Looking: San Francisco
San Francisco is one of those iconic American cities made famous and familiar to millions by pop culture. Tales from the City, Armistead Maupin’s enduring chronicles of the place and its characters; Bullit and its legendary car chase throughout the undulating roads; hell, even a surprising number of episodes of Murder, She Wrote locate themselves in the Bay Area. So when you first arrive, as with New York, you really feel as though you already know the place.
HBO’s superb Looking, however, presents the city in a different way to its forbearers, with San Francisco as a living, breathing character and not merely a backdrop or a study in nostalgia. So given the chance to explore the place from the point of view of central characters Patrick [Jonathan Groff], Agustín [Frankie J Alvarez] and Dom [Murray Bartlett] to mark the release of Looking – series one on Blu-ray and DVD, who were we to decline? Sure, this was a trip that didn’t take in Alcatraz, that didn’t dwell on Ghirardelli’s famous chocolates and that certainly didn’t focus on the more anodyne shopping Meccas like Union Square or tourist traps like Fisherman’s Wharf, offering instead a far more personal insight into what must surely be the west coast’s – if not America’s – friendliest city.
Looking for food and drink San Francisco is widely known as perhaps the culinary centre of the USA. Dom, trying to get in on a bit of that in Looking, sets his sites low by essentially attempting to introduce Nando’s through the medium of the pop-up restaurant. The Naked Kitchen – a rather classier pop-up affair – instead showcases talented local chefs through flawless multicourse celebrations in beautiful private homes in the Mission District area of the city. If down and dirty burritos are more your thing, followed by incredible margaritas,
then start at Pancho Villa, also in the Mission. But if formal lunches in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge are up your street, then the former military enclave at Cavallo Point Lodge will also do you proud. While Looking underlines the horrors of trying to find a decent man – amen – San Francisco at large reminds you it’s hard to go hungry in this town.
Looking for Castro Everyone should know the importance of the Castro District – the place where Harvey Milk began a crusade that would transform him from ‘guy who owned a camera shop’ to a true icon of gay history. The area, and gay culture in general, owes a huge debt to this great man, so it’s fitting that Castro Street itself regularly crops up in Looking, with the Castro District in general also breaking up some of the angst with some incredible parties. At The Midnight Sun we met the inimitable Honey Mahogany – drag artist, chanteuse and mixer of the most lethal half pint ‘shots’ in the northern hemisphere. She also crops up in Looking, which serves to underline that the show is as much about the city and its residents as it is scripted drama. The Stud, buried deeper in the Mission District, offers a more ready ‘charm’ to the Midnight Sun’s polish but you don’t need me to point out that whatever you’re after, San Francisco’s gay scene has it all and welcomes all. Hell, we even found a bar that only played singalong Disney tunes. Until 3am. On a Monday.
Looking for more Even if the regular tourist traps hold no interest, and you just want to hang out and feel as though you belong in San Francisco, there is still a huge amount to see and do. Dolores Park – the site of Dom’s 40th birthday party in Looking – is featured in the series as it really is the meeting point and melting pot for locals. With incredible views across the city and the smell of freely smoked weed
It serves to underline that Looking is as much about the city as it is the
heavy in the air, it’s a must-sit kind of place – but buy a brownie at your own risk! The Academy Of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is a breathtaking diversion thanks to its living roof, a resident albino alligator and an incredible planetarium show. Or go a little further afield and pretend that you too are about to snog Russell Tovey aboard the USS Hornet Museum. If that floats your boat.