San Francisco History

Hotels and Cafes

Hotels and Cafes.

San Francisco’s Spirit of Epicurean Hospitality, Known In All Quarters of the Earth, Stands Alone

No community on earth, no city in myth or history, can boast traditions and customs so alluringly associated with the spirit of epicurean hospitality as those of San Francisco.

It is a long cry from a bullshead breakfast at the old San Miguel Rancho to a Toke Point on the deep shell at Tait’s—from a barbecue, in the lavish Spanish splendor of the Bernals or the Valencias to an elaborately recherche banquet at the Palace or the St. Francis.

Withal it was the same essential impulse—the all-pervading atmosphere of conviviality which is the San Francisco soul—that inspired alike the bullshead feast under the blue skies on the hillside, and inspires today the exotic oyster in its throne of ice amid the glories of the Pavo Real.


What the cause of this delicious and permanent phenomenon may be is a problem of minor consequence to the gourmet or the gourmand. And, as a matter of fact and philosophy, the solution of such a psychological mystery should not be attempted in conjunction with the pleasurable task of demonstrating the existence of the phenomenon itself.

Possibly this favored city has some especial “Sat” or divine activity of its own—an existence lent to the non-existent—or is affected by some benign disarrangement of the “permanent atoms” and the “Karma,” where-by all who are born here, or are destined to come hither, are endowed with the understanding of hospitality and good living, and the instinct ever to proffer that which is heartiest of the one and only what is best of the other.

However such esoteric matters may be, the naked and intangible fact remains that San Francisco has ever shone pre-eminent among all cities because of the super-excellence of its bonifaces and the appreciative discrimination of their patrons.


Furthermore—and this is the case with no other place upon the Footstool—those who consult the glowing chronicles of the Early Days will find, pleasantly and honorably recorded among the achievements of the other greater Argonauts, the blithesome records of our earliest chevaliers of the Cordon Bleu.

Gallant and valiant knights were they—heroes who rose superior to the stern, exigencies of a tumultuous epoch and outshone all their contemporaries in the roasting of ducks or the stewing of terrapin, or in the production of other equally laudable chefs d’oeuvre in the surpassing art of gastronomy.

And, to the credit of San Francisco be it blazoned in letters of gold, that for these high accomplishments, the artists were not left to languish unrewarded. Their names were exalted even in their own days; likewise were their bank accounts extended, and when they passed away in the fullness of their years their memories were hallowed forever thereafter.


One of the most interesting incidents thus chronicled in our earlier annals is the meteoric rise and fall of that gifted by sin-stricken descendent of Ham, known to his contemporaries as “Nigger Jim.”

Jim built himself a shack over the tide-water at a spot that is now the corner of Folsom and Beale streets, four blocks from the water front. He had drifted hither, somehow with the tide of other Argonauts from the tropic shores of Jamaica, and he knew all about what was good to eat and where to get it.

That was years before the gas works laid their waste-pipe out into the bay, and the name of “Tar Flat,” subsequently applied to the locality, was unknown. All Jim had to do to secure shell fish was to walk out fifty yards or so at low tide, with a bucket and scoop up all the clams or cockies he desired.

So he fixed up a table and a couple of benches in his little shack and nailed up a shingle above the door which read:
 Dinner 25 cents

It was the most wonderful dinner of its place, price and period, and it reflected much upon the epicurean perspicacity of the pioneers to learn that the worthy purveyor had to turn away scores of customers daily.

Peculiarly luscious and savory were Jim’s chicken stews, and the fragrance of their aroma as wafted down Beale street when the breeze blew from the southeast, often precipitated near-riots among the epicures who had to tarry outside while luckier customers guzzled over their quarter’s worth at the trencher.

For over a year this colored disciple of St. Boniface was the most popular darkey on the Coast. Then, one evil night, the horrid secret of his prosperity was revealed.

Jim spent his nights robbing the chicken roosts of the neighborhood, and the patrons of the “Live and Let Live” restaurant realized that they had been buying their own chicken stews all the time.

But a man of such gastronomic acumen as “Nigger Jim” possessed in other respects all the wisdom of his generation.

