Yesterday was the day I had been waiting for. A beautiful warm sunny day, an empty stomach, cash in my pocket and a friend joining me for lunch. Without too much effort I convinced Martha to walk over to the St. Francis Fountain with me. I’d seen it there on the corner before, it’s neon sign was hard to miss even with the screaming colors of the signs around it. To be honest I was expecting to be disappointed, or I would’ve visited sooner. I’m still mourning the loss of the State Street Woolworth’s luncheonette, which finally closed about fifteen years ago. Nobody I talked to had ever even been to the St. Francis, which is not a good sign in a food-obsessed town like San Francisco. Still, it would be a nice walk and if it was really awful there was another place I wanted to try next door.
It was not disappointing. Let me repeat that, it was not disappointing. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the decor and layout have not changed since it was founded in 1918. A long formica counter with raised stools runs along one side, with menus and condiments and tall canisters filled with spirals of red fountain straws. On the other side is a glass cabinet filled with candies, and behind that tall wooden booths. Next to the kitchen is a tiny wood-shuttered telephone box, and just enough chrome accents are sprinkled around to let you know you are in for some serious diner food. The menu is heavy on the breakfast offerings (note to self: brunch with mom), along with classic lunch sandwiches and all the fountain drinks you could want. Probably thirty different syrups to add to your Coke if you want, shakes, malts, sundaes, floats, egg creams. I had a Reuben, Martha had a bacon cheeseburger and we split a chocolate sundae for dessert. Not hot fudge (they have that too) but a old-fashioned chocolate sundae with vanilla custard ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, toasted almonds and a cherry on top. Perfection.
Not that it hasn’t changed a little through the years. The waitresses were all tattooed hipster chicks who seemed to have bought their dark brunette haircolor in bulk, the ice cream is made by Mitchell’s up the street and not in-house (despite signs everywhere that they make their own), the candy is no longer homemade but appeals to their local crowd with Star Wars pez dispensers, Alf bubble gum cards, licorice ropes and candy bars. The essentials are intact though, and that’s what counts. I know where to go the next time I need a tuna melt.