Matt and I got up Friday morning and walked the half-block up to the cable car stop on Powell Street. We were about six blocks up the giant hill from the turnaround, so it was already pretty full when we got on. We got seats a bit later, and I discovered it’s actually easier to stand on the cable car than try to keep from sliding around too much on the wooden seats.
We rode all the way down to Fisherman’s Wharf, and went into the Buena Vista Cafe for Irish coffees. If there were tourist badges for San Francisco, we would have earned at least six of them just in that half-hour.
The bartenders were a couple of old guys with fancy mustaches and ties, and they made the coffees 12 or so at a time, tossing a sugar cube accurately into each one from an impressive distance. We sat at the bar to enjoy the show, but couldn’t get breakfast there since they didn’t serve at the bar. That was ok, because the menu looked overpriced and underinspired.
So we went to In-N-Out Burger instead. As usual, there was a line out the door, and the food was great. While we were eating, Colleen texted to say their plane had landed at SFO. We wandered in and out of a few shops at Fisherman’s Wharf, then headed back to the cable car stop to ride back to our hotel.
We stopped into our room, grabbed the bottle of Moscato, and walked the couple of blocks to their hotel. The Triton was VERY VERY trendy, and the walls were covered with the text of “On The Road”. I couldn’t stop staring at it, so I doubt I could have slept there. We enjoyed our delicious Moscato, by which I mean we tolerated it, and then we set off in search of lunch. (In-N-Out was… brunch. Yeah.)
We walked through Chinatown, stopping to take a photo of Red’s Place along the way. I wouldn’t want to forget the most awesome bar in the world.
One of the first restaurants we passed in North Beach, Giordano Brothers, had a sign out front saying they served Pittsburgh food. I didn’t really know what that meant, but Steve and Colleen were more than excited to show us, having both lived there. We got a table and ordered beers.
This is what Pittsburgh food looks like:
They even had two vegetarian versions of the gigantic sandwich with fries on it. (How we managed to do anything after eating lunch, I will never know.) While we were there, we showed them our plans for Saturday night, which we’d learned about at the museum at Fisherman’s Wharf.
(I also gave Colleen Drunk Cat, which I’d torn out of Skymall. It was hard to stop looking at it.)
After our late lunch, it was time to head to our ferry. We walked the mile to the Ferry Building, and passed through to see all the shops again. On the far end, we found the stop for our ferry to Alameda. While we waited there, Matt and Steve started writing their own sea shanties, so that they could present them at the shanty sing-along Saturday night.
We boarded the boat and got a table. The shanties continued, most of them about “a ferry to Old Alameda”. And the rhymes… well, they were pushing it a little. The ferry took us into the channel between Alameda and Oakland, which is very industrial and full of gigantic container ships. We noticed a building with “Hangar One” on it, and knew that was where we were headed from the dock. The ferry landed at Alameda Main Street, and we got off with a bunch of commuters who were all headed to the park-and-ride.
We were following directions on the St George Spirits website, which said their building was a half-mile walk from the ferry docks. From what we’d seen arriving, it appeared to be a lot farther away, but at least we knew what direction to go. (According to Google Maps, it’s actually exactly a mile.) We headed off that way, walking through semi-deserted dirt parking lots along the shipping channel because there weren’t any sidewalks. There weren’t many people, either; there were a few people fishing, and evidence of someone’s sleeping quarters inside a giant bush. There was a dog park with a few dogs laying down, not running.
The entire place was so surreal that we decided we were probably going to die. I took a picture in the hopes that someone would eventually find my camera and be able to recreate the moments leading up to our murder.
Then there were no people, and then road took a sharp left turn into a naval base. That definitely didn’t seem like somewhere we wanted to walk, but it was the only option, and we knew St George’s was on the other side of it.
We saw a man standing at the gate to the base, so we got more and more nervous as we neared him. Once we got up close, we saw that he was just a guy standing and smoking there, even though there was really nowhere nearby for him to have come from. We avoided him and passed through the gates (where someone had spray-painted HELP on the window), and realized that the base was obviously no longer in use.
Just past the gates, there was a baseball diamond with a group of men playing something resembling softball, only there were at least three people on each base, including behind home plate. (There were also a ton of geese hanging around in the outfield.) There was gym that seemed to still be in use, and farther along on the right, a skate park with a few teenagers. The entire left side of the street was empty barracks in varying states of abandonment. Some of the windows were boarded up, some were broken, and some had falling-down curtains, which really added to the ambiance. We were positive we were going to die.
