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Copyright 2019 by Joyce Huntington.  All Rights Reserved. 
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 wHAT TO SEE 

Tales of the City

This is a lot - but it's not my fault. Armistead Maupin dropped locations like crazy in Tales of the City. It's a great thing, really, because it creates an opportunity to see San Francisco in the context of his story. That's exactly what I did with my first ever Traveling Book Club adventure. However, we didn't see all of this - I visited the rest of the stops on my own. I've laid them out here beginning where the book begins - on Barbary, well actually, Macondray Lane. Then I moved from neighborhood to neighborhood though the city

Macondray Lane

1

Buena Vista Cafe

3

Cost Plus

5

Marina Safeway

7

Golden Gate Bridge

9

Washington Square

11

Caffe Sport

13

Coit Tower 

15

Stanford Court

17

Sam Wo

19

Hamburger Mary's

21

The Stud

23

Sutro Baths

25

Seal Rock Inn

27

The Crooked Street

2

Fisherman's Wharf

4

Aquatic Park

6

Marina Green

8

Perry's

10

Mama's

12

Savoy Tivoli

14

Glide Memorial Church

16

Opera House

18

Midnight Sun

20

Twin Peaks Tavern

22

Cliff House

24

Beach Chalet

26

Legion of Honor

28

Russian Hill

Fisherman’s Wharf

Buena Vista Cafe

Fisherman's Wharf

Cost Plus

Aquatic Park

Marina

Safeway

Marina Green

PRESIDIO

cOW hOLLOW

tripping by

neighborhood

North Beach

Washington Square

Mama's

Cafe Sport

Savoy Tivoli

TELEGRAPH

hILL

tenderloin

Nob Hill

barbary lane

Macondry lane district 

san Francisco, CA  94133

 

“The house was on Barbary Lane, a narrow, wooded walkway off Leavenworth between Union and Filbert. It was a well weathered, three story structure made of brown shingles.  It made Mary Ann think of an old bear with bits of foliage caught in its fur.  She liked it instantly.”  Page 13

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

In Tales of the City, Mary Ann Singleton moved right into a house on Barbary Lane. And it was there she met many of the new friends who introduced her to her new life in San Francisco.  The landlady - Ms. Madrigal - had a unique way of welcoming her new tenants.  She left them a rolled joint on their beds.

In Real Life:

If you follow Armistead Maupin's directions - to a wooded walkway off Leavenworth between Union and Filbert - what you see is Macondray Lane, not Barbary Lane.  Maupin, however,  admits he had Macondray Lane in mind when he wrote Barbary Lane into his story. I did a deep dive or tried to, to find out about it. There's a smattering of information here and there. I learned only one house on the street - number 15-17, survived the 1906 earthquake. And it was called Taylor Lane until 1912 when the lane was renamed to honor a sea captain, Frederick W. Macondray. He's credited for bringing Zinfandel to San Francisco. It doesn't look like he ever lived on the lane. The lane then became home to artists and newspapermen. But I doubt that's who lives there now - as the homes, condos, and apartments seem to be too high priced to be an artist enclave.

When I Got There

Armistead Maupin says people who live on Macondray Lane tell him they often see tourists with the book in hand looking for number 28. I was dying to be one of them. So I hatched this plan to create a traveling book club and I rented a van to take twelve takers to see the spot. We walked down from Green street - one of those practically vertical streets in San Francisco and paused at the wooden arch that announces Macondray lane. We dove in - and walked the path past the now completely fancy gazillion-dollar homes perched on the hillside. It’s a shaded oasis. We searched for number 28 and determined didn’t exist. We found a Buddha and a koi pond. I sat on a little brick wall - and I had to really focus - but I thought I heard the rustle of Ms. Madrigal's skirt along that beautiful walkway.

 

tHE cROOKED STREET

lOMBARD STREET

san Francisco, California

“Michael’s parents had rented a Dodge Aspen upon their arrival in the city, so it was easy enough to fill up their time with Muir Woods and Sausalito, The Crooked Street and Fisherman’s Wharf.”

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:  

In Tales of the City, Michael Tolliver takes his parents down the Crooked Street in a rented Dodge Aspen.

In Real Life:

The "Crooked Street" developed over time. It was just a super steep street when it all started - and then in 1922 one of the people who lived there suggested building switchbacks so cars could navigate it. Little did he know his solution - years later - would draw the curious from all around the globe and earn the street the moniker "The Crookedest Street in the World."

