Among the things sorely missed during the pandemic in this great bar town were the neighborhood watering holes, where locals gathered to hoist a glass to salute the end of the workday, a great game or enjoy camaraderie. Now that San Francisco bars can serve drinks indoors again without offering meals, patrons, after being cooped up for more than a year, are happy to return to their favorite pubs, and the bars are thrilled for the business.
At the iconic Buena Vista Cafe near Ghirardelli Square, which managed to stay open in part by spending $50,000 to build a 16-table tent, bartender John Jeide was busy mixing the bar’s signature Irish coffees on a sunny day this week for a steady crowd of takeout customers and patrons in its spacious parklet.
“It’s great to have the outside area and the inside back open,” said Jeide, who’s worked at the BV for 11 years. “Weekends are always busier, and it’s always packed outside.”
Melissa Oglesby and her daughter Chelsea Oglesby, visitors from Leggett who hit the BV when they’re in The City, were celebrating Mother’s Day and Melissa’s birthday at lunch.
“The food is really good,” said Melissa, “We’re so glad to see the bars and restaurants are reopening.”
The BV is looking forward to seeing even more workers and tourists.
“Now some of the hotels are reopening. We’re still waiting for the cable cars to come back at the end of July,” Jeide said, referring to the Hyde Street line that drops passengers across the street. “That was a big part of the tourist crowd. They gotta clean the tracks because they haven’t been used in a while and get all the employees vaxxed up.”
Jeide, who has worked through the pandemic with reduced hours, is also working some shifts as a waiter. “The glory is all in being a bartender,” he laughed. “People say, ‘Oh, you’re a BV bartender, that’s cool.’”
But he said waiters are making more than bartenders now, because due to capacity limits, the bar isn’t crowded with standing drinkers like it was before COVID.While Jeide usually earns about $170 in tips making drinks, waiters can make up to $400-$500 for an eight-hour shift.
“We brought back two of the older waitresses who’ve been off for a while, but some of the older workers are in their 70s and don’t want to come back yet because of COVID,” said Jeide, who is fully vaccinated.
Jeide hasn’t had problems getting patrons to wear masks. “Sometimes they forget to put it on or didn’t bring it with them. If we approach a table and they don’t have their mask on, and the other customers see that and complain, we have to walk away till they have their masks on. It’s just a safety thing for us and them, probably more for us,” he said.
Some customers think they don’t have to mask up if they’ve been vaccinated.
“I had customers who came in and didn’t have their masks on, saying they’d been vaccinated. I said, ‘That’s great, but other tables see you without a mask,’ and they’re like, ‘What the hell?’ You gotta have them on. They said, ‘Oh, yeah, OK,’” Jeide said.
While businesses are welcoming more customers and less restrictive rules, Jeide has noticed at least one negative: “We’re seeing more tourists, but it’s terrible around here with all the car break-ins. Coming to work today I saw six cars with smashed glass on the ground,” he said.
On the other side of town, the popular waterfront watering hole Hidive was doing a brisk business, crowded with Giants fans stopping by before the game.
Manager Ashley Freiburger, who’s worked there 10 years, said the restaurant was closed on and off during the pandemic but offered food and drinks to go through a window, which remains open. In addition to the outdoor patio, the Hidive opened for indoor dining just in time for the start of baseball season April 1.
“Opening day was the closest we’ve had to turning people away,” Freiburger said, “But I imagine once the Giants start allowing more and more fans, it will trickle down to us.”
Business has picked up a lot, but it’s still dependent on the weather. “Normally we have five or six people deep at the bar, but now all customers have to be seated indoors,” she said.
A majority of the bar’s after-work crowd came from nearby businesses, many of which still have employees working from home.
“Most patrons are local workers, mainly the happy hour tech crowd from big businesses like Google or Gap, and they’re not back in the office yet,” said Freiburger. She’s starting to get inquiries about hosting events like going away parties, however, and calls it a “good sign.”
Recent warm weather also has drawn people from across the Bay Area to the Hidive.
“We do have a lot of business on weekends with local people coming in from the surrounding areas. They want to walk along the water; everybody just wants a change of scenery,” said Freiburger, who said the bar’s staff is down to 10 workers from 25, noting that some employees moved because they couldn’t afford to stay in the Bay Area, and that the bar didn’t have to lay anyone off.
There have been few hassles over masks.
“There were only a handful of times when it got confrontational,” Freiburger said. “Most people are cool about it, and we have signage everywhere because the rules are so random and changing.”
Michael Coleman, a bartender and waiter at the Hidive for five years, is as delighted about the relaxed rules as the patrons he serves.
“It feels invigorating to be back,” he said, adding, “The customers are ecstatic. They say, ‘God, it’s so nice to be out again.’”
Jim Cranney, a Giants fan from Carson City, liked the bar’s prices: “It’s cheaper to drink here. It’s $19 for an IPA at the ballpark,” he said.
His pal David Emehiser from Santa Rosa was heartened to see more bars and restaurants opening. He said, “They need to get more things open; they need to get the tourists back. …. I remember times in summer when it was hard to walk on the Embarcadero it was so crowded, and it was shoulder to shoulder here in the bar.”
At Perry’s, a popular spot on Union Street for 51 years, sidewalk and parklet tables were full.
“I think our business is certainly gaining steam,” manager Bruce Bowers said. “It’s Perry’s, so we’re very blessed to have a strong following,” he said.
The restaurant did have to lay off some workers during the pandemic; it’s still not fully staffed, and the inside bar is still limited to 25 percent for diners.
But on a sunny afternoon with every table filled, Bowers observed, “People are happy to be out; people are thrilled to death and can’t wait for us to reopen the bar.”