Why I Love The ‘Loin: San Francisco’s Vibrant Tenderloin Neighborhood

kiss
Having lived in San Francisco off and on for the better part of half my life, I’ve seen my share of gentrification. And, like many things, it has its positives and negatives. It’s hard to hate on improvements in housing standards, public safety and sanitation. It’s great to see economic growth in neighborhoods once plagued by social ills. It utterly sucks to see yet another crappy chain store replace the corner grocery.

I have high hopes for San Francisco’s Tenderloin, however. While it’s developed an undeniable hipster presence/street cred over the last few years, I don’t believe it’s ever going to fully go the way of, say, Williamsburg, or Boston’s Quincy Market. No matter how many Prohibition-era-style bars, or trendy restaurants populate its hilly streets, the ‘loin will, I hope, always remain more than a little bit seedy, sketchy and sleazy. Bless its sooty soul.

Historically, the Tenderloin has always been a bit rough, and folklore about how it got its name ranges from meaty references to the city’s underbelly to the haunches of hookers. Technically, the neighborhood stretches from Union Square to the southern side of Nob Hill (lower Nob Hill is now known as the “Tendernob,” and popular for its bars and restaurants).

Today, despite the uptick in trendiness, the Tenderloin still most visibly populated by crack addicts, gutter drunks, prostitutes, transvestites, transvestite prostitutes, junkies, bag ladies and assorted other ne’er-do-wells. It’s not a pretty sight, but the people watching is priceless – especially these days, when you throw in lost tourists, nuthugger-wearing club kids and suspender-clad bartenders.tenderloinI’ve been hanging in the Tenderloin since my mid-20s, exploring its innumerable dive bars and incredible ethnic eateries (Vietnamese, Pakistani, Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indonesian …). Back then, nearly 20 years ago, I confess it was a bit dicey walking around the Tenderloin at night, but I’ll stand by my opinion that today, it’s not a dangerous neighborhood if you’re not looking for trouble. I’ve walked, alone, at 3 a.m., with no problem. When I lived on the edge of the Tenderloin for 16 months, from 2008 to late 2009, I walked to and from work through the Tenderloin every morning and evening, with nary a hassle.

On one memorable night, it seemed every freak in the ‘hood was gathered on my doorstep or beneath my window. Asian Tranny Hooker was smoking crack in the doorway, her smeared vermillion lipstick giving her the look of a Cubist painting, as usual. A junkie was shooting up in front of my garage (I sternly ordered him to find a more private place, given my block’s populace of elderly Asian couples). As I readied for bed, the cops busted a john propositioning one of the neighborhood streetwalkers underneath my bedroom window. Never a dull moment, I tell you.

I don’t mean to glorify the ugliness that typifies the lives of many ‘loin residents. I just have a real appreciation for the grittiness of city life, as well as diversity, and a glaring dose of reality. Some of the Tenderloin’s more unfortunate denizens are living the way they are due to their own mistakes; others are merely victims of circumstance. I can’t say I’m always empathetic, but living in such a neighborhood certainly has made me more understanding to the plight of some of the residents (a term I use loosely, as I’m primarily referring to the homeless). It’s also made me more grateful for things in life I often take for granted: healthy food, warm clothes, shelter, friends, family, education, a non-addictive personality, and indoor plumbing.

Sociopolitics aside, I love the Tenderloin because I find it San Francisco’s most vibrant neighborhood for food and drink, as well as people watching. Some of my favorite ethnic dives and “casual fine dining” restaurants are there – Shalimar, Pakwan, Turtle Tower, Osha Thai Noodle, Canteen, Farmerbrown – as well as some of the best cocktails in the city.

Try a libation at temples of mixology like Bourbon & Branch, or Rye, or savor the dingy, dodgy atmosphere of classic, old-school dives like HaRa, Summer Place, Nite Cap, or Geary Club (the fact that you can smoke at the latter isn’t a selling point for me, but when combined with the aging Russian barmaids – all cleavage, throaty voices, and stiff pouring hands – it’s a treasure).
cocktail
There are some boutiques scattered about – an upscale pet shop here, an Australian specialty product store there – but mostly you’ll find corner stores of the Korean and Halal variety, pizzerias, “massage parlors,” and coffee houses, as well as the famed Glide Memorial Church. SF’s theater district is there, just around the corner from Union Square. There are dozens of hotels, too. Some rent rooms by the hour, some by the month. Others are old, Art Deco and Art Noveau gems that provide some of the city’s most affordable, eclectic accommodations (I like the Essex Hotel), but newer boutique properties like Hotel Monaco are on the increase.

