Besides its appalling health conditions, the original Sam Wo was known for delicious late-night Chinese food and a mouthy server named Edsel Ford Fong, once named the “rudest, worst, most insulting waiter” of all time. Fong's legend has persisted long after his death in 1984, leaving big shoes to fill at the revived Sam Ho, which opened in 2015, three years after the original closed. Before heading there one night secretly hoping to have our souls defiled, my friend Telmo and I stopped in for a few rounds at the nearby Mr. Bing's bar on the strip-club-filled border of Chinatown and North Beach.
Mr. Bing's is a tight, U-shaped dive that smells like vomit and hard liquor. Anthony Bourdain once stopped by — but that celebrity legacy seemed to have taken a vacation, which was fine by me.
A very intoxicated man — one of those types who could have been a vagrant or a millionaire, but nothing in between — wandered to the ATM for jukebox and booze money. The machine whirred, signaling the flow of cash, and he declared, “My babies! My babies are being born!” He took the money and ran, never to be seen again. Moments later, an Eastern European immigrant joined us, hitting on every female in the bar, of which there were only four. He was excited because he'd just passed his citizenship test, so he bought everyone a Mind Eraser. (It would have been truly un-American to refuse our country's newest resident.)
Minds thus erased, it was time for Chinese food. We arrived without much delay, ready to eat and to suffer personal attacks. Borderline blackout drunk, I can safely say I remember the restaurant looked entirely up-to-code, and found the chow mein and spring rolls fresh and perfectly portioned. The staff, however, was disappointingly friendly. They're aware of Sam Wo's legacy as a place to get a good berating, but it seems that duty fell firmly on Fong's shoulders. I appreciated every attempt to send an insult my way per my request, but they couldn't stifle their laughter long enough to make me cry.
I did witness the waitress pick up the phone — presumably the phone where people call in orders — and shout “Who is this?!” into the receiver, leaving no chance for the caller to speak. Even though Sam Wo's insulting days may be over, a little spark lives on in there somewhere. Maybe it only comes out when they think you're so drunk you won't remember it.