Bay City Holiday

I know San Francisco is supposed to be perennially shrouded in fog–and we do get quite a bit of the atmospheric pea soup variety–but sometimes it’s just plain mild and sunny, even in December. Those are the days when you remember you’re in California. 🙂

During the holidays, there’s an ice rink in Union Square, smack dab in the middle of the downtown shopping district … right next to lit palm trees. And cable cars and the vintage streetcars that travel down Market are decked out in wreathes and garland … and the rotating star at the top of the Sir Francis Drake is just a little extra bright.

I had occasion to go downtown on Saturday–a visit to Melissa at Secret Agent Salon, the most fabulous stylist and team in the Bay Area–and thought I’d share some photos of what San Francisco is like during the holiday season.

Chinatown, as you can see, was thronged with shoppers, bargain-hunting in the small stores that line Grant and California. Gold garlands added a festive touch to the always festive lantern street lights, while banners and lanterns make every day a holiday when you shop in Chinatown.

Still … atmosphere reins. The Li Po bar, like most of its brethren, opens early and closes late. And Sam Wo–one of my favorite places to eat, with its no-frills set-up, huge and delicious portions, cheap prices and dumbwaiter to deliver the food upstairs–is always quintessential Chinatown, as downscale as the Empress of China is upscale. (BTW, the Empress had a delicious drink of the same name, with Midori liqueur. Tell ’em I sent you. 😉 ).

Not too many blocks away is Union Square, Christmas Tree and the Menorah keeping company with the Dewey Monument (the column), and the famous heart painted by Tony Bennett for our Hearts of San Francisco city-wide fund-raising exhibit a few years ago.

I was in Union Square for the ceremony when this particular heart was dedicated … and had a chance to both hear Mr. Bennett croon a few notes of you-know-what song, and actually got to thank him for the years of artistry and enjoyment he’s given me and millions of other fans around the globe. Tony may have been born in New York, but he’s a San Franciscan, through and through. 🙂

Later in the evening–the sun sets early this time of year, particularly in the downtown canyons–I had a chance to eat at John’s Grill, another favorite restaurant, and celebrated home of The Maltese Falcon. I indulged in a Bloody Brigid–their signature drink, named after Hammett’s femme fatale, of course–and a Jack LaLanne Salad. I grew up with “The Godfather of Fitness”, and he’s still in good shape–and recently celebrated his 95th birthday at John’s.

John’s–which is next to one of my favorite buildings in the city, the stately Flood Building, where Hammett worked as a Pinkerton (I worked in it during one summer, decidedly not as a Pinkerton)–has a cameo in CITY OF DRAGONS. A more prominent role in the book is played by the Pickwick Hotel, which dominates the corner of Mission and 5th, directly across the street from the Old Mint.

The Pickwick is mentioned in The Maltese Falcon, and my own history with it goes back to a fondly-remembered 8th grade trip. 🙂

Market Street is busy this time of year … it boasts lighted snow flakes on every corner, and street musicians share the street with the homeless.

San Francisco’s not a perfect city, and it can be a mean and dangerous place … even more so than in 1940. But there is something about the place we call The City that is timeless, that transcends its politics, its Mayors, its debauchery and its decadence.

She’s a grand old dame … and a profound inspiration. I’m lucky to be able to spend the holidays with her! 🙂

May you and yours have a joyous and festive season … and thanks for reading Writing in the Dark! Noir City is just around the corner …


I also wanted to share some really wonderful news: CITY OF DRAGONS is an Indie Next Pick for February, and just received a starred review from Publishers Weekly! I’m very, very grateful … and proud that the subtitle is “A San Francisco Mystery.” 🙂

I’m also giving away a scarce signed advanced reading copy of CITY OF DRAGONS, along with a gift basket from Chinatown. Just go to my website and sign up for my newsletter to be entered … the drawing will be at the end of December!