Friday, June 4, 2021

Playboy visits San Franciso ... back in the day

This post has very little to do with Guaraldi himself, but it does concern his San Francisco environment, and specifically many of the jazz clubs where he performed.

During the first decade and change after its debut issue in December 1953, Playboy magazine ran an occasional “On the Town” feature designed as a “cosmopolitan’s guide” to national and international cities — Paris, Tokyo, New York, London and others — that were becoming accessible to the publication’s upwardly mobile male subscribers, thanks to the rapidly expanding network of airline travel. The June 1958 issue was highlighted by a lengthy focus on San Francisco: where (and how) to lodge, dine, drink and be entertained. 


Since Hugh Hefner was an avid fan of mainstream and progressive jazz, the exhaustive article included a generous coverage of Baghdad-by-the-Bay’s then boisterous nighttime jazz scene. (The action probably was richer and more extensive right then, than at any other point in time; many of the clubs cited would close, change hands or go bankrupt within the next few years.)


Although the article makes fascinating reading as a time capsule, one must, ah, tolerate the wincingly archaic “dating tips” sprinkled throughout, such as…


[San Francisco] is a place of beautiful women, characterized (more than in any other city) by independence, good jobs, a friendly love of pleasure, hideaway apartments of their own, unpretentious poise, and an utterly charming knowledge of how to dress and behave, to please a man.




Your first stop, preferably just before sunset, should be the Mark Hopkins, up at the glass-enclosed Top o’ the Mark. Relax, have yourself a drink, take time to watch the sunset, and get the feel of the city here. Many a San Francisco visitor settles for the first girl he meets — only to rue it later, when finer prospects cross his path.




Further along, having offered suggestions for the best dining and dancing, we finally come to the late-evening options. I’ve extracted those with a strong — or even fleeting — connection to Guaraldi’s career, at that moment or soon to occur:



Out of the 13 hundred-odd scenes, here are the ones you’ll want to make without fail, if you have the time — with a few of the reasons why.


Let’s start on Nob Hill. The Fairmont’s Venetian Room is the only place in town featuring really big-name entertainers. Stars such as Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, Robert Clary, Ella Fitzgerald and Edith Piaf have worked this very formal room, which is done up in Dorothy Draper’s very best pink-and-red hotel manner.



El Matador, the aficionados’ gathering place (492 Broadway), is a very big scene for cocktails, but we say leave it until after the theater hour, when it’s the town’s favorite nightcap spot. A very good chance to meet very good people, including owner “Matador” Barnaby Conrad himself. There’s a piano with Johnny Cooper on the 88s; Vernon Alley plays bass. On Sunday evenings, Juan Buckingham plays flamenco guitar and El Matador narrates great bullfight movies past and present. Olé!

(This was before El Matador became one of the go-to venues for all manner of jazz cats.)



If you’d like to hear a young local jazz group of the hard-blowing modern stamp, turn back on Grant, right on Green, and a few doors down descend into The Cellar (576 Green). Tuesday is session night, most Wednesdays there’s poetry and jazz and the music is Harold Wylie, tenor, with the Cellar Jazz Quintet. Wine and beer. $1.00 admission weekends, and when there’s poetry.


Back to liquor country: Right opposite El Matador, the Jazz Workshop (473 Broadway) is a very smooth little club with a jazz discovery policy. Their big find to date, the Jean Hoffman Trio, now works around the country. No admission, cover or minimum. Monday session.


The most swingin’ jazz club in town, and one of the craziest in the country, is the Blackhawk, in the Tenderloin (200 Hyde). It’s a smoky joint, serving ordinary drinks, but the music is the end. Combos really blow when they’re in San Francisco, and in this barn — run by a tough, sweet cat named Guido — you’ll find names such as the Modern Jazz Quartet, Chet Baker, Shelly Manne, Stan Getz or S.F.’s own Cal Tjader and Dave Brubeck. Admission 50 cents to $1.50, depending on night and attraction. Sunday jam sessions.


(Guaraldi was a member of Tjader’s Quintet at this point.)


On the Dixieland and old-style side of the fence, the Club Hangover (729 Bush) usually features Earl “Fatha” Hines with his All-Star Jazz Band, and intermissions by Joe Sullivan. No door charge or cover. The Tin Angel (987 Embarcadero), right on the waterfront, is full of sawdust, smoke from the central fireplace, and loud, loud music by such as Kid Ory and Bob Scobey. Admission $1-$1.50.



Nightclubbing San Francisco style is bound to take you to the Hungry i (i for intellectual), at 599 Jackson. The i rattles around in a converted opium den, a cavernous brick-vaulted, candlelit cellar. Sounds cold, but it’s warm. A large bar known as The Other Room, hung solid with paintings for sale by local talents, contains Sam Gee, roving jeweler, and other artsy-crafty creatures of the night. The i's principal attraction is a cabaret showroom which sets the pattern for the new style in American nightclub entertainment. Vocalists like Ada Moore or folk-blueist Josh White are in the show, but the specialty remains cerebral comedy by Prof. Irwin Corey, Shelley Berman and the i's own contribution to the scene, Mort Sahl. Like the man said about Mort, who rattles on ad libfinitum in his pullover sweaters and no shave, “Nothin’ he says is facts, but it’s all true.” The i is run in the grand manner by impresario Enrico “The Beret” Banducci, an artistic temperament well worth cultivating. Admission to the showroom $1.50, Friday and Saturday $2.00.


