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Top of the Mark: Where All of SF’s Ghost Still Live

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This originally appeared in my Weeknighter column for 7×7. 

When you’ve lived in San Francisco long enough, your personal history becomes a residue on every block you pass. Over there is the restaurant you worked in when you first moved to The City. Around the corner is the bar you spent too much time in back when you had extra time to spend. Across the way is the house you lived in in your early 20s, when the things you thought were important were the things you couldn’t give a shit about now. Storefronts and businesses come and go in this town, but your experiences and memories attach themselves to places like ghosts that haunt only you. Top of the Mark is no different.

A couple months ago, I was at the Top of the Mark with Becca and Lindsay, talking about the different lifetimes we’ve each seen while living in San Francisco. It seemed rather appropriate considering that the Top of the Mark was opened in 1939 and has probably seen more lifetimes than just about anyplace in The City. Officially, we were there because the PR company they work for represents the Top of the Mark and wanted me to write about it. This happens a lot; some of the places I write about, some of them I don’t. Regardless, I make it a rule to never pass up booze and food when it’s offered to me. We discussed work stuff for the appropriate amount of time before going into our own stories.

The last time I’d been at the Top of the Mark was for an ex-girlfriend’s birthday. I’d taken her there after we’d seen one of Bob Marley’s many children at The Fillmore. Before that I’d really only been during their exquisite Sunday brunch. This was an anniversary tradition with another girlfriend I had. These were my ghosts, my personal history left as a residue in this rooftop bar at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Becca and Lindsay offered up their own stories, and we talked, ate and drank while a few drunk old men looked out the window longingly, probably thinking about their own past lifetimes. Tourists snapped photos of themselves making funny faces in front of the world class view, not realizing they were leaving their own historical residue amongst the decades of ghosts that already inhabit the place.

It was a Monday night and even though there was no live jazz like there is Wednesday through Friday, the atmosphere was still sultry and sophisticated. In a town where most millionaires dress in hoodies and jeans, the Top of the Mark feels like a throw back to old money and elegance, while still being accessible to the rest of us. At one point I walked around enjoying the view and looking at photos of the Top of the Mark throughout the years. Apparently, it was customary during World War II for GIs to have one last drink and take in the view before shipping off. The northwest corner was even called the “Weeper’s Corner” because the soldiers’ sweethearts would watch with tears and running mascara as the ships departed the bay carrying the young men off to war.

But there was no weeping this night. Instead, we were celebrating our histories, and telling stories, and talking optimistically about our futures. We all had great things on the horizon, especially Lindsay, who informed us about her recent engagement. We drank and offered cheers to Lindsay and her future husband–adding one more layer of historical residue to a classic establishment that already has plenty, and will receive many more.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.