Across the Nob Hill and Russian Hill neighborhoods of movie history, Frank Bullitt’s battered green Mustang Fastback bounds over hills and through narrow streets. It chases an unyielding and seemingly indestructible Dodge Charger for more than 10 minutes on film. Through North Beach and Chinatown, near Frank’s apartment at Taylor and Clay, near Coit Tower, around Broadway, the famous chase immortalizes a world of imagination created in two weeks in an editing room.
His Broadway—the Bullitt Broadway—where Robert Duvall’s beige Sunshine Cab No. 6912 waits for Frank at a clandestine meeting at Enrico’s restaurant, lives forever in “Bullitt.”
San Francisco’s Broadway—the real Broadway—is a seedy 2.7-mile mess of detestable vulgarity and destitution in places, bookended by idyllic Bay Area affluence. It’s wonderfully nostalgic and brutally real in others. The real Broadway lacks the polish that the king of cool once gave us. The real Broadway is a sign of the schism between utopia and dystopia, the kind of negative space that only reality creates today.
Broadway in San Francisco at night (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)
Ryan Maxey, owner of Naked Lunch (Aaron Cole/Motor Authority)
Broadway in San Francisco (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)
At its heart—the heart that people will find looking for the world of “Bullitt”—flickering neon bounces off aging signs from skin joints like the Hungry I Club and Hustler Club into burgeoning restaurants and literary holes-in-the-walls, beatnik Babels. All of it is real, and all of it is raw.
Ryan Maxey knows those sides of Broadway, and everything in between. Ryan owns Naked Lunch, a restaurant at 504 Broadway named with a not-so-subtle nod to his neighborhood’s sandpaper-rough alley where vice can be a window dressing sometimes. It’s a neighborhood place, the real neighborhood place.
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Naked Lunch is also ground zero for Bullitt’s Broadway and San Francisco’s, too: the restaurant is directly downstairs from the sign for Enrico’s restaurant, a visible tie that binds movie history to present-day reality.
It’s also where Maxey, since the 1990s, has watched the dot-com world boom and bust, Silicon Valley’s draw and repulsion, and the original San Francisco Broadway claw its way back into relevance again.
“Places like this, they always come back. It’s just a matter of time,” Ryan says in an afternoon lull, post-lunch rush of reflection. Naked Lunch closes after 4 p.m., when Broadway changes its attitude and clientele.
It’s not a big bet that he’ll stick around for Broadway’s next up from its current down but he’s here for now.
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2018 Ford Mustang GT (Matt Dayka/For Motor Authority)
Look closely at the Ford Mustang and Steve McQueen and it’s not hard to draw parallels between those two, and the streets of San Francisco it helped make famous.
The Mustang was Frank Bullitt’s car. But it was also James Earl Ray’s car. For all its fame the Mustang has its infamy, too.
McQueen’s life was similarly tumultuous. Just as difficult as the history some associate with the lonely, orphaned, and temperamental actor, he’s universally revered as the exact opposite: “cool,” everyone wanted to be near him. A postmodern superhero whose own body betrayed him with cancer far too young.
Broadway—the real one—attracts and repels. Ryan looks out on the particle-board brown empty storefronts that have been vacant for years near his restaurant, maybe close to a decade, and wonders how their owners can cling to an idea that’s long gone.
“They’re hoping they can get rents from 5, 10 years ago,” he says. “They’re keeping them empty for nothing. They’re worthless to this area.”
Despite his discouraged tone, Ryan’s attitude is upbeat and forceful. He sees value in the neighborhood that brings him regulars and passersby like me. His tone and approach with familiar and unfamiliar customers is the same—come in, sit down, watch the Warriors, have a beer or lunch. Behind his full beard and tattooed, folded forearms, he smiles in a broad satisfied way that speaks to his optimism—and pragmatism.