Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City inspired a generation of bohemians to pick up, leave their hometowns and head west to San Francisco in the spirit of the novel’s protagonist Mary Anne Singleton. Over 50 years later, the residents of Barbary Lane will make a triumphant return to the screen in Netflix’s new Tales of the City, which premieres June 7th. San Francisco today is a veritable gold rush of technology, culture and cutting edge gastronomic innovation. From the posh peaks of Russian Hill to base of The Castro, the city’s social and geographical topography offers a unique survey into the soul of a diverse American city.
When making an escape to the Golden City, one must traverse the heavens in luxury. JetSuiteX offers direct semi-private flights from LA’s Burbank Airport to San Francisco’s Oakland Airport that are divinely chic and convenient. Arriving at JetSuiteX’s private terminal to board your flight is as easy as arriving at your favorite restaurant for lunch. Nothing says rock star more than being able to roll in 20 minutes before take off. After breezing through check in in less time than it takes to say Balenciaga, we joined our fellow designer-clad jet setters sipping complimentary Starbucks and nibbling on organic snacks beneath the 50-foot ceilings of the stunning private hangar. After a quick game of foosball, we ascended the stairway to the private jet like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. We were greeted by their charming flight crew and served custom made cocktails, touching down in San Francisco before our ice had melted.
Located in the heart of San Francisco’s historic Union Square, The Hotel G offers unparalleled access to the city’s timeless blend of luxury destinations and bohemian watering holes. Housed in a gorgeous 1909 building, this hotel’s Art Deco facade is now a beacon to savvy international travelers and the city’s diverse creative constituents. This worldly mélange of patrons was clearly in mind when Hun Aw designed the interior of the hotel. She seamlessly blended old world charm and California modernism by revealing the buildings history through artfully stripping away years of previous renovations. It is only when we arrived to the Grand Penthouse did the true prowess of this unique designer achieved a manifestation of a visual epiphany.
We collectively experienced rapture as we entered the suite’s living room flanked with Dalmatia Marble, distressed concrete walls, floor to ceiling book shelves stocked with an impressive design library and a full service wet bar with an eclectic collection of vintage glasses. The gorgeous gallery-like living area was softened by velvet sofas and further enhanced by French doors which lead to an awe inspiring terrace as large as the penthouse itself. With 360-degree sprawling views of the city, it is easy to imagine never leaving the glorious suite for the weekend. After lighting the fireplace in the bedroom and freshening up in our gorgeous bathroom we felt ready to take on the all the city had to offer us in our 48-hour sojourn ahead!
That evening we treated our selves to dinner at Ayala, the acclaimed restaurant located in the hotel. Under the direction of chef-partner Bill Montagne (formerly of NYC’s Le Bernardin) and executive chef Melisa Perfit, Ayala features a playful yet sophisticated menu and environment that fuses the best of Mediterranean cuisine with the freshest West Coast seafood. Sipping champagne and eating oysters in a secluded nook of the dining room we truly felt the culinary magic of the team at work. Not to be missed are the cured fish boards and the delightful nori spaghettini. Following dinner we headed up to the Benjamin Cooper, the tucked-away speakeasy on the mezzanine level of the hotel. Surrounded by San Francisco’s new creative class we enjoyed inventive craft cocktails served up by city’s most skillful mixologists Brian Felley and Mo Hodges.
Perched atop of a 100-foot column in the center of Union Square stands the goddess Nike, also known as the Dewey Monument. The Greek goddess of victory proudly watches over this upscale neighborhood of luxury shopping, fine dining, and theaters. Imagine a smash up of Madison Avenue and Times Square and behold this incredible cosmopolitan destination whose residents includes Neiman Marcus, Saks, Barney’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Nordstrom all with in a stones throw of each other. In addition to being the headquarters of all of these incredible department stores, Union Square’s flagships include Chanel, Prada, Burberry, Goyard, Dior, and Cartier.
To experience a taste of old school Union Square don’t miss John’s Grill, the fabled home of literary detective Sam Spade of the Maltese Falcon. Founded in 1908, this historic three-story townhouse lives at the end of the cable car line on Hallidie Plaza. The restaurant offers a plentiful array of classic Americana cuisine including chops, steaks, and seafood. Sipping martinis under the glare of the vintage neon sign while listening to live jazz in the oak paneled dining room will awaken anyone’s inner Humphrey Bogart.
