Babas, Beer & Seasonal Cheer

I like cities that are oriented around food. Paris is a city like that. On any given block, between your Metro stop and your apartment, there will be charcuteries, boulangeries, patisseries, street markets, produce shops and every variety of other businesses providing anything you could possibly need for dinner that night. San Francisco is a bit like Paris that way. If I want a good loaf of bread in Los Angeles, it’s an afternoon outing. In San Francisco, you’ll practically trip over a freshly baked baguette or sourdough boule every time you turn a corner.

Baba, bubbly and beer at The Fairmont

Because I have three children, I drink. Not that I needed an excuse before, but it’s certainly a good one. In addition to being a good food city, San Francisco is a great drinking destination as well. We like drinking in a variety of places. Most often we wind up in establishments that are friendly to kids. But those are typically the kinds of places we would like to drink anyway. One of the things I admired most about Ireland was that there were always kids and dogs in the pubs. Who wants to drink without kids and dogs around?

There are many good pubs in San Francisco. The kind of places where a patron at the bar might be singing and the drink pourers know how to make shamrocks in the Guinness foam. I once heard we missed Van Morrison by a night at Fiddler’s Green — not singing, but drinking.

Immy at the Irish Bank, December 2010

Our favorite pub in the city is the Irish Bank in the Financial District, across the street from the Chinatown gate. It’s accessed through an alley of dumpsters and rather mangy pigeons. Just follow the Guinness toucan. The atmosphere inside is warm with the patina of generations of laughter and conversation. As you can see from the picture above, kids are welcome.

I used to spend every New Year’s Eve in San Francisco when I was a single man — the most memorable when a friend and I walked from downtown at 2 a.m. several miles in the pouring rain to our hotel near the Presidio, fruitlessly trying to hail busy cabs the entire way. Another time I welcomed the changing of years with friends old and new at the Gold Dust Lounge off Union Square, a luminous relic of the city’s Barbary Coast red light days where it’s rumored during Prohibition patrons could enter a secret tunnel running beneath Powell Street to a speakeasy. I was told the tunnel is still there. I like places with stories.

At the Fairmont on Knob Hill, I was once given a private tour of the $12,000-a-night penthouse suite. It had a game room fashioned after an Arabian harem and the desk where the United Nations charter was signed. A secret staircase led to the roof, where it’s said the Kennedy boys would helicopter in various mistresses when they stayed there. You can taste history like that in every sip of your Brandy Alexander.

Wherever the changing of the year finds you this time, I hope you’ll be surrounded by laughter and friends, perhaps even kids and dogs. And as the clock strikes midnight, I hope you’ll raise your glasses (and babas) to another year of friendship, family, health, fine food and festive times.

May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, my God hold you in the hollow of His hand… 

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Patricia Colvig
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 03:51:13

    Excuse me, but you’ve missed mentioning another fabulous food destination – Encina Road in Topanga. Tomorrow, some invited guests are bringing “Duck Wellington”to my home…so THERE!


  2. paul
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 07:10:22

    Happy New Year!!


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