Finding Civilization in the Financial District
Like a lot of people, I consider my neighborhood – the Mission – to be the one I actually live in. Yet when I actually tabulate my waking hours, and where precisely they're spent, I realize that I spend an awful lot of my life where I work. And like many San Franciscans, that's the Financial District.
Granted, at times the FiDi can seem like three dozen blocks of beaux arts towers peppered with mediocre cafes, fratty bars and the attendant ATMs that keep that tawdry pair humming. You might argue that there's really no such thing as a native Financial Districter, that the whole joint shuts down after 6:30, and that any chap with any sense would head to North Beach or Chinatown for anything resembling action. And you might be right. But in the interest of being the best local I can be, and in concession to the copious hours I spend inhabiting those canyons of steel, I set out to find life in the Financial District.
So here's a guide to upgrading your workweek, because the time you spend between Market and Broadway should, at bottom, be yours.
Start the week with a little self-respect: Get a shoeshine. I've gotten a handful of shines in the Financial District, and the best by far is at A Shine and Co. in the Bank of America Building. Staffed by a group of friendly bootblacks, A Shine and Co. is as old school as it gets, servicing ladies and germs alike. Sit up high on the raised chairs, leaf through the paper, watch the busy people pass. Though they offer three different shines, get the Bulletproof. Tip like you mean it.
Come 3:15 do what you always do, but instead of cruising on autopilot to the nearest Peet's, wander a couple blocks further to afield to the Jackson Place Café for the best coffee in the neighborhood. Giovanni brews Blue Bottle coffee and makes the best cappuccinos in the city. Ask him about his most recent trip to Italy (he should be back by now), where he gets his bresaola, and about his acrobats troupe. He's nice as hell and his little stand in the Jackson Square courtyard is one of the neighborhood's hidden gems.
You've just been made an associate at the firm, and you feel a splurge coming on. Grab the boys and head to Exchange Barber Shop on Pine for a hot shave from Victor. It will set you back 30 bones, but as a North Beach barber said to me when I asked if he'd give me a shave, "Don't pay for a shave from a guy who only gives one a week." By the time I went in last week around 2:00, Victor had already given four that day. He only works Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, though, which means that the best 20 minutes of your week will come on the front end.
Now grab the women as well and have lunch at the Tadich Grill on California St. Founded in 1849, this steak and seafood restaurant is an institution, and should be treated as such. Whether you're seduced by the wooden booths, waiters in white jackets or the prospect of a half dozen oysters Rockefeller before heading back to the office, this spot demands a two-hour lunch. And a pair of martinis. The Tadich's filet mignon is top drawer – this is an atypical spot where medium rare actually means medium rare-though the sea bass is a close second. Did I mention the martinis?
The occasional spat with the wife can set things off on the wrong foot, and though flowers would do the trick with mine, chocolates are better. And not those of the Russell Stover variety. Just my luck that the best chocolates in the city are sold at what also happens to be the best newsstand: Fog City News on Market St.
Not only does their selection of hand-selected sweets rival anything you'll find in town, they've even got a couple you won't find anywhere else. Scott's Valley, California, chocolatiers Chocolate Visions didn't even make bars until Fog City asked them to. Their Heart's Delight bar with apricots and smoked almonds should smooth things over with any smoldering spouse. And if that won't do it, toss in a package of the incredible Fran's Gray Salt Caramels. The clerk told me they're Barack Obama's favorites. I told my wife that, too. And so as not to leave without a little something for myself, I made a point of picking up the British edition of Esquire. The design, wit and sartorial sense are several ticks higher than its American counterpart. The levels of writing, sophistication and tasteful nudity are similarly elevated.
By now the week is dragging a bit, and trudging from the Montgomery station to the office is feeling rather like a chore. Leave a little early, though, because you're taking the Sansome exit and spending ten minutes walking around what, in my view, is the Financial District's best building: One Bush Street .
Initially erected as the Crown Zellerbach Headquarters in 1959, One Bush Street was designed by America's most prolific engine of corporate modernism, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. The building's glass curtain wall was the first in the city, and the lobby alone will make you wish that you worked there. The steel and glass tower, sweeping plaza and adjacent pavilion take up the whole block are an essay in the power of mid-century modernism, and the sense of efficiency and progress the style sought to evoke. You may not feel that way about corporate America now, you shouldn't, but take ten minutes and marvel at what we people can make when technology, aesthetics and optimism collide. Skip the coffee and the Danish this morning. This is all the nourishment you'll need.
Eventually you will get hungry though, and the dinner party you're attending after work tonight should satisfy it. Don't go empty-handed however, and don't necessarily think that wine is fine. Go a touch bigger. Rye maybe. Or perhaps a digestif. Whatever your fancy, Cask down on Third St. just half a block south of Market is the only liquor store you need. If your little exercise in architectural appreciation this morning meant anything you'll pick up a bottle of Hudson Baby Bourbon Whisky for the clean lines of the well-designed label alone. Naturally drinking the stuff has its pleasures too.
For Friday night you've got plans for dinner on the town, but at the moment you've got olive oil on your tie from your Basque lunch at Bocadillos. The nattiest men's shop in town, Cable Car Clothiers, is thankfully just at Bush and Sansome. Lose the tie and pick up a new pocket square, or maybe replace the stained cravat with something new. The highly traditional English duds Maurice, Charlie and Kenny peddle are not for the faint of heart, but if you're the sort who ties his own bow ties, favors no tweed but Harris and knows his Borsalino from its imitators, this shop cannot be missed.
Now that you're looking sharp, you've still got some serious time to kill between when work lets out at 6:00 and a late dinner with the gang at 9:00. Skip the local bar scene, and instead take in a movie at the Mechanic's Institute Library's Friday Film Series. Sure, the crowd tends toward the gray-haired set, but with the Castro the only decent repertory movie house in town, you have to pick up the slack somewhere. The flicks are $10 each and screened in a room whose pebbled glass doors and wooden wainscoting are pure Old San Francisco. Better yet, become a member at the Mechanic's. This private library is the only one in town, the reading rooms are straight out of the past, the chess club attracts grandmasters, children and the seemingly-deranged alike, and the collection is as good as any branch of the public outfit down at Civic Center.
Now then, off to dinner. And hey, have a nice weekend. Try not to think about work too much. And don't worry; you'll be back in your neighborhood Monday morning.