Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hang Fer Lo, the "Delmonico's" of 19th Century San Francico Chinatown

"Hittell's Handbook 0f Pacific Coast Travel," by John Shertzer Hittell had this account of San Francisco's leading Chinese Restaurant in 1885:

The Hang Fer Low Restaurant, on Dupont street, between Clay and Sacramento, is the Delmonico's of Chinatown. The second floor of this and other leading restaurants is set apart for regular boarders, who pay by the week or month. The upper floor, for the accommodation of the more wealthy guests, is divided into apartments by movable partitions, curiously carved and lacquered. The chairs and tables, chandeliers, stained window panes, and even the cooking utensils used at this restaurant were nearly all imported from China. Here dinner parties, costing from $20 to $100 for half a dozen guests, are frequently given by wealthy Chinamen. When the latter sum is paid, the entire upper floor is set apart for their accommodation, and the dinner sometimes lasts from 2 P. M. till midnight, with intervals between the courses, during which the guests step out to take an airing, or to transact business. Among the delicacies served on such occasions are bird's nest soup, shark's fins, Taranaki fungus (which grows on a New Zealand tree), Chinese terrapin, Chinese goose, Chinese quail, fish brains, tender shoots of bamboo, various vegetables strange to American eyes, and arrack,(a distilled liquor made of rice). Champagne, sherry oysters, chicken, pigeon, sucking pig, and other solids and liquids familiar to the European palate, also find their places at the feast. The tables are decorated with satin screens or hangings on one side; the balconies or smoking rooms are illuminated by colored lanterns; and Chinese music adds to the charms of the entertainment.

Hang Fer Low was located at 713 Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue) prior to the Great Earthquake of 1906, and moved to 725 Grant Avenue after the quake. Somewhere along the way the spelling of the name was changed to the risible Hang Far Low, and in the 1950's, perhaps tired of the low humor the name engendered, it changed its name to the Four Seas. It still exists today, but has long been overshadowed by other Chinatown restaurants.