Random Acts of Debauchery on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast

In the 1850s, the San Francisco Herald published a story that began like this:

“There are certain spots in our city, infested by the most abandoned men and women, that have acquired a reputation little better than the Five Points of New York or St. Giles of London. [It] is crowded by thieves, gamblers, low women, drunken sailors, and similar characters, who resort to the groggeries that line the street, and there spend the night in the most hideous orgies.”

In Herbert Asbury’s “The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld,” he writes about random acts of debauchery on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Some favorites include a saloon called the the Fierce Grizzly, literally named because there was a live bear chained by the door. The bar served a milk cocktail, usually mixed with gin or whisky. When a preacher showed up one day at the Fierce Grizzly hoping to get some material for a future sermon on the den of iniquity that was the Barbary Coast, he was offered a glass of such “milk.”
“What do you call that?” he asked after taking a sip and then a larger sip.

“Just milk,” said the bartender.

“Ah!” the preacher exclaimed. “What a glorious cow.”

Not to be outdone, the Boar’s Head also offered entertainment involving the animal kingdom. Asbury writes, “The principal attraction was a sexual exhibition in which a woman and a boar participated.” He didn’t go into detail, leaving it to our wildest imaginations.

In the next few days, I’ll go searching for the debaucherous spirit of the Barbary Coast in San Francisco today. Let us hope there are no pigs or bears–at least not of the animal variety–in my future.