Novelists create worlds we get lost in, but some novelists get lost in our worlds, too.
Michelle Richmond wrote her bestselling novel The Year of Fog about Ocean Beach. And she's set her new thriller Golden State right here in SF, on the day Californians vote to secede from the U.S.
The longtime Bay Area resident tells us where she feels most inspired, from dive bars to secret graveyards to a dinner-only diner gem.
What are your top 3 places not to miss in the Sunset?
Java Beach. The messy, salty, creamy veggie bagel: yum. If you sit outside, you can watch (and listen to) the trains on the N-Judah turnabout.
Polly Ann’s. I just love the devil-may-care bliss of spinning the wheel and landing on something that no one has tasted since Schwarzenegger was in office.
Ocean Beach. It’s cold and foggy and there’s graffiti everywhere and the waves may kill you, it smells of creosote (in a good way), and it’s a stunningly beautiful beach perched on the edge of the continent, right here in our city. It is completely awe-inspiring.
In Golden State, you write about a late-night DJ in SF and even include a playlist in the back of the book. Could you name three songs that capture the spirit of your novel?
“Haight Street Bus Ride,” by Walty; “Late Great Golden State,” by Dwight Yoakam; and “I Heart California,” by Admiral Radley.
What’s your most memorable dive bar in SF?
Hockey Haven in the Outer Richmond is the antidote to SF’s swanky mixologist culture. You can smell the salt air and talk to the neighborhood folks. There might be some futbol on the TV, but it’s not a sports bar. It’s more a have-a-beer-or-whiskey-in-the-friendly-dark bar. It doesn’t hurt that it’s right across the street from the Balboa Theatre.
Do you have any favorite hidden or secret spots locals might not be aware of?
Cajun Pacific at 47th and Irving. They're only open in the evening, and the menu changes weekly. Being from the Gulf Coast, the Creole-inspired dishes like oysters bienville and crawfish etouffee (that's crawdads, if you're from my neck of the woods) always make me feel at home. Nothing pretentious. They fry stuff and grill it and slather it in barbecue sauce and butter and make it taste really damn good.
Any other places off the beaten path?
Down at the end of Sloat Blvd, along the ever-eroding beach, look for old gravestones that were used to shore up the seawall in the early 1900s, when the city passed a law against having bodies buried within city limits. Thousands of the departed were moved to Colma (while many of the indigents were left where they lay), but many of the gravestones got recycled for various city projects, including the Ocean Beach seawall. It's amazing what you'll find hidden in the sand — from pieces of wrecked ships, to tombstones, to remnants of the batteries from when the U.S. expected to be invaded by sea.