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Three Best Tenderloin Dives to Look for Dashiell Hammett's Ghost In 

The essence of Hammett's San Francisco -- fog, neon, whores on the street -- still exists in the Tenderloin, at least on certain nights, and the best way to experience it may be to pick your way through the neighborhood's dozen or so dive bars.

The O'Farrell Street Bar

800 Larkin (at O'Farrell),


Every dive -- like every novel -- has something wrong with it, and the OSB's trouble is that it stands right next to the New Century strip club, which serves no alcohol. Horny frat boys come in now and then for a quick Bud and don't leave tips. Collette the bartender is an able Scottish woman who manages the frat boys as well as the staggering drunks with a brisk, sympathetic manner and a keen sense of dark humor. Watching her work is always better than TV. But if observing bartenders isn't your thing, the OSB also has pool tables and a very watchable fish tank.

The Overflo

998 Sutter (at Hyde), 928-2234

Essential Tenderloin dive. No décor at all, and the regulars stare out at the sidewalk as if the passers-by were all woefully misguided. The Overflo has not just a couple of pool tables but also (sometimes) a pool "team" that plays in local tournaments. Keep your anti-war mouth shut, though. Mark the bartender's an ex-Marine.

The Tunnel Top

601 Bush (at Stockton), 986-8900

The Tunnel Top hires DJs, which may disqualify it as a dive, and the corner of Bush and Stockton is not exactly the Tenderloin, but Hammett fans know that Miles Archer was shot dead at this intersection at the start of The Maltese Falcon.


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