The last great saloonlord

Photograph of Perry Butler by Susie Biehler

Photograph of Perry Butler by Susie Biehler

By Chris Barnett

DID YOU HEAR the one about the architect in a cab on Union Street who realized he was short of money? “Pull over at Perry’s; they’ll cash a check,” he told the cabbie. “Wait here,” he said to his date. “I’ll be right out.”

As he walked in, barkeep Michael McCourt yelled “Hey Russ, the usual?” and poured him a stiff one. Another regular came over. “Hey Russ, good to see you. Let me buy you a drink.” Another pal waved from down the bar. “Next one’s on me.”

Ten years later, the architect, Russell Gifford, was perched on his favorite stool at Perry’s and his date from that night walked in the door. He saw her in the backbar mirror, turned around and cracked: “I thought I told you to wait in the cab.”

The top bartenders in town — who worked at Perry’s at some point in their careers — are still telling that one. Yet this month on the 45th anniversary of the Union Street thirst parlor and restaurant bearing his name, you would never hear that tale told by the proprietor, Perry Butler. He’s too much of a gentleman.

In a city where barrooms have morphed from brawling whiskey and beer joints in canvas tents to temples staffed by high priests of the shot glass who dub themselves cocktailians and mixologists, Perry’s on Union stands alone as San Francisco’s last great saloon.


Shell station may lose garage

The Shell station and garage at California and Steiner Streets.

The Shell station and garage at the corner of California and Steiner Streets.

PLANS HAVE BEEN UNVEILED to demolish the Shell station at 2501 California Street and replace it with a new high-end convenience store called Loop.

Loop is the next evolution in service station retail,” said Nick Goyal, one of California’s largest operators of Shell service stations, who now controls the local station and more than 100 others. During the past year he has opened six Loop stores at Shell stations in the Bay Area, with more on the way.

Loop stores offer groceries and fresh foods along with wine, espresso, smoothies, frozen yogurt, sushi and a soup and salad bar. “It will change your expectation of what you can purchase at your next fill-up,” Goyal said.

Shell Auto Repair would be eliminated and the fuel pumps reconfigured and rebuilt, if the project is approved by the city.

EARLIER: “50 years at the Shell station

Spice Ace makes the neighborhood tastier

Photograph of Spice Ace by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Spice Ace by Daniel Bahmani

FIRST PERSON | Arthur Stone

ROAMING THE NEIGHBORHOOD as a boy in the 1940s, I searched for small critters to join the ranks of the quacking, barking and croaking things my mother barely tolerated in her home.

Today my nose leads the way as I wander about gathering things for our evening meal. My wife marvels at her good fortune to have a husband who cooks — who actually loves to cook. Even the postal carrier has been spotted at the door slot, enjoying an olfactory break.

Before Spice Ace moved in around the corner at 1821 Steiner Street, I was more of a beans and weenies guy, but always wanting a tastier meal. (I did manage to get my wife’s attention with my mother’s salmon croquettes, however.) An enticing sign finally led me in the direction of the new neighborhood spice shop.

The go-to guy there, Ed, loves Mexican flavors; I want the oxtail dishes of my childhood. Out of that discussion came the idea of oxtail chili. My first attempt was too salty. Ed suggested I throw in a potato. Bingo — it worked.

I’ve gone into the shop several times to ask technical cooking questions. Spice Ace owner Olivia has explained how to use canola oil safely. Aces Louise and Susan seem to read my mind as I enter the store, handing me just the spices I need.

Dinnertime is the best time of the day in our home. My wife is a sucker for salmon, and I am still a sucker for oxtail chili. Do we still have beans and weenies? You bet. But these days, I add a neighborhood touch: Spice Ace’s barbecue seasoning.

EARLIER: “Marco Polo comes to the Fillmore

When the cowgirls came to town

Peggy Smith and Sue Conley opened Artisan Cheese in 1999.

Peggy Smith (left) and Sue Conley opened Artisan Cheese at 2413 California Street in 1999.

By Laura Werlin

WHEN THEY CREATED the Cowgirl Creamery in 1997, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith sold their cheeses exclusively at farmers markets and out of their barn in Point Reyes Station. But their focus at the time on making fresh cheeses with inherently short shelf lives — fromage blanc, quark, crème fraîche and cottage cheese — meant they had to sell them quickly, a tricky prospect given their remote location.

They knew most chefs would not make the foray out to Point Reyes to taste cheese, and soon realized they’d have to bring the cheese to the chefs. So they decided to open a store in San Francisco — and in October 1999 they opened Artisan Cheese just off Fillmore Street at 2413 California, in what had long been the California Street Creamery.

In doing so, they made a connection that would extend from West Marin and Sonoma County into San Francisco and far beyond.