Finally we got to the end of the street and saw the giant warehouse with St George’s logo on it. We had to go around the back to get in, but we were reassured once we saw cars in the parking lot. Their view is pretty excellent, too, looking out over the old airstrips toward San Francisco:
We went inside and checked in for our tour, which we were very early for. We hung out in the lobby, just being happy to have survived. There were a bunch of people there doing tastings, and the place was still decorated for Halloween. It seemed appropriate.
After a while, everyone showed up for the tour and we headed into the distillery. We’ve seen a lot of them, but it was pretty awesome to hear about their approach… they use all-natural ingredients, which is a big change from a lot of the flavored vodka makers.
In the back near the bourbon barrels, there’s a shark. The guy leading the tour explained that it’s the same shark that ate Samuel L Jackson in Deep Blue Sea, and that the employees liked to ride it around the building sometimes.
After the tour, it was time for the tasting. We all lined up at the bar and sampled about a million of their offerings. The infused vodkas were legitimately great, too.
Then it was time to head back to the ferry. We were the only ones leaving there on foot, of course, and this time it was dark. We didn’t see any evidence of haunting or murderers in the empty barracks, but there were still people at the skate park in the dark. We made it out of the base, and walked back through the giant parking lot again. There was at least one car parked there with completely fogged-over windows. (When I think romance, I think of the shipping channel in Alameda.)
We waited on the dock for the ferry, which only took about 5 minutes to arrive. A couple people got off and headed to their cars. I asked the guy who was taking tickets if the boat went to Oakland first before heading back to San Francisco, and he became very confused. He told us the boat wasn’t going to San Francisco, which made us a little nervous. We didn’t want to be stuck in Alameda, but we really didn’t want to be stranded in Oakland, either. He finally told us to go talk to the guy on the boat, so we went down there and boarded.
The guy explained that yes, they did stop in Oakland and then headed back to San Francisco. The other guy didn’t speak very good English, so he must have misunderstood the question. We got margaritas from the bar, and grabbed a table. There were only a couple other people on the boat at that point, and by the time we landed at the last stop on Fisherman’s Wharf, we were the only people on the ferry.
We needed dinner, stat, which was kind of unfortunate since we were in the most crappy-tourist-restaurant-laden part of town. We walked down the Embarcadero looking at menus, and finally found a seafood restaurant that looked sufficient. There was a guitar guy playing in the mostly-crowded bar area, but the restaurant was nearly empty.
We looked over the menu, and everything was crazily overpriced. Our server brought a basket of rolls, so we ate those and ordered beer and appetizers rather than a full dinner. We sat there talking about a building Steve had learned was a sex club in Seattle, while a creepy guy sitting by himself at a nearby table didn’t bother disguising the fact that he was listening to our entire conversation. We paid up and headed to the bus stop to ride to the Tonga Room, figuring we could probably get more food there.
Matt and I knew what the interior of the Tonga Room looked like, and that it was inside a hotel, but we didn’t realize it was inside the Fairmont Hotel. (We also didn’t realize that the three-block walk from the bus stop would be up an insanely steep hill.) We were shocked at the fanciness of everything in the lobby. There was a sign for the Tonga Room pointing downstairs, so we headed that way and found the entrance at the very back of the building. It looked alarmingly like a club entrance in Vegas.
We were also a little shocked at the $7 cover and the fact that it was incredibly busy that early in the night, but we ended up at a table right between the bar and the dance floor, where we had a great view of the disaster unfolding around us.
First of all, there was this lady sleeping at the table next to us. She spend about 20 minutes like that, and then went and danced the rest of the night after the bouncer woke her.
There was a large group of people taking up most of the bar area and dance floor (which was also packed), and they were all clearly on the wealthier end of the spectrum. After overhearing bathroom conversations between some of them, we figured out that it was probably the most expensive rehearsal dinner event of all time. It seemed like probably half the people in the room knew each other, and some of them were in various stages of hilarious drunkenness. Colleen said there was even a girl crying on the far end of the bar.
The mai tais were way too sweet, but the scorpion bowl was awesome:
In the middle of the room, there’s a pool (the old hotel swimming pool, as a matter of fact) with a barge floating in it. That’s where the cover band plays. Every half hour or so, there’s fake thunder and light-flashing and it rains over the swimming pool, near the dance floor. That coupled with the pre-wedding spectacle going on around us made the entire thing really entertainingly surreal.
After our scorpion bowl, it was time to call it a night. I just wish we could have seen the aftermath the next day when all those people had to go to a wedding.