I was walking through downtown this morning, amongst the tumult of the Central Subway construction and the hubbub of whatever big company has a tent over Union Square at the moment. The sun was out, the air was crisp, and the tourists were slow walking to God knows where. I knew where I was going though, I was heading to Lefty O’Doul’s, one of the last bits of old S.F. left in the neighborhood.
It was a damn shame when the original Gold Dust Lounge closed down. The Gold Dust was one of the few places in town where regular San Franciscans and oddly dressed tourists hung out together. While I still visit the new Gold Dust when I’m at the wharf (which is rarely), Lefty’s is the last crossroads in Union Square where San Francisco meets the world. High end European stores don’t count; I’m talking about the cultural exchange that happens when a third generation San Franciscan in dusty overalls talks over beers with a German tourist wearing a brightly colored S.F. windbreaker. And then the piano starts playing and by the end of the night they have their arms around each other’s shoulders belting out “Sweet Caroline” with the rest of the crowd.
That is Lefty O’Doul’s. Well that and the classic Hofbrau style food. And the near century of sports memorabilia that lines the walls. And the families who come in from the East Bay and the Peninsula and Marin, who make the pilgrimage to Lefty’s anytime they are in The City, because that’s what their parents and grandparents did.
In a time when most new restaurants and bars look like a combination of a shipwreck and Thomas Edison’s laboratory, Lefty O’Doul’s is decidedly unhip. Like most anything that’s been around since 1958, they don’t care how cool they look, which is exactly what makes them cool.
Considering that it’s about to be baseball season, it’s almost perfect that I went into Lefty’s this week. The man Lefty O’Doul is not only credited with bringing baseball to Japan, he’s also one of the best hitters of all time. His lifetime batting average, after playing 15 years of pro-baseball, was a magnificent .349. He was the fourth most consistent hitter of all time, which is especially amazing considering he started out as a pitcher.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love Lefty O’Doul’s. I love the fact that it’s weird and old and funky and allows you to tap directly into a San Francisco that you might be too young to have ever seen and possibly your parents too.
Next time you’re in Union Square stop by for a pint or a bite. It’s important that we show these kinds of places our patronage to make sure they stick around for the next generation of San Franciscans and tourists to drunkenly sing off key in.
Speaking of drinking beer and eating food: I’m throwing a Nacho Festival at the SoMa StrEat Food Park this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Each food truck will have a different variation of nachos (Japanese and Korean nachos!) and there will be an option that gets you five hours of an all-you-can-drink beer for $30. General admission is $5. See you there!
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.Broke Ass CityGold Dust LoungeLefty O'Doul'sStuart Schuffman