 

When I Got There:

Armistead Maupin plopped the crooked street into tales of the city by having Michael Tolliver run his parents down the street on their visit to San Francisco. So I did the same thing - I inserted it into my tour. However - we were not in an Aspen. We were in a 15 passenger van. And when you are looking down the crooked street from that height with a driver you are not exactly sure of - well it’s harrowing. We made it down in one piece and everyone felt good when I told them our next stop would be Irish Coffee’s all-around at the Buena Vista.

Buena 

vista

cafe

2765 Hyde St  

San Francisco, California  94109  

 

 
 

“On the fifth night, she drank three Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, realized that her Mood Ring was blue and decided to phone her mother in Cleveland.”  

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

In Tales of the City, Mary Ann Singleton is already at The Buena Vista by the second paragraph. So, I didn't waste any time getting there either.

 

In Real Life:

It sits in a truly electric spot in San Francisco. The cable car stop for Fisherman’s Wharf is across the street, the bay is below it and all of that is right outside the window. But that’s not even the best part of the Buena Vista.  The Irish Coffee is perfect every single time.  It was the brainchild of a few men. In 1952 - a San Francisco Chronicle columnist and travel writer - Stanton Delaplane and the owners of the Buena Vista - Jack Koeppler and George Freeberg set out to copy the Irish Coffee served at the Shannon Airport in Ireland. They managed everything but the cream and for that, they brought in the mayor of San Francisco at the time - George Christopher - who owned a dairy. He helped them figure out how to get the cream to float on top of the whiskey and coffee.

 

When I Got There:

Sometimes when I track literally locations - by the time I get to a place - things have changed. That’s not true with the Buena Vista. I arrived there with the twelve members of the traveling book club. Our driver pulled up to the front door. We all filed in and cozied up to the bar. And there - the bartenders did the thing they’ve been doing every day since the alleged invention of the Irish coffee right on that spot. They line up the glasses - warm them with hot water, plop in the sugar, pour the coffee on top, stir, pour in the booze and top it with the cream. We looked around for the phone booth where Mary Ann made the call to her Mom - weirdly it’s still there too. Now we just needed Mary Ann.

Fisherman's wharf 

san Francisco, California

“Michael’s parents had rented a Dodge Aspen upon their arrival in the city, so it was easy enough to fill up their time with Muir Woods and Sausalito, The Crooked Street and Fisherman’s Wharf.”

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:  

Fisherman's Wharf has double billing in Tales of the City , Mary Ann Singleton stays at the Fisherman's Wharf Holiday Inn when she first moves to San Francisco. And Michael Toliver takes his parents around Fisherman's Wharf.

In Real Life:

This is the San Francisco of the postcards - the home base of the city’s fishing fleet - Fisherman's Wharf.  When Armistead Maupin was writing Tales of the City,  in the 1970's, the waterfront was more fisherman - less tourist - but it was transitioning to what it is today - a tourist mecca. Nowadays the fisherman share the space with museums, restaurants and some outdoor food stands where you can buy fabulous clam chowder in sourdough bowls.

 

When I Got There:

I'd been to the wharf - in fact haven't we all? However, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to add Fisherman's Wharf to my book club tour. For so many people, Fisherman's Wharf is San Francisco. I swung our book club van through a couple of streets of Fisherman's Wharf and everyone was generally pleased to see where Mary Ann Singleton landed when she first arrived in San Francisco and the place where Michael took his parents when they came to visit.

COST PLUS

2552 Taylor Street,  San Francisco, California 94133

 

“’ What would you say about … let’s see … four yogurt cartons, a Cost Plus bag, some avocado peels and assorted cellophane wrapping.’

The woman pressed her fingers to her forehead like a psychic. “Ah, yes… the subject takes care of herself … nutritionally, that is.  She is probably on a diet and is furnishing a new apartment.

‘Uncanny, ‘Mary Ann smiled.”

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

In Tales of the City, Mary Ann Singleton and her friends shopped at Cost Plus.

