There was a valet stationed outside The Battery on Sunday night. Even for a private clubhouse with a $2,400 annual fee, this seemed superfluous. San Francisco's Financial District turns into a ghost town after 6 p.m. The neighborhood was so desolate, the only place I could find to charge my phone was a SUBWAY® around the corner, where they gave me free rein over an outlet behind the soda fountain.
The valet, who wasn't there during my epic quest for power, must have appeared after sunset so that members of The Battery could pay $15 to $40 to avoid opening one of San Francisco's myriad parking apps. Valet parking: the analog convenience economy.
Inside, the club was equally as barren as the rest of Jackson Square. It smelled acrid, like synthetic varnish and trying too hard.
A source had warned me about Ken Fulk, creative director at The Battery—a peacock of a designer who struts between the city's nouveau tech riche and the families behind the hedgerow. "He's the darling of old, white Pacific Heights and total nerds who don't know any better. In three years, they'll get the memo about terrariums." (It's true. No one here seems aware that terrariums are over, even the sleek scenesters at Sightglass Coffee. But mini plant worlds are nice to look at, so no harm, no foul.)
Fulk also serves as a "full-service concierge" for Michael and Xochi Birch, the husband-and-wife entrepreneurs behind The Battery, who fund their extravagances with the spoils from one of the worst deals of the dot-com era.
For the Birches' home in Pacific Heights, Fulk imported "an actual old English pub from England." If you believe Michael Birch, an English programmer, those village bars were the inspiration for a social club seeded by 100 hand-selected members. "It's because [he] just discovered gastropubs," explained the source, calling Fulk's clients the exception, not the rule. "This is not a city that is behind in good food or home design."
As promised, the decor inside the Battery was the textbook definition of "over-propped." Incongruous animal heads lined the walls of the House Bar; empty signifiers of the old guard dotted the rooms: Sea-faring tableaus, a marble fountain, quilted leather, a secret room that opens if you find the right book on the shelf. The only hint at a sense of humor was a patch of astroturf—at least that's what it felt like to my toes—in front of the outdoor fountain.
All around the club, from the front desk to the members-only Musto Bar, the wood was finished with an over-the-top black-and-white treatment that made it look like a children's book come to life, in keeping with the Old Money Fantasyland theme.
That unnecessary flourish was my pet peeve, but San Franciscans seem particularly offended by the food. "The kale salad was something I could make when I was drunk and hungover," one resident mentioned. "The kale was fresh, but that's because of the farmers." (That was followed by an unfavorable placement of the club's french fries on a quality vs. price graph.)
Upstairs, the ladies room featured gilded faucets and stall doors were marked with the seven deadly sins. That night, the "Greed" toilet was out of order.
During my brief visit, I also took a peek at the Penthouse suite, where guests are greeted with a pop art portrait of the Queen of England. Access to the roof deck, infinity hot tub, and the view (from the Bay Bridge to the Transamerica building) will set you back $10,000 a night. Not that you would know it by the underdressed code.
The Battery likes to point out that they offer "scholarships" for the less fortunate. But I was told, "No self-respecting artist would want to hang out there."
Once I was escorted back onto the sidewalk, I ordered an UberX so as not to miss my first trip to Carcosa. My driver turned out to be a Google employee who said he drew the lucky H1-B visa straw to get out of Bulgaria. (I looked him up later on LinkedIn.)
During the ride, he told me he works at the company's Mountain View campus, but started driving for UberX for two hours on Saturdays and Sundays to send money to a family of four kids he met on vacation, who couldn't afford to go to school or even shoes. "I just calculated that if I work four hours of a week, I can clothe all of them," he told me. "For so little, it's amazing what you can do."
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[Image of the front desk and charter rules via The Battery]