“The Fillmore was such a great neighborhood,” says Peggy Smith. “It was such a crossroads of people. The California Street Creamery was there, and we thought, ‘Well, this could be a good place.’ ”

Smith and Conley had recruited respected San Francisco restaurant public relations professional Eleanor Bertino and native San Francisco food writer Peggy Knickerbocker to help them search for a San Francisco location for a cheese shop. The Fillmore got their unanimous vote.

They converted the tiny 400-square-foot space into Artisan Cheese, a well-stocked but intimate space. With enough room for just two employees and a little space for customers, buying cheese there was a personal experience. Customers were invariably offered tastes of cheeses before buying, were educated about the cheeses’ provenance and gained exposure to a lot of cheeses they hadn’t known. A bonus for some — and maybe a little off-putting to the uninitiated — was the co-mingling of cheese aromas, the inevitable byproduct of the riot of cheeses on the counter and in the case.

For Peggy Smith, it provided an invaluable education.

“It was the best job I ever had,” she says. “It was fun talking with people, having them taste. I got really close to the cheeses we sold. It was a learning opportunity for me as well as the customers.”

In 2005 their California Street lease was up and a significant rent raise was in the offing. By then, the newly revamped Ferry Building was thriving, as was the Cowgirl Creamery outpost they had opened there — among the first four businesses to sign up, along with Acme Bread, Peet’s Coffee and McEvoy Olive Oil. So they decided to close Artisan Cheese and concentrate on the Ferry Building.

A visit to the Ferry Building confirms their business decision. For Fillmore turophiles, though, their departure was bittersweet. But even if the one-on-one buying experience and the cheese aromas in their tiny California Street shop are long gone, many of the Cowgirl Creamery cheeses are still available just down the block at Mollie Stone’s.

Laura Werlin, a neighborhood resident, is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on cheese and the author of six books on the subject, including The All American Cheese and Wine Book and Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials.


Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, owners of Cowgirl Creamery, will return to the neighborhood to talk about cheesemaking and their new book, Cowgirl Creamery Cooks — and to offer a guided cheese tasting — on February 25 at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center at 3200 California Street.

Appearing with them will be Albert Straus, president and owner of the Straus Family Creamery in Point Reyes Station, whose organic milk the cowgirls use to make many of their cheeses.

‘A casual place for a good slice’

Presidio Pizza offers three kinds of pies — including Frankie's, with sausage and broccoli raab

Presidio Pizza offers three kinds of pies — including Frankie’s, with sausage and rapini

WHAT BEGAN as a brainstorming session among bar room buddies about what the neighborhood needed most has just come to life: its newest eatery, Presidio Pizza Co.

Chef Frank Bumbalo recently partnered with Kevin Kynoch and John Miles, who own the Fishbowl, the popular watering hole two doors south, to transform the former Frankie’s Bohemian Cafe on the corner of Divisadero and Pine.

“We’re here every day. We live and work here. We know what the neighborhood needs: a casual place where people can get a good slice,” says Bumbalo, who lives and manages a building just blocks away from the new pizza parlor.

“We really love the neighborhood and the people here,” he adds, “but it’s not always a family-friendly place.” Bumbalo wants to change that by creating a place where parents can have a beer or a glass of wine alongside kids having their birthday parties.

A modern taste of France

Nicolas Delaroque, chef and owner, with his wife Andrea, of Nico.

Nicolas Delaroque, chef and owner, with his wife Andrea, of Nico.

Story & Photograph by Susie Biehler

THE NEIGHBORHOOD has a classy and intimate new spot for dinner at 3228 Sacramento Street: Nico, a restaurant that reflects the renaissance currently happening in Paris, where high profile chefs are taking a step to the side and opening accessible bistros.

The restaurant is named for classically French trained chef Nicolas Delaroque, who fell in love with San Francisco while vacationing here several years ago. Originally from Rueil-Malmaison, a town on the outskirts of Paris, he developed his passion for cooking as a teenager. He credits his mother as a major influence and also honed his food skills at a family friend’s butcher shop in Paris. And his pedigree includes working with such Bay Area masters as Dominique Crenn at Luce and David Kinch of Manresa.

Delaroque and his wife Andrea spent 18 months traveling through Europe gathering ideas for the restaurant. She put her law practice on hold so the couple could launch their new venture together. She manages the business side and can also be seen at the restaurant nightly, expediting and greeting customers.

“My wife is the planner. I am the visual one,” says Nicolas. “I go to the walk-in daily and stare at the goods and decide what will be on the menu that night. I have to see it to create it.”

New face in an old place

Photograph of Wild Hare by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Wild Hare by Daniel Bahmani

SALOONS | Chris Barnett

The classic neighborhood bar is an endangered species in our parts. While there is no shortage of drinking dens, most are either ear-splitting sports saloons or relegated to being parts of restaurants.