He cleared out before he could be arrested, and it is understood that he took away with him a whole barrel of money. For years thereafter many worthy citizens would curse out of hand the busybodies who tracked the gifted restaurateur to the forbidden hen-roosts and thus deprived this appreciative city of the best chicken stew it had hitherto known.


A few years later when they built the plank road up Folsom street to the Mission, another bright, particular star rose in the gastronomic firmanent of San Francisco when Tim O’Harra opened his hospitable doors on the southwest corner of Fifteenth and Folsom streets and became immortal through the juiciness of his canvasback ducks.

O’Harra was one of those doubly blessed favorites of the gods who have twin souls. His were so exquisitely balanced that no psychometrist of the period could decide whether he was a greater sportsman than he was a chef, or vice-versa. He used to sit on his back porch of a morning with a couple of friends—the two Fennell boys—and shoot down the day’s menu: canvasback, mallard, widgeon, sprig, teal, snipe and so forth, as it flew by. Butchertown was handy for steaks and the like; vegetable gardens were all around, and the florists, a few blocks up the road, supplied the flowers with which his tables were decorated. No wonder the threshold wore away quickly at his hospitable door, and that his name is preserved in our history as that of the noblest of all the Folsom street O’Harras.


Again, when the beauty, rank and fashion of San Francisco saw fit to congregate in all its joyous exuberance of wealth and vivacity upon Rincon Hill, the first and foremost characteristic of the place became the sumptuous lavishness of its hospitality and its entertainments.

From the Atlantic seaboard to Oakland there was no place on the continent so renowned for its Lucullan splendor and, in order to demonstrate the epicurean delights of the locality for the benefit of those who lived without its pale, Captain Cropper’s exclusive restaurant was opened on Second street, near Wieland’s brewery, and there terrapin stew, filets of duck and other bonnes gouches affected by the gourmets of the period could be secured at prices commensurate with their surpassing excellence and the exclusive tone of the neighborhood.

All these matters are basic facts of our early history, the actual circumstances of which, happily, are still remembered by a few survivors.

But the real presence of San Francisco as the pre-eminent state of the highest gastronomic excellence ever achieved outside of Paris, in the days of the empire, dates from the arrival here of F. L. A. Pioche—undoubtedly the greatest Frenchman and most probably the greatest benefactor that landed upon the Western continent since the days of Lafayette.

Without claiming any too intimate knowledge of French genealogy, one may almost assume that—because of his similar greatness of spirit and cosmopolitan philanthropy—Pioche was of the same blood as the gallant General who lent his sword and his skill to the then budding republic in the War of the Revolution.


We know that the other illustrious Lafayette—the gifted “precieuse” of the Hotel Rambouillet, whose romance linked her name with that of the great La Rochefoucauld—was Marie Madelaine Pioche de la Vergne, Comtessa de La Fayette.

The creative genius that was hers is now immortalized in her “Letters,” in “Zaide” and “La Princesse de Cleves.” That of our Pioche is enshrined forever in the memories of those millions of gourmets and other bon vivants who have visted San Francisco during these last three-score of years and gone rejoicing on their way because of its wonderful restaurants.

Pioche was the creator of those restaurants.

Cicero told his fellow Romans that he sought no nobler monument than to be allowed to live forever in the hearts of his countrymen. Pioche did not ask his fellow citizens for even that much; yet, in their stomachs, he is immortal.


He it was who—noting the infinite gastronomic resources of this favored land and the appreciation of epicurean achievement that pervaded its ever-growing population—imported a whole shipload of chefs and maitres d’hotel straight from France, in a vessel ballasted with wines of the rarest vintages. He cut them loose on the community with instructions to uplift the gastronomic tone and to vie with each other in the struggle for epicurean supremacy and patronage.

From this inspiration blossomed the wonderful congress of hotels, cafes and restaurants, unsurpassed elsewhere on earth, wherewith San Francisco had already amazed—and enchanted, the connoisseurs of all the world ere the Centennial celebrations were opened at Philadelphia some forty years ago.

American monuments are customarily so appalling—from the aesthetic point of view—that one instinctively thanks providence for the dereliction whereby San Francisco has left the memory of Pioche unhonored in this respect. There is not even a street named after him.

But Pioche would have had it so. With the divine genius of a Brillat-Savarin, he combined the exquisitely practical savoir faire of an Escoffier—though himself essentially an amateur. He was the great Macaenue of our Horaces of gastronomy in the Mid-Victorian Age, and, as such, has done more to promote the happiness of millions than almost any other San Francisco philanthropist.

It was Brillat-Savarin who sagely observed that: “The man who discovers a new dish does more for humanity than he who discovers a new star.”

What of F. L. A. Pioche, who presented the Pacific Coast with a veritable renaissance of its entire art of cookery?


Aye, and what of John Moraghan?

No available work of reference or compilation of official statistics now exists from which the inquirer may learn precisely what number of oyster cocktails are annually consumed in these United States of America. No Brillat-Savarin survived to laud in fitting phrases the discoverer of that heartening comestible and enshrine him above the discoverers of new stars. But Gasteria, “the Tenth and fairest of the Muses,” will keep the ghost of John Moraghan happy and honored and forever in that bright corner of Olympus which is her ownest own. For it was John Moraghan who gave the world the oyster cocktail.

Moraghan, like Pioche, had a soul that transcended the common things of this mundane sphere—a soul that panted for the uplift of human appetite.

Pioche as a splendid dilettantt—the nobiest creative type of the San Francisco epicure. Moraghan was a professional artist—a specialist of the highest order.

Even as Sargent specializes in portraits, or Charles Rotto Peters in nocturnes, so also John Moraghan specialized in oysters, beefsteaks and mutton chops. His place was in the old California Market, in the south-eastern corner, to the right of Pine-street entrance. Under conditions of extreme difficulty and discouragement this Edison of the shell-fish industry conceived and carried out the idea of bringing out the young of various rare and luscious oysters from Long Island and the Chesapeake, and planting them in the shallow waters of the bay, out near Baden, in San Mateo county—now South City—where, in due season, they grew and prospered greatly. In these and other oysters—especially the little California oysters, so-called, that really come from Oregon—Moraghan trafficked by wholesale and retail; and, as an adjunct to the retail department, he cooked and served steaks and chops of the most exquisite tenderness and delicacy.


And then—because, though a trader, he was primarily a gourmet and a connoisseur—he scoured the marts of all the world for the rarest and most alluring of condiments wherewith the native deliciousness of his viands—rare chutnees from Madras and Bombay, pepper sauces from the Malay peninsula, pickles and relishes from England, the pick and choice of all the pickles, sauces, jellies, vinegars and conserves put up by the leading purveyors of such goods in North and South America.

One fine morning in the late eighties a genial sailor, with three sheets in the wind, came to anchor at Moraghan’s stall and asked for a bowl of oysters. The order was unusual, but the mariner flashed a handful of gold, said he was hungry enough to eat a pack of oysters, shells and all, and was ready to pay for the same; but expressed his preference to having the bivalves served without their shells and being permitted to hook them out of a bowl with a spoon.


Moraghan slopped out a quart of small Californians and the mariner started to consume them. As he swallowed his second spoonful, however, the eyes of the stranger lighted up as his gaze was arrested by the glittering array of condiment bottles along the counter.

“How much extra to mix them in this mulligan?” he asked, pointing to the sauces.

“Nothing extra,” said Moraghan. “Help yourself.”

The man got hold of the vinegar, the tomato catsup, the horseradish, the Tabasco, the Worcestershire sauce and anything else that was handy and dolloped a portion of each and all of them into his dish. Then he mopped up the lot and asked for another helping.

A genius less gifted than Moraghan would have merely laughed at the idiosyncracy of a drunken sailor and given the matter no further thought or reflection. Not so Moraghan.

He noted the obvious sense of satisfaction that glowed on the face of the mariner as he repeated his novel meal, and decided to sample a similar compote himself at the first moment of leisure. He made the experiment and the result enthralled him.

