Wow, is Ghirardelli Square ever lame. Holy shit. The restaurant and shopping area at the San Leandro BART station is La Rambla in comparison. The "Square" is basically a few levels of a strip mall, with the candy company at the center. Walking into it you are greeted warmly by a teenager holding a basket of chocolate squares; farther in there are more smiley youngsters, although the girls manning the sundae bar were about as enthusiastic to be there as Rachel Jeantel on the witness stand. You walk through a gauntlet of chocolate if you go through the main entrance, and as I stood there I counted about 10 different people going "Whoa!" after they came in, which might explain some of the staff's apathy. That would get old.
It's hard to find a drink in Ghirardelli Square, but my pal and I managed.
McCormick & Kuleto's is a gigantic restaurant and bar there that overlooks the bay with an all-glass front and two levels of seating. I prefer seafood restaurants that have "Buoys" and "Gulls" written on the bathroom doors, but we weren't there to eat so I let it slide.
The bartender greeted us the minute we crossed the threshold, despite the fact that he was busily making a drink. "Look at that view!" said a woman who had just settled into a table in the bar. I suppose that is the equivalent to gobsmacked chocolate lovers elsewhere in the compound, but the bartender didn't seem annoyed.
She was right, it is pretty cool to look out the windows there. Across the street there is a swimming beach and a grassy area for picnics. The Golden Gate is off in the distance. If you hold your camera in such a way at such a location, you can get all that in a shot along with the "Ghirardelli Square" sign, so there ya go. It's the same with the Painted Ladies, by the way: Up close they are nothing special, but from afar they are part of a picturesque scene with the city in the background. A few intrepid dorks seek out the Mrs. Doubtfire house, which still baffles me.
Last week I hit these spots for the first time, including driving down Lombard. "Why do you think the tourists spots are tourist spots?" I asked my guy friend. "I mean, this spot is lame. Fisherman's Wharf is hella lame. Coit Tower be hecka hella lame..."
He cut me off with the raise of his hand. "Postcards," was his answer, which I agreed to; whatever makes a better picture postcard ends up being a destination. Meanwhile people miss cool stuff like the shops on Valencia, Ocean Beach, mansions at Seacliff, Hayes Valley, little Russia on Geary, and the Tonga Room.
But I always tell people who are visiting here that it's the neighborhoods that are the most fun things to visit, not specific destinations.
"We need to create a tourist trap," he said. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of that myself. If Ghirardelli could lure people from all over the world to his parking garage disguised as a Square, surely our two brains could conceive of something even better.
"People like food," I said.
"Yes," he agreed. "People eat food."
"They put food in their mouths and then they also buy food for later." I said. We were really onto something. We would have to create a food that was nonperishable and could attract large numbers of Europeans and Midwesterners alike. It would have to be an indulgence, since vacationers are apt to partake in something sinful. The more we thought about it, the more brilliant Ghirardelli was beginning to look.
"I've always wished that saltwater taffy didn't taste like shit," I offered. "I've always wanted to bite into one of those things and not be disappointed." His eyebrows jumped up. We could do for saltwater taffy what Jelly Belly did for the boring old jelly bean. Better yet, we could set up our empire near Ocean Beach.
Step One: Find out what the hell saltwater taffy is. Apparently some guy more than a hundred years ago had his taffy shop flooded with seawater, ruining his stock. But a sweet little girl came in and asked for some candy anyway and so he gave her some "saltwater taffy" and the name stuck. Aw shucks.
"Our freakin' taffy is going to be salty, too," I said, eager to capitalize on the savory sweets trend.
The next thing we needed to do was come up with a theme for our building that would bring people with cameras; it had to look good at sunset so folks could take pictures with the ocean in the background, maybe even the Cliff House.
The whole building will be glassine, like wax paper, and different colored lights will glow from inside depending on the flavor of the day. Oh my, yes. A gigantic taffy-pulling machine will lord over the works and people will be able to pick flavors and treats to stick into batches. We will have flavors based on S.F. neighborhoods like Chinatown, North Beach, and the Tenderloin.
"Ew," he said, to which I reminded him that Humphry Slocombe ice cream managed to put whiskey in their product, so we can work Colt 45 into a taffy just as easily.