“Employees and customers, wash your hands. Don’t be gross.” – Bathroom sign at The Mill
Crossing the street, an Asian lady with short hair, wearing white cotton gloves. Her coat nips at the waist in a ’50s silhouette, and her matching black hat with a small feather dates from the same era.
She nods at a school crossing guard in an outsize reflective yellow vest. The guard is black with a deluge of blonde braids, and a hygienic mask covers her nose and mouth. She beckons an old man as he approaches to cross.
The man is white with a poorly tended gray beard. He is skinny, his leather blazer like a tarp thrown over his skeleton. On his head is a promotional sombrero from a national Mexican restaurant chain. In his hands, a second sombrero. He rushes across the street with purpose — sombrero delivery guy, sombrero delivery in progress.
“Look at this,” says Brad. “America.”
I’ve been reading up on secret societies and came across the Latitude Society, a San Francisco group that apparently became defunct in 2015. Inductees were given an invitation by a friend or acquaintance, with an envelope request for “absolute discretion.”
The card had a code you could use to schedule an appointment online. Then you showed up at the appointed address, and entered a small room with a slide inside the fireplace.
The slide led to a library too small to stand, where inductees first heard this fable, which was reiterated a ritualistic start to group meetings:
Afterward, new members were sent on a sort of scavenger hunt through the city, and given access to invitations, and to online forums where they could arrange to meet with other members.
Magic. Jeff Hull, the society’s creator, is an artist living in Oakland. Costs eventually outstripped revenue and made the project unsustainable, but what a lovely thing while it lasted.
A few articles if you want to know more. Did any of you get to do this?
My Year in San Francisco’s $2 Million Secret Society Startup
I joined a secret society and loved it, but now it’s just another failed startup
Can a Secret Society Become a Business?
As part of my Life List goal of getting to know my city like the back of my hand, I’m collecting 100 of the best things to taste in San Francisco. These are 11-18:
Let’s go somewhere delicious and fun.
1. Pork Shumai at New Asia, $4.50
New Asia is a kitschy Chinatown banquet hall, and their weekend brunch features rolling steam carts with endless, reasonably priced dim sum to ease your hangover. The mostly Chinese patrons are an excellent sign, but the pace can intimidate if you’ve never cart-ordered dim sum before. Research what you’d like to try, and ask the waiters zooming by to send it your way. Otherwise, you can just nod when they show you something appetizing.
2. Happy Hour Oysters at Waterbar, $1.05 each
Fresh oysters and bubbly with a view of the Bay Bridge, this is among the best reasons to live here, 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
3. Dessert Soufflé at Café Jaqueline, $30
Café Jaqueline is a romantic, all-soufflé restaurant tucked off the main strip in North Beach. Call ahead to secure a spot at one of the five or six tables, and settle in for a nice slow dessert or savory soufflé with a bottle of wine. Use the restroom so you can peek at the little kitchen, where you’ll find a bottomless bowl of eggs resting on the counter.
4. Burger at Mission Bowl, $15
Burgers that are simple, juicy, and with some kind of magic sauce — all to the soundtrack of pins toppling.
5. Half a Fresh Cracked Crab at the Swan Oyster Depot, $20
San Franciscans will queue for absolutely nothing but great food, so a line is a sign. You will always find a line at this tiny seafood diner, especially now that it’s crab season. Wait in line. Take a seat on a swivel stool at the counter and enjoy a plate of oysters on ice. Grin at the suckers in line, and order another glass of white wine while you crack into your crab.
6. Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Carlton Lounge, $65
I feel calmer just thinking about this place. If you’re going to take tea, there should always be a harpist at hand.
7. Ribeye at Alfred’s, $32
Alfred’s was founded in 1928, and it still feels like you should be able to smoke a cigar at the table. The steaks are exceptional, and reasonably priced for a San Francisco steak house, but I love it because the cocktails are perfect and the place is so cozy. Especially good for a rainy or foggy night.
8. Nebulous Potato Thing and a Breakfast Milkshake at the St. Francis Soda Fountain, about $10 for both
This soda fountain has been around since 1918, and was run by three generations of the same family until 2000. In 2002, the current owners renovated the 1948 dining room and installed a kitchen, making it my favorite diner in the city. Everything is good, but I like the Nebulous Potato Thing – a mound of potatoes fried with onions and whatnot, smothered in melted cheddar with sour cream on top. Your choice of thick breakfast shake on the side, tin included.
Bosch sponsored this post, but the enthusiasm is mine.
I’d never heard of an e-bike, but they’re bikes with electric motors. Riding one is a lot like riding a regular bicycle, you have to pedal and you still get exercise, but you can set the motor to give you a boost when you’re climbing a hill, or getting tired from riding a long distance, or coming home from eating a lot of pasta.
None of this meant much to me until I was climbing vertical San Francisco hills like Wonder Woman on an adrenal high.
Guys, I have worn some adventure helmets in my day, but this was incredible. I don’t even like to walk up those hills, but biking up made me feel like I should be holding a tiny parasol and waving at passersby.
We biked places I would never take a regular bike — over massive hills in Pacific Heights and out to the Golden Gate bridge, up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower, and right through the nightmarish traffic on Fisherman’s Wharf. We even climbed the massive Potrero Hill to see the city lights. In 15 years living in the city, I’ve never seen as much of it in one day. It was so much fun!
This guy wrote a piece on Medium about why he sold his car for an e-bike, and I was doing the same calculations in my head as we rode around.
Karen, who owns The New Wheel with her husband, loaned us the bike and led the way. She told me that lots of their customers are buying e-bikes to replace cars — new ones run about $3,500 and up.
While we rode around, Bosch asked me to catalogue some of my favorite places in San Francisco that are harder to access by car. So check that out if you’re interested.
And if anyone ever asks you if you want to try an e-bike, do it. And then keep it.
When I travel, I like to make a goal list that includes specific foods I want to taste wherever I land. So I decided to make an extensive treats list for my hometown of San Francisco, in case you’re similarly inclined.
I set up a Pinterest map that has photos of each item with their addresses, right here and will be building on it as we go along. We’re starting with dessert, which is a solid life philosophy. Ten sweets you should taste in San Francisco:
1. Bourbon Banana Cream Pie at Wexlers
I want to dip my finger in this filling and wear it behind my ears as perfume. Do not share a piece. Get your own piece.
2. Butterscotch Pot de Creme at Town Hall
They will serve this in a bathtub so you can immerse yourself in the unctuous expanse of cream, but it’s more expensive.
3. Sweet Revolutions Caramels at Bi-Rite
So soft, they’re like biting into cold, sweet butter. Let one warm in your mouth and try not to pass out.
4. Caramel Robin Eggs at Miette
These are only available around Easter, and I wait all year. The outer candy shell has an aftertaste of fresh lemon, with a layer of dark chocolate surrounding a caramel center. If you want some, you’ll need to get there before me, because I sweep every last bag into my basket and hoard them all year.
5. Passionfruit Milk Chocolate Donut from Dynamo Donuts
You could eenie meenie in front of the case at Dynamo and fare just fine, but the Passionfruit Milk Chocolate? That’s the one.
6. Blackberry Milkshake at Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers
When I was a kid, the family would go camping and I’d spend hours picking blackberries. In the morning, mom would pour cream over them for breakfast. This tastes just like that.
7. Toffee Chip Cookies from Anthony’s Cookies
You can’t go wrong at Anthony’s either, but if you’re only trying one cookie, start here.
8. Millionaire Bacon at Sweet Maple
They soak the bacon in Maple syrup and secret spices, and I can’t talk about it anymore because I’m chewing.
9. Salted Caramel Ice Cream at Bi-Rite Creamery
You’ll see this on every damn list anyone ever makes about Bay Area food, and they’re right.
10. Key Lime Pears from Recchiuti Confections
The pears are thin and crispy like potato chips, flavored with lime essence, and dipped in very high quality chocolate. It’s rare as an adult to come across a new texture or flavor, and these accomplish that. They’re seasonal, but you can order them online, so if you won’t find yourself in San Francisco soon, at least you can play along at home.
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