But a new face in a familiar spot just might deliver the closest thing we have to the ideal neighborhood bar. Wild Hare is the latest libational hangout to occupy the big, airy, high-ceilinged space on the southwest corner of California and Divisadero.

The address has been a saloon of some sort for the past 75 years, according to the landlord. He can call the roll back to the ’60s, when San Francisco went psychedelic and the bar was known as the Pharmacy. From there, it morphed into the Old Waldorf, Major Ponds, Rasselas (before a move to the Fillmore Jazz District) and then, until last March, Solstice.

New izakaya at Fillmore and Geary

Chef-owner Nick Yoon: "That’s our slogan — refreshing."

Chef-owner Nick Yoon: “That’s our slogan — refreshing.”

Text and Photographs by Paul Dunn

ASK NICK YOON, the chef and owner of Izakaya Hashibiro Kou, what separates his new restaurant at Fillmore and Geary from all the other Japanese and Korean food this culinary city offers.

He hesitates — after all, his menu offers about 100 dishes — but not for long.

“Our sauces,” he says, his boyish face earnest but serene. About 60 sauces, in fact, and the South Korean-born chef makes them all from scratch. “I try to make different sauces for all the different dishes and do it all by hand,” he says.

Izakaya Hashibiro Kou sits in the prominent high-ceilinged space across from the Fillmore Auditorium that formerly housed Nan California Korean Kitchen. It opened with limited menu choices on September 17 and plans a grand opening — with a full menu — in early October. The food is mostly Japanese, with Korean influences.

‘It’s a mutual admiration society’

Jesse Kay-Rugen from Glaze teamed up with Toni and Sheila Young of Bumzy’s.

Jesse Kay-Rugen from Glaze teamed up with Toni and Sheila Young of Bumzy’s.

WHEN THE OWNERS of Glaze — the new Seattle-style teriyaki grill on the corner of Fillmore and Pine — were planning their menu, they knew they wanted to keep things as fresh and local as possible.

Much of their planning and interviewing had been done at Fraiche, the all-natural yogurt shop down the block, which became their headquarters while the Glaze space was under renovation. And they made it a point to walk up and down Fillmore to meet their neighbors.

When Glaze opened in April, they offered dessert bars made out in the Sunset District. But they kept thinking about Bumzy’s, the cookie shop down in the Fillmore Jazz District operated by the mother-daughter team of Sheila and Toni Young.

Now they’ve struck up a business relationship, and three kinds of Bumzy’s cookies are delivered up the street every morning, making up the entire dessert menu at Glaze.

“We thought it was a good thing to support the Fillmore community,” said Glaze manager Jesse Kay-Rugen. “And once we got to know Sheila and Toni, it seemed like a no-brainer. In addition to having a great product, they’re also great women who are so involved in the community.”

He added: “It’s a bonus we can tell people to go four blocks down the street and visit their shop.”

Three kinds of Bumzy’s homemade and handmade cookies were added to the menu on July 24: peanut butter, oatmeal raisin and their signature chocolate chip cookie. The next night, Sheila and Toni Young showed up in their chef’s whites to offer samples on a silver platter.

“That was such a blast,” Toni Young said a few days later. “It gave us a chance to see and meet a lot of customers who came in for dinner.”

She remembered when Glaze owners Kay-Rugen and Ian Richardson first came walking in the door of her shop, just as she was taking a batch out of the oven. They bought a box of assorted cookies.

“They loved our cookies, so we started a conversation on what it would take to work together,” she said. “We share the same philosophy of fresh and locally sourced ingredients, so it seemed like a great fit. It was a mutual admiration society.”

EARLIER: “Cookie lovers in the jazz district

Fillmore’s oldest coffeehouse closes

Photograph of Royal Ground at Fillmore and California by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Royal Ground at Fillmore and California by Daniel Bahmani

THE USUAL CROWD wasn’t sitting in the sunshine this afternoon in front of Royal Ground, the neighborhood’s oldest coffeehouse. “The coffee shop for locals,” as it was known, ended its 25-year run Sunday as the final notes of the annual Fillmore Jazz Festival were drifting away in the late afternoon light.

Ibrahim Alhjat, Royal Ground’s genial owner for the last 10 years, said his 98-year-old landlord, David Kaplan, raised his rent from $16,500 to $25,000 per month.

“I just couldn’t do it,” he said. So after a closing wake with friends and family on Sunday night, on Monday morning he set about ripping out the fixtures and furnishings of the coffee shop and the Wash ‘n’ Royal laundromat next door.

A year ago, when Royal Ground was renovated ever so slightly and beer and wine were added to its offerings, a writer noted: “With a little luck, Royal Ground will remain an island of funk and friendliness in the neighborhood’s sea of stylish storefronts.”

The luck and the funkiness — and one of the final outposts of the old Fillmore flavor — ended on July 7, 2013.

EARLIER: “A coffee shop for locals