 

In Real Life:

You wouldn’t know it by looking at it but Mary Ann’s Cost Plus on Taylor Street was the very first Cost Plus store ever. The store was the brainchild of William Amathor. He opened it on Fisherman’s Wharf in 1958 to sell treasures he found in other countries and shipped back to San Francisco. He called the store "Cost Plus 10 Percent." It meant he only tacked ten percent on what he paid. Now there are 300 Cost Plus stores in the country.

 

When I Got There:

I put the Cost Plus on my Traveling Book Club tour but decided no one needed to go inside. We drove by it - and I could barely get anyone’s attention - what with the Irish Coffee we had at the Buena Vista doing its trick and the conversation reaching a fever pitch. However - later, I did go into the store alone to take pictures. I noticed large mural-sized historic photos on the walls that take you right back to the early days. And the employees seem genuinely proud of the place the store holds in Cost Plus lore.

AQUATIC PARK

2998 Hyde Street

San Francisco, CALIFORNIA

 

“After watching Young Frankenstein at the Ghirardelli Cinema, Michael and Jon walked onto the pier at Aquatic Park.”

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

In Tales of the City, Michael Tolliver and Jon Beauchamp saw Young Frankenstein at Ghirardelli Cinema. The cinema no longer exists but you can still stroll on the pier at Aquatic Park.

 

In Real Life:

Aquatic Park - and its pier are here because of the work of the architects and engineers of the Works Project Administration or WPA. President Franklin Roosevelt started it to employ Americans during the Great Depression. And so in 1936, San Franciscans gathered on a new sliver of beach to get a look at new lagoon, and bathhouse. Then, in the 1940s workers built a fantastic crescent-shaped pier on top of the seawall that surrounds the lagoon. There's a little concrete building on the end of the pier - it's a bathroom but -weirdly -  it was never finished.  

When I Got There:

I walked out to the end of the pier because I wanted to be like Michael Tolliver and Jon Beauchamp. When I got to the end I marveled at the incredible view of the city and of San Francisco Bay - and even a nice view of the Streamlined Modern style of the buildings of Aquatic Park.   

 

MARINA SAFEWAY

15 Marina Blvd  

San Francisco, CALIFORNIA 94123

“’The hottest spot in town. Social Safeway.’

‘Social what?’

‘Safeway dink.  As in supermarket?’

‘That’s what I thought you said.  You sure now how to show a girl a good time.’

‘For your information, dink, Social Safeway just happens to be... well, it’s just the... big thing, that’s all.’

‘For those who get off on groceries.’

‘For those who get off on men hon.  It’s a local tradition.  Every Wednesday night.  And you don’t’ even have to look like you’re on the make.’”

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

It's crazy. In Tales of the City, Mary Ann Singleton's friend Connie Bradshaw dragged her to what she called Social Safeway. It's also called "Dateway." And its the place in San Francisco where grocery shopping comes with a little more - the opportunity to hook up with a date. In Tales of the City, Wednesday night was the night that offered the most opportunity for that experience.

 

In Real Life:

I looked it up. I found the Marina Safeway is a flagship of sorts in the Safeway Company. It built the store in 1959 in a certain architectural style - and it became known as the Marina Style. That meant it had a half-barrel shape and large front windows which would allow for a great vista of the marina while customers were in the checkout line. Then there's the pickup opportunity. It certainly wasn't something Safeway sponsored - but I can see how it happened. San Francisco attracts people from all over the world who have big dreams about their lives. Many of them end up living in the Marina and Cow Hollow - and they hit the Safeway for groceries - a big gathering place. And when singles mingle - I mean - what else is going to happen.

When I Got There:

When I moved to San Francisco - I had three kids in tow and so I don't think I would have ever been a target at the Dateway - but I did shop there because I lived down the street for an entire school year until we moved to Oakland. Then when I invited my Traveling Book Club to San Francisco - I added the Safeway to my tour list. On our Saturday afternoon tour, we pulled into the Safeway parking lot. I read the quote above to the girls. And then we got out and fanned the Safeway. Nothing. No one got picked up. No one noticed anyone getting picked up. We chalked it up to it not being Wednesday night.

 

MARINA

GREEN

Marina Green Dr

San Francisco, 

CALIFONIA 94123

“The morning was bright and blustery.  Michael tossed a pebble into the bay and flung an arm across Mona’s shoulder.  ‘I love the Marina Green,’ he said.

Mona grimaced and stopped in her tracks, scrapping and ancient Earth Shoe against the curb.  ‘

‘Not to mention the Marina Brown.’

