A clubby spot for locals

Bellying up to Fillmore's latest Long Bar.

SALOONS | Chris Barnett

The first long bar I ever bellied up to was reputedly the original Long Bar, inside Raffles Hotel in Singapore, birthplace of the cloyingly sweet Singapore Sling.

During Fillmore’s jazz era, the Long Bar at 1633 Fillmore, next door to Woolworth’s, boasted of having one of the longest bars in the world. It stretched from the front door on Fillmore all the way back — a full block — to Steiner Street.

Fast forward to 2008. The Long Bar has returned to Fillmore as a saloon and bistro at 2298 Fillmore, at the corner of Clay. There are no jazz singers or piano players, but the place has a nice feel the minute you walk in the door and has commanded a crowd from day one, which was June 12. Two hours after it opened, it was full.

That corner has had something of a curse during the last 20 years. When I came to San Francisco, it was a Mexican place that dished up so-so South of the Border vittles. Most recently, it was the Fillmore Grill, which started off with a bang — with booths a la Tadich Grill and Sam’s, stylish servers, a warm and roomy interior and a small bar toward the back. The problem: The food was uneven and the menu rarely changed. The spirit and the crowds dwindled. Then it sat dark for two years while the lawyers quibbled.

Today’s Long Bar and Bistro is woody and welcoming. The seating is comfortable; the tables with white tablecloths are not jammed cheek to jowl, and there are brown leather banquettes in the back and on the elevated main dining area. But the bar is the star of the show, with its brass footrail and glowing amber lamps. The food plays a supporting role.

The original Long Bar at 1633 Fillmore.

Proprietor Alan Walsh, an Irishman who was usually behind the bar at the Fillmore Grill, knows exactly how long his Long Bar is: “30 feet of Honduran mahogany,” he says. As for defrosting the front windows to open the view to the street and building two mirrors into the custom-crafted mahogany back bar, Walsh claims, “The kiss of death is a dark bar.”

Opposite the bar is a mahogany rail for standup drinkers who don’t want to perch on a stool. They’re big in English pubs and bars, where customers like to move and mingle.

Walsh did his homework on bar design and etiquette, beginning at a young age. His father was an international salesman in Ireland for an American company, and he sometimes accompanied his dad on sales calls that wound up in pubs for a little get-to-know-you-better socializing.

I tried to jaw with Walsh several times, but he was reluctant to spin yarns about himself or his Long Bar — an odd reaction for an Irishman who owns a bar. Maybe when things settle down.

As I was going out the door, leaving a cheery crowd behind, Nathan Tyler, who works in high-tech communications, was coming in. “Hmmmm,” he mused. “It feels like a perfect fit for the neighborhood.”

Chris Barnett has written for travel magazines about the world’s great saloons
for the past 25 years. He lives and writes in the neighborhood when he’s not traveling.