I stood there trying to imagine the topless women hanging out of first-floor windows, yelling “Touch one breast for ten cents, two breasts for fifteen cents, or come on in for twenty-five cents.”
The men were encouraged to hang up their clothes in a closet. And once the they were, uh, preoccupied with their lady, a colleague from another room would remove the back panel of the closet and take the rest of the John’s cash.
The guide, John Ferriera, walked the group (of which there was a guy who bore a striking resemblance to everyone’s favorite news pontificator and Mexican immigration lover, Lou Dobbs) down the two-block street, regaling us with salacious stories of 19th-century San Francisco. As we stood in front of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building at #140, Ferriera told us about Bertha Kahn, a famous Maiden Lane madam who coined the term “Satisfaction guaranteed.” If you weren’t satisfied with your amorous encounter, she’d give you a token to come back and try again.
Today, randy San Franciscans can go to the Tenderloin to pretend they’re in Barbary Coast-era Maiden Lane. It’s highly doubtful, however, that anyone there is putting a guarantee on satisfaction. And it certainly will cost you more than twenty-five cents.