Just steps off tourist-trafficked Powell Street, the Gold Dust Lounge is a portal to an older San Francisco — when people lived for last call, bartenders knew customers by name and the saloon was popular with visiting Hollywood royalty.
But soon, the bar — one of the last of its kind — might close its heavy wood-and-brass doors. Co-owners James and Tasios Bovis, brothers who moved here from Greece after World War II, received a three-month eviction notice in December. Their landlord now plans to lease the space to someone else.
For the brothers, the bar’s closure would represent not only a historic loss for The City, but also the loss of a family tradition.
“It is the place where I raised my family,” said James Bovis, 80. “I hate to see it go.”
When the brothers took over in 1965, the place had already been through several incarnations, including a go-go bar, Bing Crosby’s Dixieland bar and possibly a speakeasy. The brothers made the Gold Dust a saloon — no food, just booze — which attracted the downtown after-work crowd, along with notable guests such as Lee Marvin and Steve McQueen.
“They’d come in with hats on and black gloves, and it was fun,” James Bovis said. “I loved going to work.”
Nick Bovis, James’ son and co-owner of the family’s other bar, Lefty O’Doul’s, said his father always came home with tales of the famous people he had met, such as this one:
“Janis Joplin walked in,” James Bovis began. “I didn’t know who she was. She was dressed in those hippie clothes, diamonds on almost every finger. So I told her she couldn’t stay because she wasn’t dressed properly. But she wouldn’t leave. Turned out she was one of the finest ladies, once I got to know her.”
Despite his father’s love for running a bar, Nick Bovis, 48, swore to himself he wouldn’t go into the family business, especially after his father hired him at age 21.
“He said, ‘You can’t drink, you can’t date the girls and you can’t smoke.’ I said, ‘Well, you might as well fire me because I’m going to break all those rules,’” Nick Bovis recalled.
So Nick got a job as an engineer, but it wasn’t long before he was back behind a bar around the corner, at Lefty’s, which is where he’s been ever since.
Family members would like to see the bar saved, and a website dedicated to the cause is collecting petition signatures toward that end. But James said it is too early to tell what will become of the place.
A sip of time
1933 Established as the Gold Dust Lounge
1965 Bovis brothers take ownership
5 to 25 cents Price of a drink at the bar in 1965
$3.50 Current price of signature drinks (margarita, Irish coffee, Champagne)
Source: Gold Dust Lounge