A few days late, an immense new crock appeared among the galaxy of similar vessels behind the counter wherein Moraghan kept the shell-bereft oysters. A label stuck above the new crock announced briefly:
 10 cents

 Thus the oyster cocktail was born. That was about a year before the late King Kalakaua of the Hawaiian islands paid his last visit to America. Soon after his arrival here, he was inducted to the oyster cocktail on its native heath by the late Henry Bigelow, the journalist, who duly explained to the dusky potentate that the time and circumstance in which the dainty held its chiefest charm was between the hours of 2 and 4:30 A. M., when it were best washed down with a Guiness Dublin Stout—a pint bottle of the latter beverage to every three cocktails.


His majesty found so much charm and comfort in the discovery that he made it a custom to spend the witching hours of from 2 to 4:30 A.M. practically six days a week, at the original shrine of the oyster cocktail. It will be remembered that his majesty was already suffering from the ailments to which he later succumbed, at the time that he arrived in San Francisco, and was introduced to Monaghan and the oyster cocktail. But whether the devotion of that long lamented monarch to the alluring stimulant delayed or hastened his inevitable end is a question that has never yet been satisfactorily determined.

It was not until three or four years later, however, when the Midwinter Fair of 1892 attracted a tremendous influx of visitors for the Golden Gate, that the outer world was brought in direct contact with the lure of the oyster cocktail and succumbed to its blandishments without a struggle.

Since then it has become, like wheat, an integral part of the normal American’s pabulum.

“A straw best shows how the wind blows”; one quotes these historic incidents merely to illustrate how intimately and fondly withal the gastronomic progress of San Francisco has kept  pace and [undecipherable]  with its other achievements, and how the San Franciscan—unlike most other city-born Americans—realized that eating may be made one of the pleasures, as it is one of the necessities, of existence.


No doubt there are strangers within the gates—transient vistors and residents not to the manner born, who were attracted here from the Middle West and thereabouts at the reconstruction period that followed the fire. These, in many instances, cling to the unsophisticated gastronomic solecisms of their youth and training, and wolf with hurrying gasps and ravening jaws the slops and victuals that are flung before them by helpers of their own kind.

It reflects creditably upon the catholic and cosmopolitan courtesies of this great city—and its tolerance of habits that it does not even aspire to understand—that, despite its own finer instincts, in such matters, establishments are permitted to exist and to exist even on our busiest thoroughfares, where such gastronomic incompetents may scoff a meal in ninety seconds and be allowed to take a toothpick without extra charge. But such institutions are alien to the spirit of this fair community, and must be regarded as the mere aftermath of the great calamity that afflicted it a dozen years ago.


Of course we have had coffee joints for forty years, and some of these are institutions like the old Champoreau or the extinct tamale man. They had their own standard—a simple matter of ham and eggs and hot coffee—which is wholly alien to the normal standard of hotel and restaurant fare, which is founded upon the infinite epicurean resources of the adjacent country—the asparagus, the artichokes, the green peas—the oysters, crabs, shrimps and crayfish—the green peppers, the lettuces and the leeks—the baby beef, the lamb, the sweetbreads—the chicken, the wild duck, the quail, the brook trout, the stirped bass, the sole and the pompano.

The attuned intellect trembles in its ecstasy at the mere thought of them all, the mind reels at the infinite possibilities—the little roast sucking pigs with their beautiful cracklings!—the luscious fat, yellow thumbs of asparagus!—the pompano en papillotte! The precious fat of the turtle, like jewels of jade or malachite in the glistening topaz of the soup—the amber wine with the oyster, the ruby red with [undecipherable].

Visions avaunt! Enough that such dreams are true. The sense of physical salvation ensues upon the mere memory of their deliciousness.

For years, however, the Epicurean resources of this fair metropolis were comparatively unknown to the outer world.

San Francisco was not on one of the busier highways of the world traffic with the Orient, by the American route, was in its infancy. When people inspired by the wanderlust arrived at these shores of the Pacific they became so enthralled with the natural allurements of the country that they went no farther on their journeying and rarely returned on their tracks.