North Beach & Chinatown
Much like in Manhattan, North Beach (San Francisco’s Little Italy) and Chinatown are inextricably and geographically linked. Best known as the birthplace of the Beat Movement, that generation’s most celebrated writers, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, resided in the neighborhood’s gorgeously gritty streets. The iconic City Lights Bookstore founded by Beat comrade Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still in business today as well as some of the writer’s most iconic watering holes, including Vesuvio founded in 1948 by Henri Lenoir. This monument to bohemia is plastered with Beat memorabilia and is open everyday of the year from 8am to 2am. Also not to be missed is Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum. Tucked into an alley next door, this nautically themed cabinet of curiosities bar is filled with letters, taxidermy and anthropological ephemera whose authenticity will rouse a snap and howl even from the most unsuspecting Beat neophyte.
For those desiring a culinary experience less rough around the edges go no further than Tosca. This North Beach culinary institution now under the watchful whisk of April Bloomfield (of NYC’s Spotted Pig) has been serving up legendary Irish coffee in the same vintage Victorio Arduino espresso machine since 1919. Don’t leave town without trying the roasted chicken, gemeli cacio e pepe, and last but not least the meatballs! For a sexy nightcap, wander down Kerney Street to Francis Ford Coppola’s Cafe Zoetrope. This Roman trattoria features wine served in flights of three glasses from his family vineyards accompanied by brick oven pizza prepared to the standards of FFC’s first pizza experience at Luigino’s in 1947 (the first pizzeria in NYC).
Just a hop, skip and a dumpling away is San Francisco’s most prized cultural treasure. Step beyond the iconic Dragon’s Gate to enter not only the largest Chinatown in America, but the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. This city within a city is a tantalizing labyrinth of temples, tea parlors, galleries and cocktail lounges. Wandering down the streets is a visual feast, but if you have a hankering for a palatable feast the dim sum at Great Eastern Restaurant will satisfy all your wanton desires (couldn’t resist that pun!). From 10am to 3pm daily, do brunch the Chinese way with an endless array of dumplings, steamed buns, seafood specialties and roasted duck. The smartly uniformed waiters, white tablecloth-clad banquettes, and the restaurant’s carnet of glamorous guests, including President Obama, seals this institution’s legacy amongst the greats of the city.
From Union Square we hopped the M streetcar headed down Market Street four stops to The Castro. This charming tour of the city on board vintage public transport is not only efficient, but truly allows one to grasp the glory of the Victorian architecture that punctuates this port town like vibrant jewelry. The painted ladies of the Castro greeted us with all the fanfare and color one could hope for as we entered the gay Promised Land. We exited the street car at the last stop which conveniently deposited us directly in front of Orphan Andy’s, the Castro’s enduring diner that has been slinging out burgers and malts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for over 40 years. Local characters and adventurous tourists sit side by side on the classic red vinyl booths and curate their very own selection of music on jukeboxes whose soundtrack underscores the frenetic chatter of the room. Strolling down Castro Street, we passed the iconic movie house where the Cockettes, the avant-garde psychedelic hippie theatre group performed in 1969.
We wondered, in search of our own Tales of the City, meandering in out of a cornucopia of bars, bookshops, and antiques stores filled with gay memorabilia. Most notable was Brand X, whose exquisite collection of paintings, photographs and local artifacts illustrated the struggles and triumphs of our gay forefathers and mothers. A visit to the Castro is not complete without perusing through the aisles of Cliff’s Variety. In the American five and dime tradition, Cliff’s managed to pack just about everything you always needed, wanted or never thought of within its beloved four walls. Whether it’s a costume for a ball, candles for your dinner party or craft supplies for a DIY project, this all in one institution has been servicing the neighborhood since 1936.
Haight-Ashbury was one of the few neighborhoods in San Francisco that was spared from the earthquake of 1906; however it was the epicenter of the 1967 youth quake, whose tremors still ripple across America and the world. The social experiment known as the Hippie Movement headquartered itself in this Victorian playground whose buildings are as colorful as the individuals whom populated them. Although the summer of love is far-gone, the sprit of the Haight lives on, and the community still stands for the counter-culture values it was once founded on. The indelible aesthetics of ’60s and ’70s have served as inspiration for us fashion folk for decades and there is no better place to experience these optics than in the eye of the storm.
The vintage shopping along the Haight truly allows one to transcend time. Relic Vintage has a rarified collection of impeccably intact dresses, suits, and haberdashery. Although the collection spans from the 1920s to the ’80s, it’s strong suit is the ’40s and ’50s. But to truly transport one self to the 1940s go no further the The Zam Zam cocktail lounge. Sip on the nectar of the Gods, in this dimly lit Persian pleasure garden, also known as the holy shrine of the dry martini. Janis Joplin, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane all blessed this sacred site on the stations of the Haight whose hand painted murals, Moorish arches, and semi-circle bar make this institution a fixture for generations past and present.