The Palace Hotel has been in the news lately because of its decision to remove the iconic Maxfield Parish mural “The Pied Piper” from the wall behind the bar that bears the painting’s name. But due to public outcry, the painting — which is valued at several million dollars — will soon return to its traditional place. Long before Parish was commissioned to create “The Pied Piper,” the bar was home to the man who wrote the book on bartending — literally. William T. Boothby’s “Cocktail Boothby’s American Bartender: The Only Practical Treatise on the Art of Mixology Published,” was first printed in 1891. Bob Boos, a veteran bartender and an Air Force veteran, now fills Boothby’s boots. Originally from Highland Park in Los Angeles, Boos came to the Bay Area because he was interested in enrolling in the California Maritime Academy, but wound up working as an EMT in San Francisco. Around 1978, Boos went to bartending school, and his long résumé includes San Rafael’s Dominic’s Harbor Restaurant and The Mermaid. Boos was hired as head bartender at the Pied Piper in 1991.
So when is “The Pied Piper” painting going to come back and fill up that big, empty wall behind your bar? They told me three weeks ago that it would be back in two weeks. It’s being very carefully cleaned and restored, so that’s understandable.
A bar and restaurant is a pretty dangerous place to keep a multimillion-dollar painting, isn’t it? Sure. I once accidentally dropped a bottle of Champagne 6 inches, the top popped off, and Champagne hit the painting! I was really sweating afterward. They managed to clean it up, but I felt like a real dope.
Do you get a lot of famous people in your bar? The movers and shakers of San Francisco come in frequently, and every once in a while, you see somebody famous come in — Bill Russell, Jack LaLanne, Patti LuPone and Diane Baker, who’s been an actress since the ’50s and is now in charge of the acting school at the Academy of Art here in The City. Ronnie Wood from The Rolling Stones came in once to look at the painting. He had his own art in a gallery on Sutter or Post Street — I can’t remember which — at the time.
It’s interesting to see the word mixology appearing in the title of Boothby’s 1891 book. Don’t most people assume that term is a modern invention? There was a chain of bartending schools run by a guy named Jack Tiano, and I’d always thought “mixologist” was a tongue-in-cheek thing that he had come up with.
Did you attend Jack Tiano’s bartending school? Yes. I’m an old-school flamethrower. When I started, it was all about pumping out the units. Unit count was everything. Back in the day, you had three kinds of bartenders: Personality bartenders, who talked to the customers a lot and were good at building up a clientele; mechanics, who were fast; and flamethrowers, who were the fastest of the mechanics. Back then, to be a flamethrower, you needed a quick mind, an athlete’s skill set, and an inability to function in normal society. When Anthony Bourdain wrote “Kitchen Confidential,” chefs were the same. To be a good line cook back then, you had to be fast and precise, but you also had to be a little “off.” Once the celebrity chef phenomenon started, that changed everything.
A lot of people in the business are skeptical about bartending school. Would you recommend it? In my case, I had no experience, and it enabled me to learn the drinks I needed to know. You’re not going to learn everything in bartending school, but it can’t hurt.