Wherefore, save by certain envoys of commerce and explorers questing the remoter hinterlands of civilization the romantic accounts of our ducks and our asparagus, our hotels and our restaurants, were regarded as dubious and apocryphal—mere travelers tales to be accepted with the proverbial grain of salt.

In 1892 came the change—the great revelation.

That was the year of the World’s Fair in Chicago; and tourists and officials from every corner of the earth came flocking to America to visit what was then the greatest exposition that civilization had ever known.

It is a fact that at that period, though robust in enterprise and achievement Chicago—so far as any conception or appreciation of higher cookery is concerned—was wallowing in the primordial slimes.

One rare and beautiful oasis of Lucullan excellence flourished in its desert of Gargantuan hash factories. That was the Hotel Richelieu, in which that sole but noble disciple of Sayer and Francatelli, “Cardinal” Bemis sank a solid million of money that he had made out of beer.


Bemis should have lived in San Francisco, where his million would have blossomed and fructified. As it was, he might as well have turned them into the proverbial pearls and cast them before the proverbial swines.

Well, the gourmets and gastronomes from London, Paris, Petersburg, Rome and all the other great eating capitals of the earth foregathered in Chicago and taught its inhabitants some rudimentary truths about the art of living; but felt heavy in their hearts and heavier in their stomachs, while the lessons they would teach were being slowly assimilated by the Middle West.

Then came the inspiration of the San Francisco Midwinter Fair, whither in due season assembled the travelers who had originally come to the western continent expecting only to see the Columbian Exposition.

Undoubtedly they had been regaled with high reports of San Francisco’s hostelries. Many of them had perused with hungering eyes the menus of such notable caravansaries as the Palace, the California, the Occidental, the Lick House and other famous hostelries whereof the bills of fare were longer than the Litany of the Saints and comprised every delicacy conceivable to the human understanding. Nevertheless they had their doubts. They had been assured that Chicago was the hub and center of American civilization. What were they to expect from San Francisco?


They came here. They tarried. In a month the fame of San Francisco’s hostelries was being brutted throughout the four corners of the world.

Then, more than now, such fame, if merited, was quickly to be acquired. Variety played a greater part in meat than it does today.

A man would take up one of those old-time bills of fare and smack his lips as he congratulated himself upon the marvelous length and his own great capacity. The modern idea of three or four courses would have been regarded as pernicious and absurd: Oysters, soup, fish, an entree or two, a joint, a Roman punch, a duck, a savory, sweets, cheese, fruit, nuts, a small black coffee and assorted wines, with minor digressions in the way of a salad, perhaps some fresh asparagus, an artichoke very likely, or, in season, a little terrapin or a crab—such would be the happy tenor of a little dinner for two at that hospitable period that was the opening of the Midwinter Fair.

It mattered not if the diner partook of his meal in the greedy solitude of his own table at the hotel or in some pleasant suicide cafe or restaurant. The food was all ready at hand, eager for his appetite.


Romances of the most delectable fragrance still haunt the mind when those days are recalled. Those who have traveled on the highways and byways of the world will remember having discussed them in the great far places—at Shepherd’s—in Cairo, over a ham steak at Green & Reid’s on the Apollo Bunder in Bombay; with a couple of stengahs on the club veranda at Singapore or across a saddle of mutton at Simpson’s on the Strand. From Grimm’s at Soerabays to the Grand Cafe Reiche in Paris, wherever assemble men who understand, there would the traveler hear sung the praises of the meals one found in San Francisco and in no other corner of the earth.

San Francisco can do, and does do equally well today, but the personal equation is to a certain extent lacking. The human capacity, and with it that broadly ecstatic catholicity of appreciation, is not what it was in the past.

On the other hand, the resources at the beck and call of the chef today are greater and more numerous than they were before the fire. It is almost unbelievable at this late date than an epoch actually existed when no such thing as a sand dab figured on any bill of fare outside of Chinatown, and when the grape fruit at breakfast was as rare as the egg of the dodo. But that such an epoch did exist within human memory is an incontrovertible fact.

Thanks also to the witchery of Luther Burbank and his disciples, the asparagus has grown fatter and more luscious, new fruits have appeared and new vegetables.


