b Papa Dog's Blog: Marquard's

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Monday, December 13, 2004


On of these days, I’d like to make it through a whole week without posting about how things just won’t be the same without so and so or how they don’t make ‘em like they used to or how rock ’n’ roll’s been going downhill since Buddy Holly died, but damn it, the world just won’t cut me any slack. I saw by the paper this morning that Marquard’s is closing. Now, I’m hardly a devotee of things Franciscan – ich bin ein Oaklander! – but I’ve got to admit I’ve always been fond of Union Square and environs. Part of it’s movie geeekery – Mama Dog and I once (at my insistence) walked around the square saying “He’d kill us if he had the chance” in homage to The Conversation - but I think there’s a little more to it than that. Like the French Quarter in New Orleans, Union Square was a district that retained a genuine sense of its own history despite the degrading commercialism that makes its preservation possible. Dashiell Hammett probably wouldn’t recognise the place anymore, but there are businesses he mentioned in his books still in operation to this day. The building where he had his PI offices is still there, though last I heard (some years ago) his old suite was occupied by a nondescript tech industry cube farm.

Every year, though, a little more disappears or gets changed around or upgrades itself so much its mother wouldn’t know it. Union Square itself got refurbed, Emporium Claptrap got gutted, and my poor dead darling Compass Rose, where Mama Dog and I took our parents for high tea on our wedding day, has been tarted up as a trendy name-chef concern. At least somebody saved Sears.

But Marquard’s – well that too has kind of a special place in my heart, though I really never spent much time there. It was one of the first businesses I knew well in the Bay Area. On my first visit here (1983? Can that much time have passed?), I stayed with a chap who happened to work at Marquard’s, and I was quite thrilled to see a real-life newsstand with racks on the sidewalk, just like in the old movies. It was patrolled by panhandlers and vagabonds and crazy persons, and I was kind of nervous being there at closing time, but they had newspapers from all over, atmospherically creaky floorboards, some really niche-market pornography, cheap booze, and man, dig that old-timey sign. Or dig it again here. Once I lived here, it’s not like I’d ever make a special trip to go to the place – I can’t even keep up with the paper I subscribe to, I have creaky floorboards in my own house, couldn’t be bothered with the niche-market pornography, and could get better booze closer to home were I so inclined. It was one of those places I didn’t go to much, but liked knowing it was there. The worst part is, it's being replaced by something called "HatWorld," which specialises in "logo caps." I take that to mean baseball hats (what we used to call Chuck hats on account of Charlie Brown always wore one) meant to declare the wearer's sporting or corporate affiliation. I dunno. Somehow, the place that sold "Left Handed Dick Swallowers" still seems classier to me.

We don’t spend much time in the land of the cable car turnaround these days, but next time I pass Powell and O’Farrell I’m going to be really bummed not to see that sign.


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