THIS GUIDE TO SAN FRANCISCO, though admittedly idiosyncratic and possibly incomplete, is lovingly conceived, enthusiastically researched, and respectfully submitted. Maestro! a little traveling music please!
Visiting San Francisco is inevitably up-beat, while life itself is frequently down-beat. The result can be a shrill spread of jangled nerve ends just below the skin, an awful confusion in and around the stomach, and legs so overworked they dangle from the torso like tattered flags. Revival is in order. In fact revival's a necessity if enervation rears its ugly head late in the afternoon and the evening promises dinner at The Blue Fox, dancing at the Orphanage, Irish coffees amid bohemians and Tiffany lamps at Vesuvio's, and a wee hours appointment with a bottle of wine in a room overlooking the Bay. At such times Dr. Feelgood prescribes (not what you think) the Kabuki Hot Springs.
On Geary Street in the Japanese cultural center, the Springs offer different accommodations for men and women. Men enter from a quiet, carpeted locker into a large room with a wooden ceiling and contrasting brown tile on the floor. The walls are done in blue, grey, and white tile and decorated with designs of broad blue, yellow, and red stripes which flow from corner to corner in dazzling swoops and curls. Along the far wall stand a few solemn shower stalls and a long row of nozzled hoses also used as showers. Along the opposite wall sits a row of bright orange steam cabinets, generally unused. In the middle, made of sky-blue tile, waits the hot Japanese bath, hotter than any home tub, with two jets of water for use as a whirlpool. Nearby, in the center of the room and fashioned from the same blue tile, is a circular bath about eight feet in diameter holding very, very cold water. Near it and immediately to the right of the entrance is a sauna, quite large with one wall mostly of glass which looks out on the baths. This thoughtfully provided window prevents claustrophobia, a disease that can become epidemic in the intense heat of an enclosed sauna.
Get into the hot bath slowly, working up to total immersion, maybe spending some time in front of one of the water jets. (Both the hot and cold baths are kept filled to the brim, so a tangential pleasure to entering them is the sound of gallons of water rushing over the edge onto the floor.) Then the sauna. Wait there until your body is completely wet with sweat. Then wait a little more. Then, leaving the sauna, set a determined course, reach back for that speck of courage hidden deep within us all, and plunge into the cold bath. Agony! Ecstasy!
The use of the baths is three dollars for as long as you care to stay. However, for another seven dollars you can have a massage shiatsu style. It begins badly when you're given a preposterous pair of Japanese undershorts to wear during the massage. After that it's all gravy.
It's a pressure massage—no rubbing or oils are involved. The masseuse (or masseur; which you get seems to depend on the luck of the draw) is relentless. She starts with the neck and shoulders, poking and pressing so persistently and hard that—the truth must be told—it's sometimes painful. She kneads your back, uses her knees to compress your waist; she stands on the soles of your feet, she pops your knee, she pops every joint in a finger with one whiplike pull. She twists your neck, caresses your eyes, digs in under your shinbone and on and on and on. When it's over you find yourself loosened, relaxed, but energized. And the effect lasts for hours.
For women the same services are available but there is no large communal room. Instead each woman gets a small private room with a hot bath and a steam cabinet. A rather diminutive sauna is also available. It is a little embarrassing, after reporting on the glories of the men's accommodations, to admit to the spartan qualities of the women's. But the consensus is that what happens still feels good no matter what the surroundings.
Kabuki Hot Springs, 1750 Geary, 922-6000. Open noon to midnight.
The Best Place To Drink Scotch
IN SAN FRANCISCO, A PENINSULA holding out against the sea, Demon Rum has always—Prohibition Be Damned!—been easier to find than fresh water. And San Franciscans have decided that is as it should be. Texans may creep into dark barrooms whose heavy drapes over black windows shield the drinker from the righteous, inquiring eye of the passing world; San Franciscans opt for brightly lit, highly polished barrooms with huge windows and tables close by so the drinker may sit among glasses and friends and watch, in the passing world outside, all those not quite so lucky just this minute as he is. Bright drinking, after all, is right drinking.
Still, there may be times, even in San Francisco, when a mood demands a clean, well-lighted place in which the outside world plays no part. At such times, and really at other quite different times, only the Edinburgh Castle will do. From the outside it looks unpromising. There is nothing but a small sign to suggest that a bar is there at all. The entrance is a short hallway that leads past the kind of small concern whose clientele must be mysterious as the nomadic Mongols—a gift shop selling Scottish imports.
But the door at the end of the hallway opens onto a long, wide room with a ceiling two stories high. Along the right wall is a row of heavy wooden tables and benches; along the left is a long wooden bar polished to a high shine; and behind it are rows and rows of sparkling bottles, a huge mirror running the length of the bar, a parrot who has almost figured out how to open his own cage, and rows of tap handles carrying the insignias of a heart-warming