and carried on eating. The local yellowtail was seaside-fresh; the sauce for grilled calamari nodded towards Mexico, with mole for depth, chilli for heat and lime for zing. Chef and co-owner John Clark is also a film buff with a sense of humour: “We get a lot of first dates here. If the date goes sour, you can always watch the movie.”
I knew that San Francisco was a city of film locations; more surprisingly, everyone I met seemed to be a movie devotee. And for many, a favourite destination is The Castro Theatre. Open since 1922 and still owned by the same family, this movie palace retains red velvet tip-up seats, an elaborate ceiling and a screen 45 feet wide and 25 feet high. A 30-minute organ recital precedes shows: new, old, foreign, gay, pure Hollywood and even special “singalong” evenings. Yellow Submarine anyone?
Cameras are always rolling somewhere. During my stay, Keanu Reeves was in town to shoot scenes for Always Be My Maybe at The Fairmont San Francisco. Opened in 1907 at the very top of Nob Hill, this hotel has the marble, gilt and glamour of a true grande dame. Royalty, presidents and celebs have all stayed here and its cinematic CV could fill a book. Most memorable moment? “That has to be Sean Connery’s haircut scene in The Rock,” according to chief concierge Tom Wolfe. One minute Sean Connery’s ex-con is in the barber’s chair; the next he tosses John Spencer’s FBI director from the balcony and makes his escape. “We had phone calls galore that someone was dangling from a rope, 18 floors up,” Wolfe admitted. “What pedestrians saw, of course, was a dummy.”
The real star of The Rock is Alcatraz, the bleak island a mile offshore. Now run by the National Park Service, its 12 acres served as a high-security federal penitentiary for 29 years. Even on a sunny day, the place was chilling, especially the Cell House, where each prisoner’s “home” measured just 45 feet square. Dozens of films have featured the prison.
“The most accurate is Clint Eastwood’s Escape from Alcatraz,” said a ranger.
For something completely different, I headed for the Walt
Disney Family Museum. As well as learning about the story of Walt’s life and times, I discovered how Mortimer Mouse morphed into
Mickey back in 1928. There are have-a-go animatronics, cartoons and Disney’s own model train set. Perhaps
John’s Grill is one block from Union Square ( johnsgrill.com); the awardwinning Foreign Cinema is in the Castro District (foreigncinema. com); Caffe Trieste is in
North Beach (caffetrieste.com). this artist, innovator and corporate head was just a big kid at heart.
That museum is in the Presidio, the huge army-base-turned-park south of the Golden Gate Bridge. Amid the greenery is another cinema connection: the studios of Lucasfilm, guarded by a Yoda fountain. “Anyone want a selfie with Darth Vader and Boba Fett?” asked Marie, the guide on my San Francisco Movie Tours bus, to the delight of Star Wars fans. “You can’t miss them – they’re life-size and just inside the front door.”
This is just one stop on a three-hour ride chock-full of clips, locations and Marie’s lively anecdotes. “In When a Man Loves a Woman, Meg Ryan is at the bar of the Buena Vista Cafe, famous for its Irish coffees.” Mrs Doubtfire’s house is “the only real address ever given out in a movie. The owners have been plagued by tourists ever since.” Then there is Alta Plaza Park, seen in the madcap chase sequence in What’s Up, Doc? This witty spoof of Bullitt has Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal taking to the hills – first on a bicycle and then in a VW.
From the silent era to right now, directors have shouted “Action!” in
San Francisco. But the “City by the Bay” is far more than a backdrop. From Dirty Harry to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it has played a leading role in cinema. Maybe one day the Academy will decide to award an Oscar for Best Location. If they do, I reckon San Francisco would be a sure-fire winner.
CALIFORNIA DREAMINGCaffe Trieste, above, where Francis Ford Coppola worked on the screenplay of