Eating amid the past at some vintage eateries scattered around San Francisco
Hungry for more vintage San Francisco restaurants?
I visited several others that trace their roots to the days after the 1906 earthquake — and some that were even older. If you’d like to keep eating and exploring your way through old San Francisco, you might check these places out, too.
Buena Vista Cafe, Fisherman’s Wharf: Best known as the birthplace of the Irish coffee in 1952, Buena Vista Cafe has been open at the corner of Beach and Hyde since 1916. The official story is that the building above it was a boardinghouse before that, but some in the neighborhood say the building housed a brothel and that’s why the women’s restrooms are upstairs and the men’s restrooms are downstairs. The crab benedict and, yes, the Irish coffee definitely make it worth a stop. www.thebuenavista.com
Cliff House, Ocean Beach: This restaurant’s history goes back to 1863. It survived the 1906 earthquake only to burn down a year later, and it has been reincarnated again and again through several renovations. (The website has an extensive slideshow on the restaurant’s evolution over the past 140 years.) It is still in the same glorious location overlooking the Pacific Ocean — a beautiful spot for dinner. www.cliffhouse.com
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St. Francis Hotel, Union Square: Having just opened in 1904, this hotel suffered major damage in the 1906 quake, and the camp of hotel refugees in front prompted some to nickname the square “Little St. Francis.” It reopened in 1907. Chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak restaurant next to the lobby is a nice stop for a drink or a bite while contemplating the hotel’s history, and afterward you can check out historic photos and menus showcased in the lobby. www.westinstfrancis.com
John’s Grill, Union Square: Best known as one of the locales in Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco noir “The Maltese Falcon,” John’s Grill opened on Ellis Street in 1908. The food on my visit wasn’t especially notable, but it could be worth a stop for a martini if you want to check out the historic photos of celebrities and politicians covering the paneled walls.www.johnsgrill.com
Schroeder’s Restaurant, Financial District: This German beer hall says it originally opened downtown in 1893 and moved out to the Mission District for a couple of years after the earthquake. By 1911, Schroeder’s had moved back downtown, close to its current location on Front Street. The current owners have preserved the rosewood bar and beer steins, as well as the menu of brats and wiener schnitzel. www.schroederssf.com
Java House, Embarcadero: Open on the waterfront since 1912 — 24 years before the Bay Bridge that looms above it was completed — the Java House is still a worthy destination if you want to sink your teeth into a burger or a good greasy-spoon breakfast of eggs and hashbrowns. www.javahousesf.com