Gold Dust Lounge: This Union Square stalwart isn’t hiding its history: The marquee outside proudly dates it origins back to 1933, the year Prohibition ended. But did you know there was another bar here even earlier, in this building that survived the great earthquake of ’06? Or that Bing Crosby owned a piece of the Gold Dust in the 1950s? Inside is another step back in time: The original flocked wallpaper is still visible underneath a layer of gold paint; the curving, solid wood bar is very well-worn, the red velvet banquettes are invitingly reupholstered. The clientele is a diverse mix of local old-timers, people coming off shift from the surrounding restaurants and hotels, and your more adventurous tourists. When the out-of-towners ask bartender Casey Lippi to make his “special” drink, he tells them “everything here is special.” But if you really insist on his recommendation, he serves up his favorite liqueur as part of his Italian boilermaker. 247 Powell St., San Francisco, (415) 397-1695
So what’s the story behind your Italian boilermaker? The original boilermaker is a shot of whiskey and a beer. You can drop the shot into the beer, or just down the shot and then drink the beer. With the Italian boilermaker, I recommend sipping the Fernet and alternating that with the Peroni, which is a good Italian lager that cuts the bitterness of the liqueur. Fernet is a complex liqueur and generally an acquired taste, but it really grows on you.
How long have you been a bartender? I came from Sacramento to San Francisco and got my first bartending job the week after I turned 21 at the House of Shields. It was a really cool place to be at the time, when it was still a restaurant in the era of power lunches, before the dot-com crash. But then the owner got busted for tax evasion, which we found out when we came to work and found a padlock on the door. I had always been a customer here because House of Shields closed at midnight, so nine years ago, I came to work here.
Have you worked any other jobs? I studied cinematography here at the Academy of Art and have worked as a freelance cameraman, most for reality-TV shows. But I didn’t like the freelance lifestyle, constantly looking for work all the time. It’s kind of nice to just be a bartender.
So what do you like to drink? I really like Middleton, but I can’t afford it every day. So I usually drink Jamesons. I think simplicity is key. I like the taste of booze, and you lose that in drinks with all the fresh fruit and the infused vodkas.
And that philosophy fits well here? Yes, we’re a bare-bones place. We don’t take credit cards. We don’t serve food. The Gold Dust is now the only bar at Union Square that isn’t attached to either a restaurant or a hotel. And we’re the cheapest bar around. We have live music, with free admission, and a 13½-hour happy hour [with some drinks at $3.50].
If you could have a drink anywhere in the world, where would it be? On a deserted island with a full bar.
If you could serve a drink to anyone, who would it be? James Cagney — my favorite actor. If I were pouring back in the day, it’d be him and Elvis.
The Italian boilermaker
- 1½ oz. of Fernet-Branca
- 1 bottle of Peroni
Serve the Fernet at room temperature in a rocks glass, with the ice-cold Peroni on the side.