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

In Tales of the City - Michael Tolliver and Mona Ramsey share some moments on Marina Green.

 

In Real Life:

As the name suggests - it's a big square patch of green grass - seventy four acres to be exact. It's the front lawn of San Francisco and a window to the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond. Marina Green had many lives. Apparently, it was a marsh until just after the 1906 earthquake - when it became a dumping spot for all of the rubble. Later, it was filled in to make room for the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. After that - it served as an airstrip for a short time until it finally became what it is today - a fabulous place to walk around or across or fly a kite over or play ball.

When I Got There:

I "love" Marina Green just like Michael Tolliver. In my year of living in San Francisco, I jogged around the green and watched my son play soccer and each time I marveled that people who live in that neighborhood get to do mundane things like jog and watch soccer with an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay  just sitting out there like that. And so I put Marina Green on my Traveling Book Club tour not only to show my Los Angeles friends the Marina Green that Michael Tolliver loved in Tales of the City but to show them that this is how San Francisco parents watch soccer. They marveled too and we moved on.

GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

 

“Bundled against the wind, Mary Ann and Michael set out across the bridge on New Year’s day.”

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

You can’t write a book about San Francisco and leave out the bridge. Armistead Maupin knew that - obviously. In Tales of the City, he sent Mary Ann Singleton and Michael Tolliver over the bridge on a walk on New Year's Day. 

 

In Real Life:

It's hard to imagine it - but there was a time when there was no Golden Gate Bridge. And it wasn't that long ago. as iWhen you're walking - imagine what it was like before 1937 - when there was no bridge connecting San Francisco to Marin County. 

 

When I Got There:

Now - walking across the Golden Gate Bridge is such a good idea it's ridiculous. It's windy and and wonderful but I decided to edit that off my Traveling Book Club tour because it would take too long. However - I've done the Mary Ann and Michael walk a few times. I would be a great omission to come to San Francisco and not do it. Don't even. 

PERRY'S

1944 Union Street

  San Francisco, California 94123

 

"The noontime crowd at Perry's was thicker than usual… Beauchamp flushed and ordered the first thing he saw on the menu.  “Yeah.  The Shephard’s pie.”

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

In Tales of the City, Beauchamp Day and Jon Fielding stole away to Perry's to talk about their secret love triangle.

In Real Life:

A young advertising executive, Perry Butler, fresh from New York City, opened it in 1969 - hoping to mimic the feel of an Upper East Side saloon. It seems like it was a solid plan - it's still going and a couple of other Perry's have opened up as well.

When I Got There:

The funny thing is - Perry's was not a hide-away place then and it still isn’t. Perry's is a place to be seen, so, I found myself wondering why Armistead Maupin put them there. He did, at least, place them in the back courtyard. They both ordered Shepherd’s Pie which, sadly, is not on the menu today - so I got the Perry's Chopped Salad which made me very happy. They also each ordered a Bull Shot which is a concoction of vodka and beef bouillon - which I just wasn't going to do. And - don't be fooled - stick with the Perry’s on Union- it's the original.

WASHINGTON SQUARE

Union and Columbus

 San Francisco, CALIFORNIA

 

“Afterward in Washington Square, the grownups talked while Alexandra chased Pigeons in the sunshine.”

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

In Tales of the City, Edgar Halcyon walked toward Washington Square with a lot on his mind. He needed a place to think and he found it on a bench in the park in the square. It's also the spot where he met Ana Madrigal, a key player in the novel. Later in the book, a couple of other characters, Mary Ann Singleton and Norman Neal Williams, strolled the square after breakfast.

 

In Real Life:

It's no wonder Armistead Maupin wrote Washington Square into Tales of the City. It's the center of North Beach - a very popular spot in San Francisco. Since the land for the square was set aside in 1847 - Washington Square Park has been a place where millions of little things happen - a quiet rest on a bench, on the grass or a wander with a dog. But it's also a place where big things take place, like the start of the Columbus Day Parades, Italian Festivals and Fourth of July Celebrations. And on the morning of the 1906 Washington Park played one of its biggest roles - it suddenly became home to six hundred people who lost theirs in the big earthquake and the fire that followed.

