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Some Italian Restaurants
"Is everybody happy? Oh, it is only nine o'clock and we've got all night." It was a clear, fresh young voice, full of the joy of living and came from a young woman whose carefree air seemed to say of her existence as of the night "We've got all life before us." The voice, the healthful face and vigorous form, the very live and joyous expression were all significant of the time and place. It was Sunday night and the place was Steve Sanguinetti's, with roisterers in full swing and every table filled and dozens of patrons waiting along the walls ready to take each seat as it was emptied. Here were young men and women just returned from their various picnics across the Bay to their one great event of the week - a Sunday dinner at Sanguinetti's.
Over in one corner of the stifling room, on a raised platform, sat two oily and fat negroes, making the place hideous with their ribald songs and the twanging of a guitar and banjo. When, a familiar air was sounded the entire gathering joined in chorus, and when such tunes as "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" came, the place was pandemonium. Yet through it all perfect order was kept by the fat proprietor, his muscular "bouncer" and two policemen stationed at the doors. Noise was rather invited than frowned upon, and the only line drawn regarding conduct was the throwing of bread. Probably Steve did not want it wasted.
It was all free and easy and nobody took offense at anything said or done. In fact if one were squeamish about such things Sanguinetti's was no place for him or her. One found one's self talking and laughing with the people about as if they were old friends. It made no difference how you were dressed, nor how dignified you tried to be, it was all one with the crowd around the tables. If you wished to stay there in comfort you had to be one of them, and dignity had to be left outside or it would make you so uncomfortable that you would carry it out, to an accompaniment of laughter and jeers of the rest of the diners.
So far as eating was concerned that was not one of the considerations when discussing Sanguinetti's. It was a table d'hôte dinner served with a bottle of "Dago red," for fifty cents. You gave the waiter a tip of fifteen cents or "two bits" as you felt liberal, and he was satisfied. If you were especially pleased you gave the darkeys ten cents, not because you enjoyed the music, but just "because."
The one merit of Sanguinetti's before the fire was the fact that all the regular customers were unaffected and natural. They came from the factories, canneries, shops, and drays, and after a week of heart-breaking work this was their one relaxation and they enjoyed it to the full. Many people from the residential part of the city, and many visitors at the hotels, went there as a part of slumming trips, but the real sentiment was expressed by the young girl when she sang out "Is everybody happy?"
Sanguinetti still has his restaurant, and there is still to be found the perspiring darkeys, playing and singing their impossible music, and a crowd still congregates there, but it is not the old crowd for this, like all things else in San Francisco, has changed, and instead of the old-time assemblage of young men and women whose lack of convention came from their natural environment, there is now a crowd of young and old people who patronize it because they have heard it is "so Bohemian."
Thrifty hotel guides take tourists there and tell them it is "the only real Bohemian restaurant in San Francisco," and when the outlanders see the antics of the people and listen to the ribald jests and bad music of the darkeys, they go back to their hotels and tell with bated breath of one of the most wonderful things they have ever seen, and it is one of the wonderful things of their limited experience.
Among the pre-fire restaurants of note were several Italian places which appealed to the Bohemian spirit through their good cooking and absence of conventionality, together with the inexpensiveness of the dinners. Among these were the Buon Gusto, the Fior d'Italia, La Estrella, Campi's and the Gianduja. Of these Campi's, in Clay street below Sansome, was the most noted, and the primitive style of serving combined with his excellent cooking brought him fame. All of these places, or at least restaurants with these names, are still in existence.
Jule's, the Fly Trap, the St. Germain and the Cosmos laid claim to distinction through their inexpensiveness, up to the time of the fire. All of these names are still to be seen over restaurants and they are still in that class, Jule's, possibly, being better than it was before the fire. A good dinner of seven or eight courses, well cooked and well served, could be had in these places for fifty cents. Lombardi's was of the same type but his price was but twenty-five cents for a course dinner in many respects the equal of the others.
Pop Floyd, recently killed by his bartender in an altercation, had a place down in California street much patronized by business men. He had very good service and the best of cooking, and for many years hundreds of business men gathered there at luncheon in lieu of a club. The place is still in existence and good service and good food is to be had there, but it has lost its Bohemian atmosphere.
In Pine street above Montgomery was the Viticultural, a restaurant that had great vogue owing to the excellence of its cooking. Its specialty was marrow on toast and broiled mushrooms, and game.
To speak of Bohemian San Francisco and say nothing of the old Hoffman saloon, on Second and Market streets, would be like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out. "Pop" Sullivan, or "Billy" Sullivan, according to the degree of familiarity of the acquaintance, boasted of the fact that from the day this place opened until he sold the doors were closed but once, the keys having been thrown away on opening day. During all the years of its existence the only day it was closed was the day of the funeral of Sullivan's mother. Here was the most magnificent bar in San Francisco, and in connection was a restaurant that catered to people who not only knew good things but ordered them. The back part of the place with entrance on Second street was divided off into little rooms with tables large enough for four. These rooms were most lavish in their decoration, the most interesting feature being that they were all made of different beautiful woods, highly polished. Woods were here from all parts of the world, each being distinctive. In these rooms guests were served with the best the market afforded, by discreet darkeys. This place was the best patronized of all the Bohemian resorts of the city up to the time of the fire. One of the special dainties served were the Hoffman House biscuits, light and flaky, such as could be found nowhere else.
Out by Marshall Square, by the City Hall, was Good Fellow's Grotto, started by Techau, who afterward built and ran the Techau Tavern. This place was in a basement and had much vogue among politicians and those connected with the city government. It specialized on beefsteaks.
Under the St. Ann building, at Eddy and Powell streets, was the Louvre, started and managed by Carl Zinkand, who afterward opened the place in Market above Fourth street, called Zinkand's. This was distinctly German in appointments and cooking and was the best of its kind in the city. Under the Phelan building at O'Farrell and Market was the Old Louvre in which place one could get German cooking, but it was not a place that appealed to those who knew good service.
Bab's had a meteoric career and was worthy of much longer life, but Babcock had too high an idealization of what San Francisco wanted. He emulated the Parisian restaurants in oddities, one of his rooms being patterned after the famous Cabaret de la Mort, and one dined off a coffin and was lighted by green colored tapers affixed to skulls. Aside from its oddities it was one of the best places for a good meal for Bab had the art of catering down to a nicety. There were rooms decorated to represent various countries and in each room you could get a dinner of the country represented.
Thompson's was another place that was too elaborate for its patronage and after a varied existence from the old Oyster Loaf to a cafeteria Thompson was compelled to leave for other fields and San Francisco lost a splendid restaurateur. He opened the place under the Flood building, after the fire, in most magnificent style, taking in two partners. The enormous expense and necessary debt contracted to open the place was too much and Thompson had to give up his interest. This place is now running as the Portola-Louvre.
Much could be written of these old-time restaurants, and as we write story after story amusing, interesting, and instructive come to mind, each indicative of the period when true Bohemianism was to be found in the City that Was.
An incident that occurred in the old Fior d'Italia well illustrates this spirit of camaraderie, as it shows the good-fellowship that then obtained. We went to that restaurant for dinner one evening, and the proprietor, knowing our interest in human nature studies, showed us to a little table in the back part of the room, where we could have a good view of all the tables. Our table was large enough to seat four comfortably, and presently, as the room became crowded, the proprietor, with many excuses, asked if he could seat two gentlemen with us. They were upper class Italians, exceedingly polite, and apologized profusely for intruding upon us. In a few minutes another gentleman entered and our companions at once began frantic gesticulations and called him to our table, where room was made and another cover laid. Again and again this occurred until finally at a table suited for four, nine of us were eating, laughing, and talking together, we being taken into the comradeship without question. When it came time for us to depart the entire seven rose and stood, bowing as we passed from the restaurant.