Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lunching in Public: Arcade Project

First thing we learned: privately-owned Financial District public spaces presume "the public" goes home on weekends. Or mostly.

The idea of this Lunching in Public thing is, we find an obscure San Francisco public space, preferably one of these privately owned inclusionary-zoning spaces that are public and often said to be lovely, but that sometimes aren't immensely welcoming to the actual general public. We buy a lunch close to the public space. We eat the lunch. We report on our experience as members of the public.

Joel & I began our experience Saturday morning by picking a location for our first Lunching in Public, then finding it wasn't open weekends, then picking a location, then... Yep, like that. It would have been nice, for example, to visit the One Kearny terrace, but we'll have to save that for a weekday.

We had to dig a fair distance through the lists in the John King columns (see prior links here) and the SPUR group's useful "Secrets of San Francisco: A guide to San Francisco's privately-owned public open spaces," cutely abbreviated as the "POPOS Guide".

At last we picked the Crocker Galleria at Montgomery and Post, which is open Saturdays, though, it turns out, only just barely. The Parisian-style glass-roofed gallery runs through the block from Post to Sutter. That's right next to the grand old Art Deco highrise at 111 Sutter Street, best known as the apparent address of Dashiell Hammett's fictional detective agency, Spade & Archer.

POPOS told us the Galleria has two rooftop terraces apart from the cafe-table areas in the gallery itself. You can see one of the terraces on the roof of the bank building, in front of 111 Sutter, in the picture above. That's taken looking north from Market Street. The curved glass roof of the gallery is all the way to the left. Would have been nice to get up on that bank roof. We didn't.

The Galleria is always a handsome space to visit, but Saturdays turn out to be really not its day. Although the whole third-floor gallery is lined with restaurants, only two were open. Also, the Roof Garden staircase was closed.

Only a few people were around. One jokey couple. A sprinkling of single people on their own, all looking like they had brought along something to think about. One guy, sitting quietly, might have been drunk. Kind of good to see he was let alone.

Fortunately, the other roof space was open. We'd been intrigued by the description of that one anyway: "A second sun terrace can be accessed from an obscure staircase in the northwest corner of the Galleria's top floor..."

Who can resist an "obscure staircase"? We couldn't.

So we went ahead with the Lunching portion of the day. One of those two places open was 360° Gourmet World Grill. Marie and Fernando (pictured) were kindly waiting for customers inside. They served up a Cajun burrito with shrimp in a spinach tortilla for Joel and, for me, two super tacos: one beef, one chicken. All good. Some nice tangy chicken especially.

And so, on upstairs to the Roof Terrace. The staircase is, as you see, "obscure". Over in the back corner of the third floor of the arcade, past these extremely odd pseudo-umbrellas, which are actually tentlike four-sided cones. Supposed to look half-furled, maybe.

The roof terrace turned out to be handsome and well maintained. The only sunny bench had a guy on it already so we picked one of several arbors with benches. Pictured here with our lunch on the seat.
Creatively chosen vegetation, well kept. Tidy, with plentiful trashcans and an ashtray. Downstairs, fully functional and well-equipped restrooms with those flesh-rippling Dyson hand dryers. So, full marks for physical amenities.

As for wireless, the Kindle picked up 3G. Unfortunately, however, no WiFi.

The view from the bench is across the Galleria's roof and up at the grand facade of Sam Spade's office building, and at other downtown facades. 

Finally the guy on the sunny bench left so we could take a picture of it without rudeness. Here it is, with its back to Kearny Street. That building under renovation is the historic Hallidie Building at 130 Sutter, a landmark in the history of high-rise construction. It reportedly needed the work pretty badly.

Last picture here is looking up from Sutter Street from the other side of the line of hedges behind the sunny bench. That's the Sutter facade of 111 Sutter on the other side of the Galleria arch.

On the whole, nice experience, pleasant lunch, lots of peace and quiet. Might work as a refuge to get some work done in the shade on a hot summer afternoon.

It's just too bad Saturday visitors are scarce in such a central downtown place. Also too bad one that larger terrace was closed.

Next time we'll try for a more elegant or eccentric Lunching in Public. This was a start.

Also, more to say later about what we found on Commercial Street.

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