When I Got There:

I'm always up for a stroll through Washington Square, like the one that delivered Edgar to the bench where he met Ana. I cruised around the park on a weekend morning and tried to figure out which bench it might have been. And I strolled around thinking about Mary Ann and Norman - walking off their Mama's breakfast. I noticed how  Saint Peter and Paul Church watches over everything in the square. And I spotted modern-day characters whose lives might shift just a little by what happens to them in the square.

 

MAMA'S

1701 Stockton Street

San Francisco, California

“The line at Mama’s snaked out of the building and up Stockton Street.  Mary Ann was considering alternative brunch spots when a familiar figure in the crowd signaled her sheepishly.

‘Oh… hi, Norman.’

‘Hello.  I’ve been saving your spot.’ He winked at her rather obviously, fooling no one around him.  Mary Ann slipped into the line behind him."

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

 

In Real Life:

Mama’s opened over 50 years ago - the dream of Francis and Michael Sanchez - Francis being Mama. But she's gone - she died in 2000, but one of her sons still runs the restaurant and it still has a fanatical following as well as a constant tourist crowd - thus the line.

When I Got There:

​It’s crazy, I know, the line went around the block at Mama’s back in the 1970's when Armistead Maupin wrote Tales of the City - and it still does. Now - you won't see Norman Neal Williams in line to bail you out - but everyone is friendly and it moves pretty fast - so it's fine - at least that's what I tell my line phobic husband. So, I try to get there either very early or on the later side to miss the jam up. You can enjoy the same omelet Mary Ann Singleton enjoyed, but I liked the pancakes too.

 

CAFfE SPORT

574 Green Street

San Francisco, California  94133

“The sight of Caffe Sport gave Mona an instant shiver of nostalgia. Mrs. Madrigal had planned it that way. “God,” said Mona grinning at the restaurant’s Neapolitan bric-a-brac. I’d almost forgotten what a trip this place is! They took a table next to a dusty “Roman ruin” bas-relief which a loving, but practical, artist had protected with chicken wine.”

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

In Tales of the City, Mona Ramsey and Mrs. Madrigal celebrated their third year as renter and landlord at Caffe Sport in San Francisco's North Beach. The two posted up at a table next to a dusty "Roman ruin" bas-relief.

 

In Real Life:

From what I can gather the restaurant is packed with weird pieces of art that are the work of the owner Antonio Latona, a restaurateur and, it appears, an artist. He ran the restaurant for 34 years. When he passed, his son, Tony Latona, took it over.

 

When I Got There:

I - of course - yearned to take the table next to the "Roman Ruin,' protected by chicken wire. I rustled my son and husband into going and we did not find the ruin in the restaurant - I challenge you to try and find it. We did have a lovely dinner though. If it weren't a Sunday night I would have ordered a bottle of Verdicchio - that's what Mrs. Madrigal and Mona ordered - and raised my glass to them for getting me to enjoy a quirky San Francisco restaurant I may never have even noticed.

savoy tivoli

1434 Grant Street

San Francisco, California 94133

 

“The landlady nodded.  ‘Don’t’ you remember how we met? At the Savoy-Tivoli. Three years ago this week.’

Mona shrugged.  ‘I still don’t get it.’

‘It’s wasn’t an accident Mona’

‘What?’

‘I engineered it.  Rather magnificently, I think.’  She smiled, swirling the wine in her glass.”

-- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

In The Story:

In Tales of the City, Ms. Madrigil admits to Mona Ramsey their relationship as renter and landlord was not an accident. She says she engineered the entire thing at the Savoy Tivoli.

 

In Real Life:

 

I looked up the Savoy Tivoli and found the bar believes its THE most popular bar in North Beach. I don't know about that but I do know its been around for quite a while. It opened in 1907, the year after the San Francisco earthquake, as a boarding house and restaurant. Then it turned into a hotspot for the beats - during the 50's. It was the original home to Beach Blanket Babylon but then it got its own home. The Savoy Tivoli has seen San Francisco through all of its stages from hippies to punks to the techies who now comb north beach along with the tourists.

When I Got There:

I stopped in for a moment - didn't order a drink - but I checked out the music scene and it was happening. If I had had more time I would have liked to stay - if only to see if I could spot a Ms. Madrigil type character engineering a meeting.

COIT TOWER

1 Telegraph Hill Blvd

San Francisco, CALIFORNIA 94133

415-362-0808