On Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining the 13 folks who signed up for our Vice Squad Tenderloin Walking Tour. For about two hours, Bold Local and Dwell editor Aaron Britt led us through the Tenderloin, stopping at landmarks (some that still exist, some that no longer do) that make up the historically infamous area of the city. We were promised "booze, sex, lies, and gluttony," and I can tell you, we got what was promised. I was excited to join the tour because although I'm often in the Tenderloin for the gluttony part (Saigon Sandwich, Brenda's French Soul Food, Dottie's True Blue Cafe, et al.), it was my first time at most of the spots to which Aaron took us. And it's always interesting to get the historical context of an area, especially one with such a rich and fascinating history.
Here are a few of my favorite highlights from the tour.
Our first stop on the tour was Bourbon and Branch, where Tony of The Beverage Academy met with us and showed us around the establishment, an actual speakeasy back during Prohibition. We walked through revolving bookcase doors and down a hidden staircase into the catacombs of the bar before we were led into its speakeasy within a speakeasy, “Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency.” Inside The Wilson, Tony, who's a master mixologist, gave us a lesson in making the Manhattan. We all made our own Manhattans and gave a toast to Greg, a walking tour participant (and Gama-Go founder) who was spending the early part of his birthday with us. Thanks Greg! We were honored to have you with us!
We also visited The Magazine, a very cool shop that sells stacks of back issues of popular magazines, as well as loads of pornographic materials and memorabilia.
Staying on the sex theme, we stopped by the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre. We didn't stay for a lap dance but we did visit the small museum within the strip joint. The museum is a room dedicated to Jim and Artie Mitchell, the infamous brothers who started the strip theater, as well as Marilyn Chambers, the star of the Mitchell Brother's porn flick, Behind the Green Door, who was also once a model for Ivory Snow. A fun fact that Aaron told us as we left the theater — Hunter S. Thompson once worked as the night manager at the club.
On a less smutty note, we stopped by the Tenderloin National Forest, a public garden located on Cohen Alley that was created by the Luggage Store Annex next door. The garden is a surprising little Eden of green space and cool art within the otherwise concrete and urban surroundings of the TL. I could definitely see myself hanging out here again!
One of our last stops was at the Marrakech Moroccan Restaurant, another former speakeasy, which not only houses a restaurant, but a magic show theater. Marrakech owner and magician Peter Morrison welcomed us in and gave us a tour of the beautiful underground theater. After showing us around, he had us sit by the stage as he performed a couple of amazing card tricks, giving us a sample of his sleight-of-hand comedy and magic performance. I left Marrakech wondering, "How the hell did he do that?"