Picture this. I was waiting outside The Chapel on a beautiful San Francisco Sunday morning. A feeling suddenly came over me, I started missing the snow and arctic-like winds… hold up. Um, yeah right. Got your attention, yet? Listen, I love that I get to travel to some pretty exciting places – but it also doesn’t suck that some of them are warm when it’s so darn cold back home. And what do you do when you visit a new and exciting city? You eat. So, let me tell you all about the most basic of basic things: a delicious brunch that I ate in California.
The Vestry at The Chapel opened on the weekend to welcome us for a lovely brunch with specialty items, like homemade granola and biscuits and gravy. Likely known for their breakfast bahn mi with grilled Vietnamese pork sausage and Maggi mayo or a veggie version with marinated tofu, I opted for the Madame Toad which was a delicious mash-up of a croque madame & toad in the hole sandwich (with a side of avocado, because I’m all about that life).
My mother ordered and savoured the amazing eggs Benedict with Meyer lemon hollandaise sauce. And of course, I had to try some for myself (we love to share our food, so as to not suffer from food envy)… it may have been the best eggs Benedict ever, hands down!
As per the servers recommendation, we also just had to try the warm homemade banana bread with vanilla cream cheese butter. Oh, but that’s not all. We also added in an order of their made-to-order old fashioned donuts (which you can ask to be “baconized”) – cause I don’t practice willpower on Sundays. I mean, it’s the law, right?
We sat on the outdoor heated patio (cause San Franciscans find 15 degrees chilly while Canadians are rippin’ out their shorts from the summer closet) and took in the pleasure of eating warm food in a warm venue in a warm city. Ahhh waaarmth.
The Chapel is mainly known for the music venue, where 500 people can watch live music, often as part of a sold out crowd. I’d love to gig there one day as even the stage itself is so cool. Many famous and talented artists have played this venue and many more will rock the crowds in future gigs at this iconic club.
The staff truly bent over backwards to ensure that we had a good brunch, but also that we really appreciated the history of The Vestry and The Chapel by giving us a tour. You see, it was once the Gantner-Madison-Domergue Funeral Home when Valencia street was once lined with mortuaries. Built in 1914 in the Mission District of San Francisco, the manager informed us that The Chapel is still haunted by a little girl who likes to nudge the staff and knock things off of shelves. You can read accounts online of the mischievous little spirit who has been seen on security camera, in what used to be the embalming room, and heard whispering in the bartender’s ear.
Until 1949, a streetcar ran directly from Mission Street to Colma, a cemetery town where the dead outnumbered the living by over a thousand to one. Bodies would be embalmed, then picked up by the streetcar right outside each mortuary, to take their final ride ride to the cemetery in Colma.
Bodies were stored in the basement of The Chapel, now used partially as a wine cellar, just below the embalming room. The body crank would raise and lower bodies from one room to another where the incinerator was also located. The manager showed me the body crank, located just above the bathroom. An original feature that adds to the authenticity of the chapels history.
Although this may seem like a lot of creepy facts for a place that hosts such a wonderful restaurant and music venue, but it’s all part of the history – a part of the bigger story. We didn’t experience any creepy goings-on while at The Chapel, but we did marvel at the 40 ft ceilings and the stunning architectural features such as the old wooden doors and the carved pews.
Known as a top visitors spot in the the City by the Bay, the chapel offers a promising future to the living (after delivering an efficient ending to the dead). It’s hands-down a place that you also need to visit on your next trip to San Francisco!
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Catherine Sugrue, CNP
Photos by Catherine Sugrue
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