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Old Ship Saloon boasts Gold Rush roots

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The Old Ship Saloon: Its picturesque life began in Gold Rush days when a storm blew a three-master aground on Alcatraz Island. The ship was towed to Pacific Avenue and Battery Street, and in 1851, an entrepreneur cut a door in its side, turning it into a Barbary Coast saloon. The 1906 earthquake slid the top story diagonally down onto Pacific Avenue. Tales were told of sailors shanghaied from the saloon after it was rebuilt in 1907. Asked about ghosts, present-day owner Bill Duffy says he acknowledges a prankster presence that “likes to mess with the machinery,” namely the dishwasher. He suspects it is the spirit of a sailor who died while being shanghaied. But bartender Paul Fuller assures visitors there aren’t any trapdoors anymore. 298 Pacific Ave., San Francisco; (415) 788-2222, oldshipsaloon.com

How did you get started? This was back east in Vermont. I needed a summer job and I was 17. My English teacher at the time had a relative who had a bar and told me to go there. The owner wasn’t too worried about my being underage. So I started working before my 18th birthday. Eighteen was the legal drinking age in Vermont.

How did you learn the job? The owner threw me an apron and told me if I didn’t know how to make something, just ask the customer. Fortunately, most things were simple, like beers and shots. This was in 1972. It was definite OJT — on-the-job training.

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So how long have you tended bar? Since then, off and on. Mostly on. I took time off when my daughter turned 2. I took a year off. And when I sold the bar that I owned, I took a year off, and when I was laid off, I took time off. I’ve been here since about November of 2008. Bill [the owner] and I met at Churchill’s at Sixth and Clement.

What do you like about the trade? It’s the contact with people. Their humor against your humor brings out the best. And I prefer a customer who knows what they want. I like to make the classics — Manhattans, margaritas, Old Fashioneds. I don’t get too fancy, I’m really old-school. I don’t like to recommend drinks because our tastes may be different.

What do you like to drink? Tequila in the summer, and whiskey in the winter. And beer and wine always. And sometimes a little Fernet — for medicinal purposes only, of course.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen? To keep this PG, well, this is in Vermont, too, when I had just started. There was a customer that none of us could wake up. So, we cleaned up and he still wouldn’t wake up. So, we locked him in. He couldn’t get out. So the next morning going in, there he was. He was watching that Saturday morning cartoon, the “Pink Panther,” and drinking a beer. I’ll never forget that.

What’s your philosophy of life? I take things one day at a time. I think you should live the best you can and enjoy it while you can. Take care of your health.

Any advice to someone starting out? Save your money. Put away $100 at a time, because in this business, it’s cash — there is no retirement or health care.

Pisco Punch

  • 1¼ oz. or 1 jigger Pisco (Peruvian brandy)
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 oz. pineapple juice
  • ¼ to ½ oz. (2 tablespoons) homemade syrup of gum arabic and distilled water

Shake vigorously. Pour into glass. Spritz in soda water for a creamy top. Garnish with a lime slice and a slice of pineapple soaked in the gum syrup.



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