Withal, the past has its dreams that seem as irrecoverable as the lost delights of Eden.

There was a little matter of truffles and oyster-crabs, for example, which, when fluffed up somehow into an omelet under the ineffable master hand of Pierre at Tortoni’s brought light into a breakfast such as is now never known on land or sea. Then there were suppers at Marchand’s and the old Maison Riche, dinners at the old Delmonico on O’Farrell street, at the Pup or at Bohemia apotheosized in the old Poodle Dog.

Labor and supplies were cheaper than nowadays, and, naturally, when half a sheep cost half a dollar and a crab was bought for a dime, the purveyance of filling meals at an apparently impossible price became an actual phenomenon.

As an example of what was accomplished—but not as an example of those higher flights into the gastronomic firmanent in which the chefs of San Francisco have ever excelled may be cited the establishment conducted by an Italian on Washington street above Montgomery, where a meal consisting of soup, two meat dishes, half a bottle of wine, and bread and butter ad finitum, was provided at the reasonable charge of 10 cents.


Campi’s, on the corner of Clay and Leidesdorff streets, was another popular and low-priced resort of those days. But Campi’s was a regular French restaurant of the period with its regular 50-cent table d’hote, and with real table cloths and napkins.  The 10-cent table d’hote on Washington street was served at a table covered with oil cloth and the customary substitute for a napkin was the cuff of the customer’s coat.

The usual table d’hote at Campi’s and various similar restaurants consisted of soup, fish, entree, salad, joint, sweet and cheese with half a bottle of wine and a demi-tasse of black coffee with which was served kirsch or cognac at the choice of the diner. Cafe brule was then largely affected by the patrons of such establishments. That is to say, they placed a lump of sugar in the coffee spoon which was then balanced delicately on the brim on the cup with the bowl of the spoon resting on the coffee. The kirsch or cognac was then poured over the lump of sugar and allowed to overflow gently on top of the coffee so as to float there—great pains being exercised to prevent the liquor from commingling with the coffee. Then the sugar was lighted, and the spirit blazed up in a beguiling blue beacon that flickered wickedly a while, and was supposed to take all the venom out of the spirit.


It was a perfectly harmless and, to a certain extent, picturesque sort of pastime, and seemed to afford unalloyed pleasure to those by whom it was affected.

Patrons who did not care to wade through the seven or eight courses of the table d’hote, could very naturally secure all sorts of dishes a la carte, and the majority of those included in the table d’hote were procurable at 15 cents a portion—two for a quarter.

A pint bowl of thick turtle soup, with about half a pound of green turtle fat bespeckling its rich depths like slaps of citron in nectar, cannot today be obtained for 15 cents, even in San Francisco.

But, though prices have advanced with the times, and the appetite of today is not like the appetite of yesterday, nevertheless San Francisco still leads the world as the paradise of the discriminating and knowledgeable bon vivant.


He has here all that New York can give, and he gets it more adroitly served and for a tithe of the money. He feels—and is made to feel—that he is a friend not a victim, that he is not his entertainer’s prey but his guest.

Hospitality is, in the atmosphere of the place, and that spirit has created here the world’s most alluring restaurants and cafes as well as its most sumptuous hostelries.

In Baltimore, you may find a peer to the California canvasback, in Boston an equal bean, and in New York, mayhap, the brother of our Toke Point oyster. But at what resort in any of those cities where cooking is revered as an art can one find a California welcome?

Granted that New Orleans, like Marseilles, has achieved a well-merited meed of renown by virtue of its prawns and its bouillabaisse, and its compotes of chicken and of gumbo. But San Francisco is also the “home away from home” of the bouillabaisse and the gumbo and the prawn, even as it is also the favored haunt of the once exotic oyster. And where on the Gulf will you find the San Francisco crab—where the mushroom from the Marin hills, where the sand dab, where the asparagus?


A few decades ago a hotel was a place to which a man went when there was no place else to go; it was a combination of horrors in which it sometimes was necessary to pass a day or a few days.

The traveler dreaded his visit in a gossipy rickety, two-story frame structure next the town livery stable and across the street from the fire department and the flimsy hotel was an ill omen—you’ll remember that.

