Fog Lines - Brunch, Bars and Bay to Breakers

Sketchy City


San Franciscans love brunch, they will happily spend hours in a line for bacon and eggs that have been ‘fused’, ‘immersed’, and ‘drenched’ with all sorts of fish, fowl and fruit that God had never intended to appear on the same plate. Friends were visiting from New York recently (wazzup Morgan and Kat!) and they were shocked at this queuing malarky; lines of people snaking around blocks, shuffling in silence, moving one inch closer to a slice of toast (probably fused with alpaca meat, immersed in goji berries and drenched in anchovies, naturally).

However, it is an institution here on the west coast (had the same experience in San Diego) so brunch dates line my calendar (well, when I say ‘line’ I’ve got two of them in there so more of a smudge). I must confess the food is pretty good (if expensive). So if you make it to SF, make it your business to have brunch (and bring your wallet). Most of the top places don’t take bookings (hence the queues) so get there before you’re starving and bring some sparkling conversation to while away the wait time (if you’re of a dull disposition, or accompanying a dullard, maybe bring a book! Scratch that it’s SF, bring an e-reader and don’t bring a wallet -use virtual bitcoins instead).

Oh, I nearly forgot, and this will probably throw some more light on why the yankee doodles love brunch, it generally revolves around drinking. Mimosas, bellinis, bloody marys, these are all staples of a successful brunch. Plus, if you haven’t shaken the dullard from earlier, alcohol will help greatly.

Back to brunch, here are my top five recommendations in SF, in no particular order:
  1. Dotties - in SoMa, in a slightly sketchy area, but nice staff and the food is exceedingly tasty. Try the prosciutto scramble. 
  2. Mamas - in North Beach, lively buzzy location, lots of crab options. Try the dungeness crab omelette. 
  3. Presidio Social Club - in the Presidio, beautiful spot in the park, semi-swanky. Try the steak and eggs. 
  4. Brendas - in the Tenderloin, very dodgy locale, but food is plentiful and interesting. Try the crawfish beignet (new orleans doughnut). 
  5. Eats - in Inner Richmond, in fact at the end of our street, quiet neighbourhood, fresh food and make your own mimosas. Try the waffle bacon.
Mini tea! You know you're not in  an Irish kitchen
So you’ve had brunch, you’re feeling a bit merry, “Taxi! Take me to a bar”!

Like most American cities SF has its fair share of watering holes. In the same way that SFs neighbourhoods are all very distinct, it’s the same with the bars. There will be a bar for everyone and if you have multiple personalities you can make it a pub crawl, happy days for you (plural). Remember to bring your ID, you have to be over 21 to purchase alcohol and even in relaxed California they ask for ID occasionally, it doesn't matter if you look like Old Man Time himself.

You’ve all heard of the prohibition of alcohol in the States, it lasted from 1920 to 1933. Interestingly it came into place because of pressure from strict Protestant groups and was hotly resisted by immigrant groups who saw it as against everyday Catholic life (haha, g’wan the Irish and Italians, love it). Mississippi didn’t repeal the law until 1966 (wow). Anyway, it’s this historical strictness that has left a legacy of a high legal drinking age. Personally, I think it backfires, yes it is difficult for teenagers to get alcohol, but many turn to pot smoking instead which seems prolific. I challenge you to walk the streets of SF and count the number of times you smell weed. You’ll lose count (as you passively get stoned - I kid, it’s not that bad).

Bars in SF range from the posh ones, often found in the top hotels, they tend to have great views over the city, to the dive bars, places that deliberately look gritty and grimey to attract the ‘too cool to even speak’ hipster crowds. Then you have your Irish pubs which are littered around the city, SF had a significant Irish population back in the day, our legacy is the bars, of course. That, and a number of pale freckled native SFers who complain about the cold, have a sardonic sense of humour and chase the craic. San Francisco, as you should know, was the centre of the hippy and beat movements so I was happy to discover that there are still some beatnik bars in existence. Downtown, around the financial district, you’ll find the bars that put you in mind of New York, guys in suits downing beers, making deals and breaking vows.

