The Nite Owl: The Silver Crest
It was a late Friday on the eve of the Folsom Street Fair, and I was sitting at the Hole In the Wall sandwiched between the well and two guys aggressively licking each other’s armpits. My roommate had flaked on me per usual, so I decided to throw in the towel since I realized I hadn’t eaten in several hours and my stomach was about to consume itself.
The Silver Crest Diner is a fluorescent and neon outpost shoehorned into a serpentine crag in between the 101 and Bayshore Boulevard. It makes me happy that the Silver Crest is my closest late-night option outside of tacos and that I know I will not be competing with the sloshy thousands to get a hamburger.
“The place that time forgot” is an oft-used expression in describing diners and dives, but the Silver Crest is the real deal. Not preserved in an aspic of precious kitsch or given a sepia-toned, Edison-bulb rinse, when you eat at the Silver Crest you feel like you’re dining at the end of the world.
At the hour of two in the morning, it’s usually Pop running the show. Up until this point he’s been tending some dangerous bar in the adjoining lounge with diminutive highballs overflowing in strong hooch and thimbles full of ouzo. He’s an older Greek gentleman who never seems to be troubled by the late hours or wastrels that saunter in off the deserted roadway.
It’s been about fifty some years ago since Bayshore Boulevard was the 101 and this was the main entry into SF, heavily trafficked with cars bubbling over with excited tourists headed to that great city to the north. Nowadays, it’s just me, an exhausted cab driver and two women pondering the dim case of massive doughnuts, while the current 101 whizzes a few hundred feet above us.
Pop welcomes me as warmly as he has every time I’ve come in out of the damp and I’d like to think he remembers me, but maybe not. I have a seat at the counter and ponder the specials board. It’s obvious I’ve been drinking, because a steak dinner with a cup of coffee and a doughnut sounds rational. He cooks it to order in what seems like five minutes over the charbroiler, and serves it up with a salad dressed in CalTrans-hued French dressing and a pastry asteroid exploding in coconut flakes and icing.
When it comes to post-bar diner food, it’s hard to say if it’s ever as good as you think it is at the time, but it’s a steak and it’s not-overdone which is all I really care about. Not the cheapest or probably even the best, but in this town at this hour you could do a hell of a lot worse.
As I’m eating, I flip through the selection on the mini-Seeburg jukebox and he tells me it’s been broken for a while, which one could guess by the catalogue. He wants to get it fixed though, due to public demand.
It’s time to pay up and I tell him I just need to run to the ATM at the filling station across the street, but he won’t hear of it. “Next time.”
“No, no. I just need to get some money. It’ll take 5 minutes.”
“No, too dangerous. How you getting home?”
I tell him I’ll hail a cab or grab the Owl, but again this answer is not good enough. His friend, the sleepy cab driver, will take me home. There’s no use protesting, it’s done and soon I’m back in the Mission. I try to get the driver to stop at an ATM, but he says Pop already took care of it. He and his wife are smart people and know what they’re doing. Anyway, he goes on, Pop knows me and that I’ll be back.
You can count on it, Pop.
The Silver Crest Donut Shop, Restaurant and Bar
340 Bayshore Boulevard (@Cosgrove)
[Bayview/ Apparel City]
Open 24 Hours
Photo from Tikirobot.net