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Bohemia of the Present
San Francisco's care-free spirit was fully exemplified before the ashes of the great fire of 1906 were cold. On every hand one could find little eating places established in the streets, some made of abandoned boxes, others of debris from the burned buildings, and some in vacant basements and little store rooms, while a few enterprising individuals improvised wheeled dining rooms and went from one part of the city to another serving meals.
The vein of humor of irrepressible effervescence of spirit born of Bohemianism gave to these eating places high sounding names, and many were covered with witty signs which laughed in the face of Fate.
Fillmore became the great business street of the city now in ashes, and here were established the first restaurants of any pretensions, the Louvre being first to open an establishment that had the old-time appearance. This was on the corner of Fillmore and Ellis, and had large patronage, it being crowded nightly with men and women who seemed to forget that San Francisco had been destroyed. Thompson opened a large restaurant in O'Farrell street, just above Fillmore, and for two years or more did a thriving business, his place being noted for its good cooking and its splendid service. One of his waiters, Phil Tyson, was one of the earlier ones to go back into the burned district to begin business and he opened a restaurant called the Del Monte in Powell street near Market, but it was too early for success and closed after a short career.
Thompson enlisted others to join with him in opening a magnificent place under the new Flood building at the corner of Powell and Market street, but through faulty understanding of financial power Thompson was compelled to give up his interest and the place afterward closed. It has since been reopened under the name of the Portola-Louvre, where now crowds assemble nightly to listen to music and witness cabaret performances. Here, as well as in a number of other places, one can well appreciate the colloquial definition of "cabaret." That which takes the rest out of restaurant and puts the din in dinner. If one likes noise and distraction while eating such places are good to patronize.
Across the street from the Portola-Louvre at 15 Powell street is the modernized Techau Tavern now known as "Techau's". Here there is always good music and food well cooked and well served, and always a lively crowd during the luncheon, dinner and after-theatre hours. The room is not large but its dimensions are greatly magnified owing to the covering of mirrors which line the walls. This garish display of mirrors, and elaborate decoration of ceiling and pillars, gives it the appearance of the abode of Saturnalia, but decorum is the rule among the patrons.
Around at 168 O'Farrell street, just opposite the Orpheum theatre, is Tait-Zinkand restaurant, or as it is more popularly known, "Tait's". John Tait is the presiding spirit here, he having made reputation as club manager, and then as manager of the Cliff House. One of the partners here was Carl Zinkand, who ran the old Zinkand's before the fire.
While these three restaurants are of similar type neither has the pre-fire atmosphere. They are lively, always, with music and gay throngs, and serve good food.
One of the early restaurants established after the fire was Blanco's, at 857 O'Farrell street, and later Blanco opened the Poodle Dog in Mason street just above Eddy. Both of these restaurants are of the old French type and are high class in every respect. The Poodle Dog has a hotel attachment where one may get rooms or full apartments.
If you know how to order, and do not care to count the cost when you order, probably the best dinner at these restaurants can be had at either Blanco's or the Poodle Dog. The cuisine is of the best and the chefs rank at the top of their art. Prices are higher than at the other restaurants mentioned, but one certainly gets the best there is prepared in the best way.
But the same food, prepared equally well, is to be found in a number of less pretentious places. At the two mentioned one pays for the surroundings as well as for the food, and sometimes this is worth paying for.
The restaurants of the present day that approach nearest the old Bohemian restaurants of pre fire days, of the French class, are Jack's in Sacramento street between Montgomery and Kearny; Felix, in Montgomery street between Clay and Washington, and the Poodle Dog-Bergez-Franks, in Bush street between Kearny and Grant avenue. In either of these restaurants you will be served with the best the market affords, cooked "the right way." In Clay street opposite the California Market is the New Frank's, one of the best of the Italian restaurants, and much patronized by Italian merchants. Next to it is Coppa's, but it is no longer run by Coppa. In this same district is the Mint, in Commercial street between Montgomery and Kearny streets. It has changed from what it was in the old days, but is still an excellent place to dine.
Negro's, at 625 Merchant street, near the Hall of Justice, has quite a following of those whose business attaches them to the courts, and while many claim this to be one of the best of its class, we believe the claim to be based less on good cooking than on the fact that the habitués are intimate, making it a pleasant resort for them. The cooking is good and the variety what the market affords.
In Washington street, just off Columbus avenue, is Bonini's Barn, making great pretense through an unique idea. So far as the restaurant is concerned the food is a little below the average of Italian restaurants. One goes there once through curiosity and finds himself in a room that has all the appearance of the interior of a barn, with chickens and pigeons strutting around, harness hanging on pegs, and hay in mangers, and all the farming utensils around to give it the verisimilitude of country. Tables and chairs are crude in the extreme and old-time lanterns are used for lighting. It is an idea that is worth while, but, unfortunately, the proprietors depend too much on the decorative feature and too little on the food and how they serve it.
The Fly Trap, and Charlie's Fashion, the first in Sutter street near Kearny and the other in Market near Sutter, serve well-cooked foods, especially soup, salads, and fish. Of course these are not the entire menus but of all the well-prepared dishes these are their best. Felix, mentioned before, also makes a specialty of his family soup, which is excellent.
Spanish dinners of good quality are to be had at the Madrilena, at 177 Eddy street, and at the Castilian, at 344 Sutter street. Both serve good Spanish dinners at reasonable prices. They serve table d'hôte dinners, but you can also get Spanish dishes on special order.
Under the Monadnock building, in Market street near Third, is Jule's, well liked and well patronized because of its good cooking and good service. Jule is one of the noted restaurateurs of the city, having attained high celebrity before the fire. His prices are moderate and his cooking and viands of the best, and will satisfy the most critical of the gourmets.
At the corner of Market and Eddy streets is the Odeon, down in a basement, with decorations of most garish order. There is a good chef and the place has quite a vogue among lovers of good things to eat. Probably at no place in San Francisco can one find game cooked better than at Jack's, 615 Sacramento street. His ducks are always cooked so as to elicit high praise. He has an old-style French table d'hôte dinner which he serves for $1.25, including wine. Or you may order anything in the market and you will find it cooked "the best way." One of the specialties of Jack's is fish, for which the restaurant is noted. It is always strictly fresh and booked to suit the most fastidious taste.