The first time I met Suzy Gordon at Summer Place in Nob Hill, I didn't leave the best impression.
I sat around her jukebox with a handful of friends, the room hazy, my throat charred from one too many Camel Lights, while I sipped a Trumer Pils. This was when Summer Place still allowed patrons to smoke inside.
At some point, one of my friends went to the bathroom, ripped a handful of flowers from a vase and gave it to his girlfriend. Gordon eventually came around and kicked us out (and rightfully so) for my friend's misbehavior. She also told his girlfriend, “If your man can't afford to buy you flowers, he doesn't deserve you.” She was probably right. (Note: don't ever mess with Suzy's flowers.)
The second time I met Gordon, I was in better company, with an old friend who is a regular at the corner watering hole. And regulars, here, are treated like family.
If you have yet to meet Gordon, just know that she is the queen bee of Nob Hill. She makes a bucket glass of whiskey and coke look good. She will roll dice with you and make you wonder why you ever agreed to play. She's old school. A solid businesswoman.
A staple of barkeeps who make a place what it is — and Summer Place would not be the same without her.
MAKING THE CITY HOME
In the early 1980s, after leaving South Korea and spending a short time in the southern U.S., Gordon arrived in San Francisco and never turned back. She knew The City was just right for her. “In the '80s, there were even more Asians in San Francisco, so I was like, 'This place feels just like home,'” she said.
And bartending quickly became her passion.
In the days of 75-cent Budweisers and 90-cent well drinks, Gordon was bringing in $1,200 a night in sales at places like Sebastian's and Pierce Street Manor, both now long gone. She was quick. She loved to hustle. And everyone loved to sit at her bar.
“Men would come in and never leave,” Gordon said with a laugh. “They loved to sit at my bar and spend money.”
One of her regulars at Sebastian's eventually became her husband.
He drank Coors and once in a while a shot of Peppermint Schnapps. After two weeks, he proposed to Gordon. They married on Christmas Day on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Together they raised two children, one of whom works behind the stick at Summer Place on weekends.
With the booze business being the one she knows best, Gordon owned Drink Liquor on Second Avenue and Balboa Street (it's still there) after her marriage. But when her husband died, she got back behind the bar.
“I had been so good at making so much money for everyone else, I figured why not make it for myself,” she said.
After a brief period of unemployment in the late '90s, she went to visit her friend who owned Summer Place at the time. Years prior, a Filipino man owned the space, but had a gambling problem and lost the bar. On her visit, she asked her friend for a job. She ended up buying the place instead.
“I asked her if I could have a job, and by job I meant that she sell her bar to me,” Gordon said.
For more than 15 years, Gordon has been the heart and soul of Summer Place, singing along to customer picks on the jukebox and flouting her luck in dice games. At a time when bars are shutting down faster than it takes them to open, Summer Place remains a constant.