When I was little, we took a lot of road trips, and every time we went to a new city I would always ask my parents the same question: Where are the hookers? I had a prurient interest in smut from a very early age. Actually I just liked anything on the DL — heroin addiction, homosexuality, mobsters. I had a knack for finding any young adult fiction that covered those subjects, and when I couldn't, there was always my parents' library, which had doozies like Jones: Portrait of a Mugger, Inside the Third Reich, and The Joy of Sex.
Not much has changed. I'm still fascinated with hookers, dope, and true crime. That's why the Green Door Massage on Stockton is especially enticing. It could exist in any decade from the '60s on. It always looks empty and abandoned; I have never seen anyone coming in or out of it. It sits at the mouth of the Stockton tunnel as if in some purgatory between Union Square and Chinatown.
Here is some X-rated history for you: the Behind the Green Door porno came out in 1972, and was produced by none other than San Francisco's Mitchell Brothers. It stars Marilyn Chambers as a local socialite who goes to North Beach to get freaky. It was pretty famous back in the day, so naming one's massage parlor "the Green Door" seemed to me tantamount to saying: "Happy endings: Inquire within."
I got off the 30-Stockton right before the tunnel and was once again too shy to poke my head in the place, but it's not like they make it easy; there's a shoe repair shop that you basically have to pass through first. I always think they should've called it "Good for the Sole," so the sign could say: "Green Door Massage Good for the Sole."
Listen to me, yammering on about handjobs when there are bars to be reported on. Specifically, the Burritt Room, on the second floor of the Mystic Hotel. Apparently it's the baby of "famed chef and hotelier" Charlie Palmer. As for me, I've heard of Charlie Trotter and Charlie Parker, but not Charlie Palmer. But I'm no foodie.
In a town filled with speakeasy-style, gourmet cocktail mixology, the Burritt Room isn't really breaking any molds. It looks like Sinatra's saloon, with chandeliers, red velvet, and rustic touches. The drinks are delicious and the staff is attentive and friendly. It's hidden away, which makes it a great place for a rendezvous, or a breakup, or an alcohol-and-food-fueled maxing of your credit card to forget your troubles.
I settled into a stool. The clientele was what I expected: foodie hipsters, suits, and Tunnel Top castoffs. This is the place that Gavin Newsom would take his high school buddies for a drink if they were in town. Some interestingly obscure funk was playing in the background, and everyone looked like they were just about to leave to go to some free Shakespeare in the Park, which I suppose is "classy casual."
I had my own mission, and it didn't involve classical theater: I wanted to see if anyone had ever seen a person leaving the Green Door. The bartender was super busy, as bartenders always are at these places, because every drink is a 10-step process. I decided to chat up a lone guy sitting next to me. I started with a cliché: "You come here often?" He chuckled and said that he had been a few times and that he liked to come here after work because none of his co-workers knew about it. I could see the lines of despair hugging his eyes like parenthesis. What a poor, sexless bastard. I wondered if he liked massage parlors.
"Yeah ..." I said, delicately changing the subject. "Working sucks, all right. You been to any of the other places around here? Like the shoe repair place?" Shrewd, St. Clair.
"Shoe repair place?" he asked.
"Yeah, you know, Good for the Sole? Next to ... the Green Door?" I enunciated the last part perfectly.
"That a Chinese restaurant?" he asked. Jeez, was this guy blind? Who could miss the whack shack next door? He was getting frustrated too, since this was some mighty lame small talk. I decided to just be blunt.
"The Green Door is the massage parlor a few doors down. It's named for a famous '70s porno. They do outcall and incall. Full-body complete." I wanted to add "Capiche?" but that seemed rude.
"Huh," he replied, nonplussed. What was this guy, a Mormon? No — he appeared to be drinking rather heavily.
"Behind the Green Door!" said a man farther down, who had heard our exchange. I peered over and saw someone who looked like he could have quite an extensive collection of vintage porno.
"You ever seen anyone actually go into that place?" I asked him.
"No, and it's odd, I agree," he concurred. We concluded that such dens of iniquity are usually enchanted with invisible forcefields. Which, of course, makes them all the more intriguing.
When I left I was struck with the idea of just walking into the Green Door to see for myself. All I had to do was turn left from the exit of the Mystic, then left again into Good for the Sole. But I froze. The power of the Green Door is its mystery. It would be like pulling back the proverbial curtain in the Emerald City and seeing that the Wizard was a character actor working on scale. It would be like seeing Chip and Dale take off their costumes at Disneyland and seeing two small women in need of dentistry. It would be like going into a massage parlor and seeing some sad immigrants being exploited underneath florescent lights.
Nah. Better to keep my illusions illusory.