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Back Seat Stinkers: The Myth of Garlic-Fearing Cab Drivers Lives On 

Wednesday, Aug 7 2013

In olden times, many an opinion was formed via the "friend-of-a-friend" story. A relative or friend of a friend of a relative supposedly underwent some manner of experience, a diluted version of which was passed from listener to listener.

Today's there's a different term for all this: the Internet.

Bizarre online reviews of the San Francisco shrine to garlic The Stinking Rose have percolated into the cultural fabric. Specifically: Knowledgeable people still swear that cabdrivers disdain picking up customers in front of the Columbus Avenue restaurant, as patrons befoul the cabs with the overwhelming odor of their garlic-heavy dinners. As such, patrons are purportedly told to march a bit down Columbus to hail unsuspecting taxi drivers.

This came as news to a multitude of drivers contacted by SF Weekly, however. "I have never heard of this — and I love garlic," says Marcelo Fonseca. Longtime cabbie Tony Long — a former copy editor at the San Francisco Examiner, incidentally — says, "We pick up people way worse than The Stinking Rose. I got a guy at St. Francis emergency; I had to air out the cab."

In fact, many cabbies recommend the restaurant, and pick up and drop off clientele there regularly. So what gives? Trevor Johnson gives an oh-no-not-again groan. This rumor "has been notorious among the city's tourists," says Johnson, a driver and dispatcher. "But now it's getting to the point that even the residents believe it."

Several times, he says, Stinking Rose employees calling cabs for diners have accused him of not wanting to dispatch a cab to "a garlic restaurant." "People I pick up at the restaurant say the hostess told them they should move up the street because cabdrivers don't like picking up people here who smell like garlic." This, he says, "is a load of crap."

His reluctance, he says, stems from knowing that any cab sent to the bustling restaurant's front door will likely be stolen away by someone other than its intended fare.

Meanwhile, Jeff Borders, The Stinking Rose's manager, tells diners hoping to hail a cab to move up the street — not to hoodwink garlic-hating cabbies, mind you, but just to ease crowding and move passengers to a better-lit area where taxis can pull up with less difficulty.

For the garlic-infused or otherwise, Johnson says the best way to get a cab is to look like you want one. "With all the new little techies, they think if it doesn't exist on their iPhone, it doesn't exist. They're looking at their phones when empty cabs are passing them. Put your hand in the air!"

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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