(Recall that Guaraldi’s first classic trio got its start in The Other Room.)


For spelunkers with eyes for a smaller, more intimate club, with much the same “discovery” policy, it’s the Purple Onion up the street at 140 Columbus, m.c.’d and managed by Barry Drew (of the Barrymore Drews). Acts such as Josie Remes, Phyllis Diller and Maya Angelou, have been intro’d at the Onion, which is presently building a tight, folksy vocal group billed as the Kingston Trio. Lou Gottlieb, a dapper Ph.D. in musicology-turned-comedian, lectures hilariously and authoritatively on phenomena such as “the reverse cleavage in American pulchritude.” A very dark, candlelit room with a real onion tree. Admission 75 cents, Friday $1.00, Saturday $1.50. Dark Sundays.



A live-it-up gathering place for the racing, boxing, gambling, spending types is George Andros’ Fack’s II (960 Bush). This includes a fine bar and large showroom, with dancing to Jack Weeks’ orchestra. Comic Mel Young is a year-round attraction, and if your timing is right, you might hear The Four Freshmen, S.F.’s Johnny Mathis, the Mary Kaye Trio or even Frances Faye. Admission $1.00, Friday and Saturday $1.50.



If you’re wound up for dawnsville, Jimbo’s Bop City (1690 Post) opens at 2 a.m. for very hard-blowing jazz. You’ll notice the big names playing around town sitting in, and you can get food or coffee to sustain you. Admission $1.00.



Those door charges are a real eye-opener, aren’t they?


As mentioned in my Guaraldi bio, in March 2000 the San Francisco Chronicle quite cleverly re-visited Playboy’s 1958 article, to determine how many — if any — of the attractions, restaurants, clubs and other points of interest had survived. As carefully compiled by staff writer Sam Whiting, only 10 of the 60 bars, nightclubs, cafés and restaurants mentioned in Playboy’s story still existed, and only four of those “looked and worked the same.” That latter quartet did not include any jazz clubs.


El Matador closed in 1977; the site (492 Broadway) later became an establishment known as Moonshine, which also closed. The Jazz Workshop became a strip joint dubbed The Woffer, and later the Hi-Ball Lounge. The Cellar devolved into an “unoccupied basement beneath [the restaurant] PJ Mulhern.” The Blackhawk was razed and turned into a parking lot; the site of the original hungry i was simply a vacant lot. (Original owner Enrico Banducci had sold the establishment’s name to a topless club years earlier, which caused no end of confusion for awhile.) The site of Fack’s II, later known by various names under assorted new owners, was absorbed into an apartment complex; the club’s original address — 960 Bush Street — no longer existed. That same fate befell Jimbo’s Bop City, which, at 1690 Post, stood somewhere between the National Japanese American Historical Society and California Bank & Trust.


That was 21 years ago. Needless to say, the situation has grown only sadder.

The Tin Angel changed hands and re-opened as On the Levee in October 1958; it struggled for not quite three years, and closed in July 1961. The building was demolished in 1962, to make way for San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway … which was damaged so badly by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, that it was demolished two years later. (One suspects the location was cursed.)


Club Hangover closed in 1961. The address (729 Bush Street) ultimately became more notorious eight years later, when re-christened as The Nob Hill Theatre; by November 1971, it had become a popular gay male porn cinema. It had a long run, ultimately closing in August 2018. The building and theatre marquee still exist, although the site remains empty.


The Purple Onion actually survived until an initial closure in 1999, reopened in 2004, and kept going until the venue’s demise in 2012, when the building was sold “with no plans to rescue.” Indeed, the address has been absorbed into a parking garage beneath a massive, multi-story apartment complex at 150 Columbus.

The former address of El Matador, 492 Broadway, no longer exists. The Hi-Ball Lounge closed in January 2001; its address, 473 Broadway, now belongs to an Art Deco lounge dubbed Monroe.

And so it goes… 


DanielDaly said...

Dear Sir,
I'm a big fan of your Vince Guaraldi-related work, and I was wondering when more rare Guaraldi material will come out soon?

from a long time Guaraldi fan,

P.S: I'm not sure if you noticed this video, but apparently it's an audience recording of one of Vince's February 1975 gigs at the El Matador.

Derrick Bang said...

Daniel ... thanks for the kind words, and MANY thanks for sending along the link. No, I wasn't previously aware of that El Matador clip, and it's quite exciting; it's the only live recording (thus far discovered) from that late in Guaraldi's career, and also the only live clip of him and Mike Clark performing together. Sure wish I knew who the bassist was!

No word on "rare Guaraldi material" at the moment, but -- as always -- the nanosecond I learn about anything, it'll be posted in this blog!

Doug A. said...

Derrick: Great post, as usual! Really liked seeing that photo page w/ all of the club interiors (and Paul Desmond deep in sax thought).

Daniel: Thanks so much for that extraordinary cool link! My favorite bit is the performance of "Woodstock's Pad" that starts right around the 32 minute mark. It captures such a great mellow '70s vibe.