The guest knew he couldn’t depend on the bell-rope that was supposed to connect through various mysterious holes in the wall with the bell in the office of the manager. And he knew that if, perchance, the bell did ring, the boy that was supposed to answer it would curse hotel guests and continue to sit in open-mouthed wonder while the village gossip recounted the news.


Some of the old places sported a bath-tub or two. Antiquated affairs they were, with the tin showing where the enamel had been rubbed off by years of baths. And sometimes the water would run, and sometimes it wouldn’t. And usually it was necessary to bribe some one to heat a few kettles of water for a bath.

Except in those rare places made comfortable by “proprietors” that could find cozy spots even in deserts, the hotel lobby of old was the home of buried hopes, and lost ambitions, and all in all, it was a high-class place to stay away from.

There, of an evening, used to congregate Old Man Perkins with his eternal quid and his uncanny ability to hit the center of the spittoon—impolite word, but that’s what it was—Deacon Smith, the best horse trader in town, by gum! and the rest of the village notables.

In the stuffy, unpleasant room, with its low, smoky lights, the stranger found himself the object of much attention. True, the ultra-human man might have found some comfort in the proprietor’s non-paying guests; he might have analyzed their quaint habits and found hearts of gold beneath those uncouth exteriors.


But the ultra-human-man of the period was not a hotel guest; rarely he strayed from his home pastures, for there he found humanity enough for his studies. It was the hot stove in Squire Johnson’s store in his own home town that attracted him.

Across the street from the hotel dining-room were the ruins of the old opera house, condemned along ago and now no more than a caving mass of brown-painted, unsightly wood. “Linen” did not earn its salt unless it saw service at least twenty-four hours.

And Lizzie, queen of the dining-room, calmly chewed her gum and made eyes at the new young lawyer, come to grow up with the town, giving one-fifth of her attention to the casual customer’s order. What did she care if you wanted your eggs  “over easy?” That was a point of taste for the cook to decide. Who was she to be telling the cook how to prepare eggs?

No young woman of today would have considered Lizzie’s clothes a model either of taste or of cleanliness. The accumulated overflow of many meals had left its imprint on her working clothes. And if you should chance to object to anything about the food or the service, Lizzie was confident of her power to make you wish you hadn’t.

Regulations governing the length of sheets were unknown in those days. Sometimes the sheets were long enough to cover the musty blankets.

The view from the many-paned window—come to think of it, there was no view. The dust, the dust of forgotten ages, shut it off. And in most cases the dust was merciful.

It was a pleasure that only monks of the type of St. Anthony could appreciate to move timidly from one’s bed to the floor on a frosty morning. It was a pleasure to turn the inevitable cracked white pitcher’s load of water into the cracked basin and feel the morning chill.

Not the least of the comforts of the time was the morning struggle with the oil lamp, with its wick never quite long enough. And once lighted the lamp demonstrated that it had no intention to give the service the labor was entitled to receive.

There were the dark halls and stairways, the rickety wooden sidewalk before the hotel. There were the worn, threadbare carpets, sometimes with rips that had a nasty habit of tripping a man in a hurry.

In the “lobby” was the uninviting cigar case, with its few boxes of dry old cigars, silent evidence of some traveling salesman’s ability to get rid of his stock.

The hotel of the old days were dedicated to the proposition that if a man had to sleep here was a place for him. The object of hotels in those times was to provide four walls about a place to lay one’s head. Having accomplished that object the hotel of old lay down on the job and announced the world could take it or leave it.

PUP CAFE, “The Bright Spot”

There are many reasons why the Pup Cafe, 54 Taylor street, is one of the liveliest and most attractive of the many bright spots in the fast-stepping syncopated night life of San Francisco. The principal reason is George P. Maloney, the proprietor, who numbers his friends by the thousands and who is one of the biggest drawing cards to the cafe-loving people of this city because of his generosity, big-heartedness and good-fellowship.

And aside from Maloney himself, [undecipherable] among the best in the city. It is here that the finest music and best entertainers that money can procure are seen and heard. The principal entertainer at this place is Miss Marina Eversole, who has been with the Pup for three years and is still one of the most popular singers in the city. She has a highly cultivated mezzo-soprano voice with which she captivates her hearers every evening in the week.

