Die-hard Anthony Bourdain fans will remember his famous San Francisco episode, in which he called the city “a two-fisted drinking town ... dirty and nasty and wonderful.”
“Anyone who doesn’t have a great time in San Francisco is pretty much dead to me,” Bourdain said. The celebrity chef and TV host, who died of apparent suicide in a hotel room in France, loved San Francisco, and his shows about the city are a living testimony of it.
“Yeah, I know: The San Francisco Bay Area is awesome. It’s a restaurant mecca. But this is not a ‘Best of San Francisco’ episode,” Bourdain said in his 2015 Parts Unknown in SF, summing up the latest reincarnation of the city by the bay.
“Over the years, I’ve done many hours of television on the Bay Area and hope to do many more. This episode is more about what San Francisco is in danger of losing, what some people are doing about it, what’s hanging on, what’s disappearing, and what might be next. Right now, there’s a struggle for the soul of the city going on as battalions of techies engorged with tech bucks invade, driving rents up and infusing perfectly good coffee with pumpkin flavor.”
He confessed he had an ulterior motive for choosing to film in the city once again — his love for the Brazilian martial arts Jiu Jitsu.
“I want to stipulate up front, however, that this episode in particular is a selfish enterprise. It’s all about me, me, me — and I’m running out of time,” Bourdain, then 59, said. “I wanted to train at San Francisco’s Ralph Gracie Academy with their legendary black belt, Kurt Osiander — and I built this whole damn episode around that ambition.”
Bourdain’s first love was always Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street — which he referred to as “the touchstone in my world-wide wanderings” — where he liked sitting at the counter and feasting on, yes, crab backs (“brains — unicorn juice”), and a cold draft beer.
“If I read about myself dying at the counter, I would say to myself, that is one lucky guy,” Bourdain said.
He was also brutally honest in his observations, telling it like it is.
“San Francisco is an outrageously dirty town,” he said in Season 5, Episode 15 of No Reservations. “It’s grimy. You guys have actual street hookers in this center of town. It’s a two-fisted, heavy-drinking, three-martini, big-steaks, heavy-smoking, old-school 20s mentality town.”
From dive bars to mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants to hipster brunch spots, Bourdain’s love story with San Francisco was played out over several episodes – each of them better than the last.
In one of his episodes, Bourdain goes bar hopping — starting at the famous Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel, then veering to the Buddha Bar in Chinatown — round the corner to the Comstock Saloon and ending up at Sam’s Diner on North Beach.
He even went to Sinbad’s, which is now closed, about which he said: “Living out its last stand on San Francisco’s Pier 2, just south of the hoards of neck beards and man-bun vapers buying artisanal drip coffee a few hundred yards away. A last drink — or two — before the grinding wheels of the apocalypse churn through, leaving what in their wake?”
Another favorite was Mr. Bing’s in Chinatown. When the popular dive bar changed hands, Bourdain told Eater SF: “Just another day in the death spiral ... Another good and noble thing, in this case, a fine drinking establishment, ground under the slow, inevitable, pitiless forward motion of the Terrible Wheel. It will consume us all in the end.”
Some of Bourdain's favorite places in San Francisco: