My friend Jane died three years ago this month. She went peacefully as her two sons, Jim and David, and I sat with her. After such a momentous event it is hard to know what to do next. It seemed odd to just say good-bye to each other and to go our separate ways. We had witnessed a life passing. It seemed appropriate to find a way to celebrate her life in a way that she would have enjoyed. It was David who suggested the Top of the Mark at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Of course. Very San Francisco. Very Nob Hill. Cocktails with a view. I could almost hear Jane’s husky laugh at the thought of it.
It is not easy to find a cab in Pacific Heights on a Friday night at 7:00 p.m. so we hopped on the #1 California bus and climbed Sacramento Street to Nob Hill. Somehow arriving at the Mark Hopkins by public transportation helped to add another surreal element to the already ‘out of body’ evening. There is a very convenient elevator in the lobby of the Mark Hopkins Hotel marked “Top of the Mark” which whisks you to the 19th floor. The Maitre d’ greeted us as we walked out of the elevator at 7:45.
“May I help you, sir?” he asked.
“Yes”, replied David, “We would like a table for three for just a drink”.
“Well, sir, as you can see we have a dress code after 8:00” he told us as he glanced down at my athletic shoes and Jim’s jeans.
“Our mother has just died this evening” explained David “and we would like to toast her memory. We will not stay long.”
“I will see what I can do” the Maitre d’ replied and disappeared into the next room.
Less than one minute later he returned and escorted us to the best table in the house. We had a perfect, unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the City and the setting sun. David and Jim ordered big martinis. I ordered what Jane and I would always drink together over steaks: a double Jack Daniels with a water back. With our cocktails in hand we started to reminisce about some of Jane’s favorite things to do in San Francisco...
Jane was my link to the elegant San Francisco of my childhood - circa the Alfred Hitchcock movie ‘Vertigo’. A day with Jane in San Francisco would start with breakfast at Sear’s Pancakes on Powell Street. It was important to have a hearty breakfast because who knew when you would be able to grab your next meal? Then we would walk down Powell Street to shop at I. Magnin’s in Union Square where she had a charge account. We always primped ourselves before walking through the main floor of this very elegant department store which involved reapplying our lipstick and making sure our hair looked good. I referred to crossing the main floor of I. Magnin’s as ‘running the gauntlet’. Perfectly made up sales women stood behind their respective make-up counters and would eye each customer up and down as they walked by. If you could make it to the elevator bank in the back of the store without a sales woman suggesting that perhaps you needed ‘a little color’, it was going to be a good day. However, there was a particular shade of pink lipstick by Christian Dior that Jane would always stock up on so we had to make at least one stop. Then we would proceed to the elevators which were operated by middle aged women wearing tasteful beige knit dresses, proper pumps and a gold brooch that was an insignia of the I. Magnin initials. The first stop would be the fifth floor to use the Powder Room. Any woman who ever shopped in San Francisco until the store closed in 1993 will tell you how amazing the Powder Room was. It was a huge room paneled in dark green marble. The doors to each private, marble lined commode were opened for you by the female attendant. She also handed you a cloth hand towel to dry your hands and a sample of pink hand lotion and sent you on your way. Jane’s next stop would be Mister Lee’s on Jones Street to get her hair done. Then back down the hill for a cocktail in the old Redwood Room of the Clift Hotel and occasionally an evening at the ballet or a jazz concert...
Jane lived in Northern California and thought nothing of loading her four children into her navy blue Volvo and driving down to the City for the day so that they could see what her favorite city was all about. She instilled a love of San Francisco in Jim and David and it seemed appropriate to watch the sun set over the city she loved so much on the day she passed.
When we asked the waiter for the check we were told that the drinks were on the house. Jane would have loved that.