate at Eric’s Chinese restaurant in Noe Valley. San Francisco has the largest Chinatown in the US, but expert advice told us that the restaurants in official Chinatown tended to be rip-off tourist destinations. Eric’s on the other hand was an incredible, Chinese restaurant away from the tourist drag. The food was delicious, the waiter was hideously rude – so much so that it was funny rather than offensive. The journey to Eric’s was quite interesting. A homeless gentleman smoked a pipe on the train to our stop. Everyone else studiously ignored him. Homelessness is visible everywhere in San Francisco and seems to exist at the uneasy intersection with addiction and mental health issues. I felt sorry for him with his supermarket trolley full of his earthly belongings, but not sorry enough to engage – he looked so wasted. Maybe that’s a reflection on me. So be it though. I can’t fix the world.

Madonna Vineyard, Napa Valley

Thursday was our final full day in San Francisco, so it was back to Nob Hill to visit my Amsterdam buddy again. It was good to catch up once again – who knows when the next time we will see each other. She’s from Finland. I live in Ireland. Our Amsterdam stomping ground is in both our pasts now. Our final evening in San Francisco involved dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Matador which was far jollier than the one we had endured in Sausalito. This was followed by a thoroughly entertaining stand-up show called ‘Cheaper than therapy’ at the Shelton Theater near Union Square where one of the performers / bar owner bought us a drink after the show to celebrate both his birthday and St. Patrick’s Day the following day. We smoked a joint before the show (weed is now fully legal in San Francisco – I hope Topher has diversified him income streams since I last knew him).

Castro Street

On Friday March 17th we were flying home. Breakfast was a tad surreal. Everyone at Crepes on Cole were smiling and jolly? On Saint Patrick’s Day? Surely not – this is a day for rain and gloom. The drink named ‘Top o’ the Morning’ Iced Coffee’ demanded to be tasted. It was green, caffeinated and refreshing. With a flight at 18.30 we decided to visit the Palace of Fine Arts that morning. After huevos rancheros we visited the Palace which is located in the Marina. It wasn’t an art gallery as I thought, but a beautiful neoclassical structure built for the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition of 1915 which heralded the rebirth of the city after the devastating earthquake of 1906. The Cork couple we got chatting to, told us that the Golden Gate Bridge was close by and easy to walk to. We decided to visit. We might not get the chance to walk that bridge again soon. ‘Close’ is a subjective term. Three hours later at 2.30 I decided that I should start making my way the airport. Onto the BART rail system, I boarded. It paused just outside the airport. For 30 minutes.  Arriving at the airport at 16.55, the flop sweat on my brow was not caused by my earlier bridge stroll. Finally, I reached Gate G1 for Dublin. San Francisco was splendid. Hopefully, it won’t be another quarter of a century before I visit again.

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