John Barleycorn must die. With the loss of the nearly 40-year-old lower Nob Hill pub, located at 1415 Larkin St., goes the European breakfront found in an old Pacific Heights mansion, pews from old St. Mary’s Church, sets of cable-car benches and original seats from Seals Stadium.
The controversy that brewed in the last several months about the bar’s closing, however, is not set to die anytime soon.
Saturday marks the last day for patrons to sidle up to the bar. Come Sunday, employees and owner Larry Ayre are going to start stripping the memorabilia — including the rafters, which Ayre also owns — for transport to his Santa Rosa home for storage.
The cache of local memorabilia aside, providing relics from The City’s early days and a catalog of the neighborhood’s history, the Barleycorn served as a community center, living room and even safe meeting place for blind dates, Ayre said.
Instead of just another neighborhood bar, Antico said it was home, recalling that it was the go-to place after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, where locals went to check in on each other.
Despite the wallpapering of sticky notes making offers on some of the bar’s choice merchandise, Ayre said everything is going with him and some of the longtime bartenders who have paid their dues.
Some items, however, including the last batches of alcohol, are going quite a bit faster than they thought this week, Ayre said.
“Everyone wants to come in for a last shot at the ‘corn,” Ayre said.
The bar’s future became uncertain last year when local restaurateur Luisa Hanson, who owns Luisa’s Italian Restaurant on Union Street, purchased the building located at 1500 California St. Hansontold Ayre that she had no plans to renew the bar’s lease, which expired in June. A lease was granted through the end of this month.
More than 4,000 loyal patrons, residents and past customers from around the world signed a petition since then urging Hanson to renew the lease. Several of the supporters, in fact, promised to boycott whatever establishment replaces the Barleycorn, Ayre said.
Weekend bartender, Larkin Street resident and Save the John Barleycorn coordinator Tony Antico has dubbed the Barleycorn a lynchpin in the local economy — an odd balance of lower-income residents in the Tenderloin and wealthier ones in Nob and Russian hills — and not every business can cater to their market.
“It’s like they ripped the heart out of me,” Ayre said. “I would like to think that [Hanson] will find out that her ideas aren’t going to work, but I don’t know. Some people have talked to us, we’ve had some offers to move. But I’ve turned them down.”
Supervisor Aaron Peskin proposed legislation that would inhibit rumored plans by Hanson to join the Barleycorn with an adjacent property.
The legislation seeks to require a conditional-use permit for projects totaling 2,000 square feet and larger. The current ordinance requires such a permit for projects 3,000 square feet and larger.
Peskin said Thursday that he planned on visiting the bar after work to “mourn the loss” with its regular patrons.
“There you have it,” Peskin said. “We can make it harder to save businesses under threat, but there isn’t anything to prevent her right to evict a tenant.”
Hanson did not return phone calls seeking comment.