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1300: a saloon with a soul

The lounge, with its wall of historic Fillmore photographs, at 1300 on Fillmore.

By Chris Barnett

His coolness, former mayor Willie Brown himself, walks in around the cocktail hour, making 1300 on Fillmore the first stop on his nightly round of drop-bys to schmooze with friends and cronies.

“This is one of those bar-restaurants that instantly became a landmark of this great city,” says Brown, sounding as if he’s still campaigning.

Before disappearing into a private dining room, Brown pays his respects to 1300’s owners, British-born chef David Lawrence and his wife, Fillmore native Monetta White, who works the front of the house.

1300 has become a local favorite for Fillmorephiles, music lovers and serious foodies who’ve seen the street just south of Geary return to its roots as the city’s jazz district, thanks largely to 74 million redevelopment dollars during Brown’s reign in City Hall. But this time around, the Harlem of the West has some seriously stylish saloons and restaurants—plus five live music clubs—instead of the gritty bars, nightclubs and speakeasies of yesteryear. And on the corner, untouched by change, is the late Bill Graham’s shrine to rock, the Fillmore Auditorium.

In designing 1300, Lawrence and White wisely sidestepped making it a trendy hangout or a replica of the old jazz joints that made the street famous. The look and feel is a retro early 50s jazz and blues lounge—the musical and cultural DNA of Fillmore past.

Lawrence sees it as the permanent home for his “soulful American cuisine.” Think maple syrup slow braised beef short rib and caramelized sweet onion ham hock braised greens— hardly at all like the pickled pigs feet from days gone by.

The bar at 1300 on Fillmore.

The bar at 1300 on Fillmore.

But I’m on a barstool, not in the restaurant, looking for a libation, a friendly greeting and a place to catch up with a pal or enjoy a cocktail solo without feeling alone.

The lighting is seductively low, not dark. The color scheme is mocha, the bar top a sleek walnut and the back bar is smoky tinted mirror with a gold-framed big screen television embedded in the glass, the volume kept at a level where a conversation can be conducted without shouting. Says Lawrence: “Everyone said, ‘You’ve got to have a TV,’ but I didn’t want this to be a sports bar.”

It isn’t.

Lawrence, who manned the stoves in Michelin three-star restaurants in London in his 20s and was executive chef at the Carnelian Room and Bankers Club atop the Bank of America building on California Street, has created a list of 20 classic and some original cocktails priced a dollar or two under some of Fillmore’s better known barrooms. Wines by the glass are pricey, but the vineyards are mostly small and selective and all California.

As a nice neighborly gesture in these recessionary times, 1300 has launched a three-hour happy hour Monday through Thursday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Beers are $3 and house wines and cocktails are a mere $5.

There’s audience participation at 1300’s weekly Gospel Brunch.

Sundays are virtually a daylong party, starting with the Gospel Brunch, with gospel bands and singers, bottomless Mimosas and a three-course meal for $39. Cool and vintage jazz and blues flood the lounge from 6 pm to 9 pm Sundays with trios like Jaz Sawyer, Lady Memphis and Allegra Brandy performing. No cover charge.

Have a Monday morning deadline and you don’t want to crank it out at home? Bring your laptop in, curl up on a sofa in the lounge with its backlit history wall, order the bourbon-braised pork belly appetizer and something cold, log on to the free WiFi and let some sweet sounds serenade your imagination. Or sit at the bar and order anything on the menu while you work.