SF is a big sports town, they are very proud of their big teams (the Giants for baseball, the 49ers for American football, the Warriors for basketball and the Sealions for lounging at Fishermans Wharf). So it’s no surprise that they like their sports bars, I have unwittingly ended up in a couple, and they have lots of screens showing sports, lots of shouting, often pool tables and generally serve carbo fuelled bar snacks (for some of you I have just described a near perfect heaven!).

My top 5 bar recommendations in SF, in no particular (drink) order:
Outside Wilson & Wilson, incognita
  1. Vesuvio - in North Beach is an old beatnik bar that is wonderfully charming, it might be my fave. It’s located right beside the famous City Lights bookstore which is worth a visit (pre drink),. 
  2. The Hemlock Tavern - on Polk Street, it’s a dive bar in the ‘safe’ part of a dodgy area, sawdust on the ground, everyone inked, obscure bands playing in a backroom, worth stopping by for one to see SF hipsters in their own environment. 
  3. Bourbon and Branch - just a few blocks down from Union square, a secret speakeasy, you have to book in advance, when you arrive, the protocol is to knock on the door and provide a password. There is even a secret bar within the speakeasy called Wilson and Wilson after a detective agency. Renowned for their bourbon and whiskey and mixologists. Very very cool experience, go once. 
  4. The Irish Bank - in downtown, proper American Irish pub, lots of Guinness and friendly folk. Also very close to restaurants and not far from Chinatown if you fancied an exploration beforehand. 
  5. Top of the Mark - top floor of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel in Nob Hill. Very posh, quite pricey but stunning view out over the city. 
So, you’ve brunched and you’ve boozed and you’re fit for bed. Well, I’ll let you sort that one out yourself. But what happens when you wake up the next morning feeling a little delicate? SF has the answer... go for a run.

Obviously, you could go for a run in the expansive Golden Gate Park or the Presidio (if you fancied hills) or down along the Embarcadero (if you want to see the bay) but surely the best thing to do is run from the bay to the breaking waves in the ocean, nearly a full 8 miles across the city, mastering some of the wickedest hills on the way.
The shark and jellyfish are real

This idea was formalized into a footrace about a 100 years ago and has been taking place ever since. It started off as a way to lift the residents of SF spirits after the 1906 earthquake and nowadays it has taken on a carnival atmosphere. The race is wildly popular and the number of participants has been known to exceed 100k. As Dom is in training for the upcoming SF marathon he entered the race as part of his usual Sunday run (however, because he is a loon, he ran the 5 miles to the start of the run, did the 8 mile run, then ran the 5 miles home. I spectated and then made pancakes. Guess who was complaining about feeling tired later in the day. Ahem)

On a post run/post pancake walk to a friends MBA graduation party (go Shannon!) we decided to watch the rest of Bay to Breakers. It’s INSANE but in a superb way. The majority of people are in elaborate fancy dress, people spill out of the houses that line the streets and throw impromptu parties; bbq’s crack to life, coolers of beers are ransacked and DJs appear out of nowhere to crank out thumping tunes. People are dancing, singing, making friends, oh and doing an 12k run.

For a lot of people it’s the taking part that counts not the running so the earnest non-fancy dress runners (e.g. Dom) scoot on ahead while the rest parade along in their costumes. I've never been to mardi gras but I imagine it’s not far off this. It’s like one big massive frat party. Oh, and one classic SF touch to the whole affair is the nudity, for some reason you’re allowed run the race naked, so I’d say about one in twenty were sans clothes.

Those crazy Californians!

It feels like everyone I talk to in SF about Bay to Breakers has done it as some point, so I’ll defo do it next year (fully clothed, maybe even fancydress fully clothed, we’ll see).

I’m writing this at the airport en route to Portland Oregon, so let’s see what I‘ll have to say about a city with the tagline “Keep Portland Weird” !

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  1. Thanks for giving us a great summary of the kinds of eateries, bars and the Bay to Breakers race (I was interested to know that it was set up to lift the spirits of residents after the 1906 earthquake)that San Francisco has to offer especially on a lazy Sunday morning!

  2. Loved this piece! Really made sense after just being there. You are to funny speaking about 'dullards'! I shared this term with a work friend and he said there was no better way to describe a girl he just met. HA!

  3. Great piece Sheils! As always laugh out loud funny!


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