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Harry’s may take over Thai Stick

The Thai Stick at Fillmore and Pine.

The Thai Stick at Fillmore and Pine.

UPDATE: The much buzzed about bid by the two owners of Harry’s Bar to take over the Thai Stick has collapsed. Rick Howard and George Karas reportedly pulled out of the deal, with no reasons given. The bar stays open, but food service has been cut back somewhat while Thai Stick owner Paul Polemasuppapol looks for new buyers.


Three bar-restaurants with well over 100 years of experience in mixing, pouring, cooking and serving on Fillmore Street are shaking things up in the 2000 block between California and Pine.

• Harry’s Bar, now in its 31st year, is negotiating to take over the Thai Stick, which has been in operation for 21 years at the corner of Fillmore and Pine.

• Harry’s will also remain in its longtime location at 2020 Fillmore. For a few weeks, Harry’s outsourced its kitchen to an independent chef, who revamped the menu and upped the prices. That arrangement has now ended. A remodeling is also in the works.

• Across the street at 2043 Fillmore, the Elite Cafe is quietly tiptoeing back to some of its more familiar roots since its black-and-gray hipster makeover last year — and finally repairing its fire-damaged classic neon sign.

Thai Stick owner Paul Polemasuppapol and saloonlords Rick Howard and George Karas, who own Harry’s Bar and are partners and investors in several other San Francisco thirst parlors, are hammering out the deal for the takeover, which is close but not yet final. Howard and Karas are keeping their lips zipped about details while they’re in the throes of negotiating a lease with longtime landlord Stan Zimmerman.

Polemasuppapol has been on a month-to-month lease and has made it no secret that he is eager to get out. “I love the neighborhood and the customers and my staff, but it’s unprofitable,” he says, adding that he’s downsizing. Six months ago he sold another San Francisco Thai Stick, near Union Square, although an outpost remains in Millbrae.

Howard, also an investor in the Elite Cafe, has reportedly long coveted the northwest corner of Fillmore and Pine, which once housed a hippie plant store and then, for many years, was home of the late and much lamented Pacific Heights Bar & Grill. At least three successful restaurateurs were among those looking: Larry Mindel, the founder of Il Fornaio, who now heads Poggio in Sausalito; Sam DuVall, creator of the Elite, owner of Izzy’s in the Marina and the father of some 30 other Bay Area eateries and drinkeries; and Laurence Jossel, owner-chef of Nopa on Divisadero, the two Nopalitos on Broderick and on 9th Avenue, and the culinary force behind the former Chez Nous on Fillmore.

Even though Thai Stick never won raves for its kitchen prowess, and its bar was known more for its easy atmosphere than its edgy mixology, some felt it was the closest thing to a neighborhood watering hole on Fillmore. Regulars and the stalwart bartenders are mostly wistful about its impending demise.

Clifton Dawson, founder of Greenlight Insights Co., a market research firm for the virtual reality industry who works at the bar on his Macbook, says: “l’ll miss the ease in finding a seat, the fair price for a drink, the respectful bartenders who will change a TV channel for you.”

Kate Cooley, a hair salon staffer who works nearby, contends: “There aren’t any places on Fillmore where you can get a good mixed drink that isn’t overpriced. Here, people are friendly and glad to see you. They don’t pre-judge you by your looks.”

Swedish-born Marie Johansson, an emergency room coordinator at California Pacific Medical Center on Buchanan, offers: “We’re like a little family here. I’ll miss that.”

May Panichsusawat, from Bangkok, who has been a Thai Stick bartender for four-and-a-half years, agrees. “We feel sad,” she says. “We’ve built a little community here and it’s like a family. We’re not just bartender and customer.”

But Dan Max, a retired educator who’s lived a few doors up Fillmore for more than 50 years — and started imbibing here when it was the Pacific Heights Bar & Grill — isn’t shedding a tear. “The Thai Stick has had its day and I’m looking forward to the change — something new,” he says. “The Fillmore is all about change.”

Things are changing already. A month or so ago, Polemasuppapol extended the daily 4 to 6 p.m. happy hour by an hour, until 7 p.m. He’s also running down his stock. On a recent Thursday, he was pouring Maker’s Mark bourbon in well cocktails — a free-poured top-shelf Makers and soda in the late afternoon and early evening for $6, or house wine for $5, or $4 draft beer.

Up the street, the new owner of the Elite Cafe, Andy Chun, is bringing back live jazz, which the venerable New Orleans-themed restaurant and bar was offering under previous owner Peter Snyderman’s reign. Chun says he expects City Hall to bless his “limited live performance” permit request and that a trio, including a singer and acoustical guitarist, will play from 7 to 10 p.m. on Tuesday or Wednesday for starters.

The Elite’s once-heralded New Orleans chef, Chris Borges, has gone home and Ray Sharp is now in charge of the stoves. Sharp and Chun have livened up the menu. And the Elite burger — now a blend of 39-day aged chuck and chopped brisket with cheese and a Vidalia onion — is offered at half price all day Sunday.

And a little good news for locals still unforgiving about the makeover that ripped out the Elite’s Art Deco fixtures and painted its wooden booths battleship gray: Chun says the vintage but badly burned Elite Cafe marquee that has for months been hanging sadly over the door, wrapped in a string of white Christmas lights, will be repaired and restored this month.