On a recent walk through the Old Barbary Coast area with Cantina and Encanto Pisco owner Duggan McDonnell, we strolled down Hotaling Place near the Transamerica Pyramid. During the earthquake and fire of 1906, three things were saved: the Saint Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church; the Saloon, San Francisco's oldest operating bar that once had a brothel upstairs; and the booze warehouse on Hotaling Place.
“This building was the biggest warehouse for booze in the West,” McDonnell told me. “Those three things were saved. Boom — you've got civilization.”
A plaque on the old brick warehouse reads: “If, as they say, God spanked the town for being over frisky, why did he burn the churches down and save Hotaling's whisky?”
Near the warehouse on the corner of Montgomery and Washington streets is where the old Bank Exchange Saloon was located. It was the first drinking palace where Mark Twain sipped Pisco Punch made by Duncan Nicol, bar manager at the time.
And since we're talking about the fire of 1906, Nicol and his crew are said to have stood outside and protected the Bank Exchange (so it would not be robbed or blown up) to create a fire break. Just a few blocks away in the triangle consisting of Columbus Avenue, Broadway and Kearny Street is what was once called the “Devil's Acre,” where you could find all of life's pleasures and all of its sins.
As an homage to this slice of history, the Future Bars group (Bourbon and Branch, Tradition, Rickhouse, Swig, Local Edition) plan to open their new bar — appropriately named Devil's Acre — in what was once Pearl's Jazz Club. News is that the bar has everything in place, but the group is waiting on certain approvals to come through before opening.
DRINKS AROUND TOWN
If you're still in a celebratory mood over the Giants' third World Series championship in five years, slurp on some oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. while sipping one of bar manager Saul Ranella's Commissioner's Trophy #3. The burnt-orange gin cocktail is smooth, rosy and has a raisin-like finish. Fit for a champ.
Early next year, Martin Cate of Smuggler's Cove and bar manager Alex Smith of Novela plan to open Whitechapel. Cate has been working on the themed bar and restaurant that, proprietors say, will host the largest gin selection in North America. The bar and restaurant will take over what was once Noble nightclub on Polk and Turk streets. Cate's Smuggler's Cove is already known as one of the best rum bars in the world. He's winding up for what seems to be another home run.