The tiny town of Tiburon hangs off a cliff in San Francisco Bay. The waterfront is muddy, just boulders and pilings, but on a clear day downtown San Francisco glitters – it literally glitters as sun hits the buildings’ windows. The main drag is littered with boutiques, goods sport a Marine theme – starfish and lobsters – Kennebunkport resort wear – scarves are big. Main Treat is a nostalgia candy store (think Sugar Babies and Charleston Chews) and the ubiquitous seafood restaurant where nary a local shall ever be seen hangs over the pilings next to the Ferry Dock. There are two actually – one will take you across the Bay to San Francisco, the other to Angel Island, which is a fascinating trip, if you have the afternoon free. Most days, the air above the Bay is crisp – bracing as the Irish say.
From Highway 101, you drive up and down a winding two lane road that hasn’t changed in at least 50 years, past Belvedere Island, a squat promontory with some mansions, some single story apartments, and a small road encircling the community. Up into the hills for a bit, then steadily toward sea level.
The pilings that hold up the restaurants smell of creosote and diesel. Tangy petroleum-based tar, it reeks of dinosaurs crushed into oil with no one to mourn their passing. Most people’s feet lead them straight into Sam’s. Nobody calls it by its full name, Sam’s Anchor Café – though there is a giant anchor stuck at the end of road, holding down the traffic circle. Swinging doors lead straight into the bar and there are always a few grizzled yachtsmen occupying the first few stools, jawboning about the size of their boats. The cool darkness envelopes you and everyone with a lick of sense pauses near the entrance and waits for their irises to adjust. Marine carpentry is in high demand here in Tiburon, it’s a dying art. The sea has given these men leathery faces, etched-in laugh lines looking at their beer, nursing the lager they bought an hour ago. I am running just a few minutes late so I say my hellos to the staff and head through the narrow hallway.
The boards on their stolid deck are utilitarian, like the canvas umbrellas over the vinyl covered outdoor tables. The morning is cold, sunny and clear.
My friend Barbara is already here, at a four-top on the deck.
“Hi Barbara, so good to see you again!”
“I’ve never been here before.”
“What? This is like a Marin County Rite of Passage.”
Our energetic waitress shows up right away, and asks what we want to drink. You ALWAYS order a Ramos Fizz at Sam’s. There is gin involved, egg whites and something citrusy, but the recipe is a closely guarded secret. If it was any day other than Sunday, I would order a Crab Louie. Iceberg lettuce is still in style at Sam’s, and the whole salad is nice and cold. The place starts getting crowded as the hobby sailors sporting Sperry Topsiders and blue wool yacht cap’n hats, poplin pants and windswept hair preen and twist in their chairs to see who’s here.
I think of Janis Ian’s song here. “Look at me, I would like to dance”, she sings “but I haven’t the clothes for romance…at the Debutante’s ball, all the girls wear gowns made specially in France, and the men here can tell at a glance.”
Brunch finished, we split the bill and I take a few minutes to explore the clapboard cottage carefully signed to explain the railroads that used to criss cross the state. The narrow gauge rails carried sundries and goods headed for the Barbary Coast that were unloaded right here, in the tiny town of Tiburon.