The many war-time problems and burdens which have fallen and which are still falling on the civilian population are not pushed aside by Maloney and his associates for somebody else to handle. Official records show what service the Pup Cafe and its owner and officials have rendered toward siding America and her allies in the prosecution of the war. And this doesn’t mean slight subscriptions, but real help of the kind which makes people say, “Well, these people are doing their part, and then some.”

Maloney was born and reared in San Francisco and has owned the Pup Cafe for seven years. Its popularity is based on the fine quality of food served and the excellent music and entertainment furnished. The very latest song hits are “put over” here by the best talent that can be secured.

PURCELL’S CAFE, “The Joy Spot”

Although San Francisco numbers its alleged unique cafes by the dozens, there are only two or three real unique ones in operation. Every metropolis has its strange and funny-like little places, and strangers in the city haven’t seen everything until they spend an evening at one of these resorts.

Chief among San Francisco’s truly unique and famous cafes is Purcell’s, now at 101 Columbus avenue. Its former location was 520 Pacific street. Lester Mapp, who has managed the business for some years is still on the job and the famous old round of big doin’s and big business is still accredited to him.

Many cities claim to have been the first to start the jazz music craze on its long trip around, through and into every town and hamlet in the country, but the real home address of jazz is Purcell’s Cafe, this city. The best colored entertainers that can be secured anywhere in the country are on duty at Purcell’s, and the class of entertainment they give is up to the highest standard of excellence, and never has a patron left this place dissatisfied or without being entertained to the highest degree. The Orchestra is conceded to be the best of its kind that can be found.

Few people can entertain like colored people. Lester Mapp sees to it that none but the finest colored entertainers and jazz artists entertain the patrons of Purcell’s, and his success is known throughout the country.

No visitor to San Francisco has seen the real sight of the city and has heard the best music obtainable until a visit has been paid to this unique little underground cafe at the corner of Jackson and Columbus. A spacious dance floor is always ready for those who desire to dance, and the person who cannot dance to the merry strains sent out from the various instruments used by the artists at this place is, as Lester describes them, “just naturally all wrong.”

The small army of entertainers on duty at Purcell’s now seem to get as much real pleasure out of entertaining guests as the guests get themselves. There is nothing mechanical about it, and in the true style of the colored folks from way down South, the fun goes on and everybody has a regular time.


San Francisco is no exception to the rule that there is something distinctive about every city that is a city. With its gay bohemian life, excellent cafes, bright lights and real people, San Francisco is known in every corner of the United States and most parts of the world for its distinctive way of doing things, and particularly its way of enjoying life. There are hundreds of places in the city where people may enjoy themselves, but few of the places have the good reputation and furnish the music special entertainment and food that the [undecipherable] patrons at the Elko cafe, Kearny and Jackson streets, in the heart of the bohemian district.

The fame of the Golden Gate city is due largely to its cafes and the Elko Cafe is one of the principal spots of joy in the whole city. Visitors have not enjoyed the real bohemian life of the city until a visit to this well-appointed place is made.

There was a time when the old Cafe did a good business at the same spot where the Elko Cafe is now entertaining thousands of people monthly and serving them the best food to be found and supplying them with the best jazz music that can be secured, together with an excellent dancing floor. When Landau & Le Strange, the present owners of the Elko, took over the place, remodeled it completely and gave it its present name, San Francisco people flocked to the new place and had the time of their lives. They have been patronizing the Elko ever since because the standard of entertainment and food has always been on the incline.

San Francisco people never did believe in half-doing things and accepting anything less than the best. That is the principal reason why Landau & Le Strange supplied the best furnishings, entertainment and food that could be bought when they opened the Elko. The owners of this establishment are “old guard” San Franciscans and “know how.” Le Strange is a native son and known as a prince of good fellows. As Landau has been living here many years, he is considered a San Franciscan. Both are experts in the cafe business and are always pleased to meet their many friends.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle. 15 January 1919. 52-53.

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