Last week I turned in SHUT THE GATES OF MERCY, the third entry in my four-book Emperor Norton series, and I want to talk a little about the setting for one of its most important scenes: the Top of the Mark restaurant and bar.
The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel is 19 stories high and every window could claim the best view in San Francisco. Nob Hill towers over much of what I think of when I think “San Francisco”: Market Street, the Embarcadero, the Financial District, China Town, the Bay Bridge, the Castro, you name it. And at the very top of Nob Hill is the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins. And at the very top of that, occupying what once was the penthouse suite, is the Top of the Mark bar.
The place has a 360-degree view of the entire city, and there isn’t a bad seat in the joint. But one particular corner, the southeastern one, used to be called Weeper’s Corner.
In World War II, service members heading off to the Pacific front would go to the Top of the Mark for one last drink. They believed it gave them good luck.
The next morning, the story goes, their wives and girlfriends would go there, too. They’d cluster in the southeastern corner of the bar and they’d wave at departing ships.
There’s something powerful in that story, something human. I am not invested in the aggrandizement of war, but I am very interested in times and places in which many people have invested emotion of their own. How else do we get relics, anyway, if not by soaking mundane objects in the sentiment of the masses? For my money, a plate glass window to which countless heartbroken lovers pressed their hands as lovers sailed off to unknown fates is just as sacred, just as precious, as the knuckle of any saint.
I’ve sat in Weeper’s Corner myself, drinking French 75’s and laughing the night away, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that there is a /weight/ in that corner. I felt it before I knew it had a name or a reason for being.
Iria and Madge and Emperor Norton talk a lot in this series about the /soul/ of the city, but I don’t think any of them have ever said what that /is/, and the way the city and its people have invested meaning in one another is what they mean. That’s a mistake I should correct. Good thing Norton #3 will come back to me for at least one round of revisions, right?
Anyway, here are some photos of Top of the Mark, some of which feature what they then–and you and I now–call Weeper’s Corner.