Jack London and Sam Spade loved these Bay Area joints. You will too
Near the sloped entrance to Heinold’s First and Last ChanceSaloon in Oakland, the wall clock hasn’t ticked forward a secondsince April 18, 1906. When the earthquake struck, the clockstopped, the pilings below shook, and the floor eventually settleda foot or two.
But the place kept serving drinks, as it has for 120 years now.Stepping down into this little wooden shack at Jack London Squareis like tilting backward in time ― the 19th-century gas lampsare lit here every evening, photographs and memorabilia like aWorld War II jacket and helmet adorn the creosote-darkened walls,and it’s expected that you’ll talk to your neighbor. Heinold’s isone of a number of historic gems in the Bay Area where you can havea fine drink or meal and also touch upon stories from an earliertime. Each of them wears its age very well, and each one is worth avisit.
Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. 56 Jack London Square, Oakland; (510) 839-6761.
This bar has been serving drinks on the wharf since 1883. Thebartenders are not only friendly, they’re talented, havingdeveloped special skills for pouring at the sloped bar. And any ofthe regulars will tell you it was here that a young Jack Londonstudied for school (a photo on a smoke-stained wall shows Londonreading at one of the tables in Heinold’s) and bought his firstoyster boat when he was 15. The bar’s first owner, Johnny Heinold,was a good friend of London’s and is mentioned many times in thewriter’s memoir, John Barleycorn.
Heinold’s current owner, Carol Brookman, says faithful patronsare always relieved to come back after years away and find the barfamiliar and unchanged. “They’re very grateful it’s still here,”she says. “They either had their first drink here or met their wifeor husband here. The place is always a lot of fun. And I don’t wantto change a thing, of course not.”
Atmosphere: Convivial, with what London called the”camaraderie of drink.” Best bet: Bloody Marys or London’s poison: whiskey.
John’s Grill. 63 Ellis St., San Francisco; (415) 986-3274.
One of the first restaurants established downtown after the 1906earthquake and fires, the old-style chophouse is filled with photosof famous patrons, including actress Lauren Bacall, actor DonJohnson, Mayor Willie Brown, and even Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But the most honored celebrity is from an earlier era ―writer Dashiell Hammett lunched here frequently when he worked as aprivate investigator in a neighboring building. His most famouscharacter, Sam Spade, ate here in The Maltese Falcon, though Spade had to rush his mealbecause he was on the trail of a murderer.
The three levels of dining rooms have old San Francisco mementosand Hammett memorabilia, including the elusive black bird itself― quite a find.
Atmosphere: Clubby, with wood paneling, a small bar, anddining rooms on three stories. Best bet: Steaks or Sam Spade’s choice, the lamb chops, witha Bloody Brigid cocktail.
Olema Farm House Restaurant & Bar. 10005 State 1, Olema; (415) 663-1264.
The 1845 building has been serving meals to weary travelers for113 years. Back then, stagecoaches stopped here to refuel en routeto San Francisco.
The farmhouse was the first structure in the tiny town of Olema,near Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Restaurant manager Andi Bakersays visitors love to admire the 2,000-strong antique bottlecollection, Elvis Presley collectibles, and hand-cranked telephonesthat decorate the three dining rooms.
But Baker says patrons keep coming back, “mostly because of ourfood ― it’s really good.”
Atmosphere: Cozy 19th-century home packed with knickknacks.The garden patio is a good spot to enjoy a drink. Best bet: Barbecued oysters.
Tadich Grill. 240 California St., San Francisco; (415) 391-1849. ClosedSun.
The oldest restaurant in San Francisco grew out of a coffeestand started by Croatian immigrants in 1849. The financialdistrict eatery has changed locations a few times, but it has beenpopular with San Francisco’s power brokers since the city’s firstdays.
Owner Mike Buich says the secret to the restaurant’s success isconsistency. “We have changed very little,” says the restaurateur,whose family has run the place for 91 years. “I know severalfamilies where four generations have eaten here.”
The restaurant’s storied past ― as well as its recipes forRex sole, crab cakes, and oysters Kirkpatrick ― is told in acolorful new book, The Tadich Grill: A History of San Francisco’s OldestRestaurant, by John Briscoe (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2002;$28; www.tenspeed.com or800/841-2665).
Atmosphere: Bustling, with a long, usually crowded bar andoften substantial lines even on weeknights. Best bet: Dungenesscrab cakes and a martini.