During World War II, nearly 30,000 a month passed through the Top of the Mark bar in the Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco. Servicemen and women would often say, "I'll meet you at the Top of the Mark" on their way to serve in the Pacific. Each squadron kept a bottle of liquor in a cabinet at the Top of the Mark for anyone in their squadron who was passing through, and the guy who used the last shot was honor bound to buy the next bottle. Needless to say, many a toast was drunk to those comrades in arms who did not make it back.
Ever since, the management of the Top of the Mark has continued to hold one seat at the bar for servicemen and women, and although the tradition of the squadron bottles lapsed for a while, it has been revived in 2009 by Lieutenant Mike Hall, USN. That's Lieutenant Hall in the picture above. He also initiated a sort of "guest book" to be signed by any service person or veteran who wants to add a good wish or a remembrance of her or his service.
So, why am I telling you all this? Partly to give you a tip - the Top of the Mark is a great place to have a drink and a nibble any time you are in San Francisco - but mostly because we went there last week with my Aunt Virginia and her daughter Bonnie who accompanied her on this visit. Aunt Virginia has been going to the Top of the Mark pretty much all her life, first as a Navy junior (her Dad and my Granddad was a battleship captain), then as a young married woman, and now we go with her every time she comes to town because she loves a "dirty" Martini - and because she is a veteran. Aunt Virginia served in the first class of the Waves during the second world war.
Here she is. I don't think she will mind if I tell you that she is 95 years young. She still lives alone, drives her bright red Honda Fit, volunteers at the library where she worked for many years, does chair Pilates every week, and takes all her friends to their doctors' appointments. She also drinks a Martini every evening before dinner. I want to be Aunt Virginia when I grow up.
When we got to the Top of the Mark, we realized it was Fleet Week here in San Francisco. Most Octobers, Navy ships sail into the bay, as they have many times since Aunt Virginia's father did, aboard one of Teddy Roosevelt's White Fleet in 1908. The ships are open for touring and the Blue Angels do their spectacular air shows over the waterfront. Aunt Virginia let it slip that she is a veteran and then the fun began! First, she was offered a drink from one of the squadron bottles - her choice! She chose the Tanqueray gin pictured above for her Dirty Martini, specifying Noilly Pratt vermouth, an olive, and just a dash of the juice from the bottle of olives. It arrived in a traditional Martini stemmed glass, the olive pierced with a stylish black toothpick.
Next, the management brought over that wonderful book of salutes and memories for us to page through. Reading those will bring tears to your eyes. Then, Aunt Virginia was invited to sign her own name and add her own memories to the new book that they have started since the old one is completely filled.
Aunt Virginia relished her Martini as My Beloved and I enjoyed a glass of champagne while the Blue Angels roared overhead in practice.
I can't imagine a more memorable visit to the Top of the Mark. We are all looking forward to her next visit so we can do it all again.