You’re also within walking distance from just about every part of San Francisco worth seeing from the Tenderloin, even if the views of and from the neighborhood aren’t the stuff of movies. But if you want affordable, colorful and convenient, it’s your place.

The one serious piece of advice I have to offer with regard to safety is to stay the hell away from Eddy Street, even in daylight. I don’t know why this is the epicenter of all that’s f—-ed up and wrong in the world, but it is, and even the local cops try to avoid it. Just stay away.

Eddy Street aside, if you, too, believe all that glitters could be anything from the cap in a hooker’s front tooth to the neon of a glorious dive bar, come spend some time in the Tenderloin.

[Photo credits: kiss, Flickr user charlottz; hotel, Flickr user CT Young; cocktail, Flickr user Splat Worldwide]

Valentine’s Day tribute: Sex museums around the world

sex museumsAh, Valentine’s Day. It’s a loaded holiday, one with high expectations. This year, though, I got into the spirit of things: I decided to rustle up a list of the world’s great sex museums. Even if you can’t pay a visit, their websites are informative and loaded with photos of exhibits. And best of all? You can indulge all by yourself, no relationship needed.

Erotic Heritage Museum, Las Vegas
The somewhat bizarre collaboration of a “Preacher and a Pornographer,” this pleasure palace houses over 17,000 square feet of artistically expressive erotica. Behold, ye Larry Flynt and “Ho-Down Mural” exhibitions.

Sex Machines Museum, Prague
Call me a perv, but how cool is this? A museum devoted entirely to the history and display of, to quote the website, “mechanical erotic appliances, the purpose of which is to bring pleasure and allow extraordinary and unusual positions during intercourse.” Okey dokey. There’s also a small theater for viewing old erotic cinema.

Museum of Sex, New York
It may not be the among the best-known of the city’s museums, but this monument to sex education, history, and cultural significance isn’t just for academics. It’s a good time, too. With rotating exhibits and virtual installations on everything from the “Sex Lives of Animals” and “Kink,” to a tribute to American pin-up photography, there’s something for everyone. Don’t forget to stop at the OralFix Aphrodisiac Cafe for an erotic elixir.

Sexmuseum Amsterdam
The Dutch are known for their rather laid-back attitude toward things the rest of the world tends to frown upon, which is one reason they’re so much fun. The famed “Venustempel” in Amsterdam is focused on “the theme of sensual love.” And hey–the four euro entry fee is a lot cheaper than the Red Light District.

Museu de l’erotica, Barcelona
Dedicated to the exploration of erotica in all its various forms: anthropological, archaeological, sociological, artistic, literary, and something called “plastic arts.” Hm. Located in Barcelona’s architecturally stunning La Rambla neighborhood.

[Photo credit: Flickr user SWANclothing]

sex museumsThe Icelandic Phallological Museum, Husavik (northern island)
This collection of over “two hundred and nine penises and penile parts” represents nearly all of the land and marine animals native to Iceland. Not as creepy as it sounds, the museum provides a base for modern research on the study of phallology. If that offends you, please consider the multi-billion-dollar male sexual enhancement/aid industry.
[Photo credit: Elín Eydís Friðriksdóttir]

World Erotic Art Museum, Miami
WEAM is home to the largest collection of erotic art in the United States, including sculpture and art objects. Rest assured it’s a lot more tasteful than what you’ll see parading on Ocean Drive.

Musee de l’Erotisme, Paris
Paris. Sex. Art. Need I say more?

China Sex Museum, Tongli
Located 50 miles outside of Shanghai in a former fishing village, this museum is dedicated to “over 9,000 years of Chinese sexual history,” with over 1,500 exhibits and artifacts. I am most definitely curious about the “Women and marriage” exhibit. Does it have a headache?

Condom Museum, Nonthaburi (approximately one hour from…hee…Bangkok)
The Ministry of Public Health opened this little museum, located in the Department of Medical Sciences building, in 2010. Its purpose is to develop awareness about HIV/AIDS and eliminate negative public perception about condom use (ironic, given that Thailand is the world’s largest producer of condoms).

If all that condomizing leaves you famished, perhaps you’d like to grab dinner at Cabbages & Condoms in Bangkok? Founder Mechai Viravaidya is a sexual awareness activist who has promoted condom use for the last 30 years. Partial proceeds go toward projects for the Population and Community Development Association (PDA). Watch Mechai give a restaurant tour and explain his mission in the below clip. Have a “safe” Valentine’s Day!


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