Society Adventures: A History of Crime and Vice in San Francisco's Chinatown - Atlas Obscura
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Society Adventures: A History of Crime and Vice in San Francisco’s Chinatown

On Sunday January 26, 2014, during a pre-New Year’s festival, Atlas Obscura gathered a group of 15 at Red’s Place, the oldest bar in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

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all photographs by the author

For the next 90 minutes, local crime expert Paul Drexler led us through the enveloping dusk on a fascinating walking tour down Chinatown’s most notorious alleys, where he wove tales of its sordid criminal history. ”The seeker after thrills or depravity found in Chinatown an abundance of opium-smoking resorts, houses of prostitution, and gambling hells,” Drexler explained of the area’s past. 

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We stopped briefly at Eastern Bakery, the oldest bakery in Chinatown, to sample their delicious moon cakes and other pastries before continuing on.

With stories of opium dens and enslaved prostitutes, tong wars and the lawmen who sought order, Drexler brought to life Chinatown’s brutal and bloody past, the remnants of which linger to this day.

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We concluded back where we began and enjoyed cocktails at Red’s while Drexler concluded his talk and distributed crime maps and photos of some of the characters we’d heard about during the walk. We said our farewells to new friends and left behind the spirits of those we’d learned about that once haunted the alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Thank you to Paul Drexler for guiding us on this exploration. Click here for more information on his Crooks Tour of San Francisco.

DO IT YOURSELF:

SAN FRANCISCO’S CHINATOWN: Roughly bordered by Bay Street to the north, Columbus Avenue on the west, and Washington Street on the south, Chinatown’s many alleys and shops are easily explored on foot. 



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The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure!

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