Louis’ Diner slips away into memory

By Spring Berlandt

By Spring Berlandt

What can I say about Louis’ Diner. It was always a special place.

I remember having hot chocolate there with my father. He would always have the clam chowder. Was it New England or Boston style? And which one is red and which one white and creamy? Afterwards we would walk out among the ruins of the old Sutro baths, imagining the lively crowds that used to bathe there in days gone by.

It was a place where the ambience was everything. The main prize was a coveted seat by the windows in a cozy, cushioned booth. You could order from the plastic menu the old fashioned diner fare. Orange and apple juice from concentrate, frozen sausage links, hash browns. Comforting stuff.

We went there to celebrate something or just because we wanted to go all the way to the outer limits of our fair city and take in the view and feel free, like we were on holiday.

As a teenager I remember going out there after being up all night and arriving as they opened there doors early in the morning. I inhaled a large breakfast plate and watery coffee.

The corner table at Louis’ Diner, with its view of the Sutro Baths, was popular with customers. (Shutterstock)

The corner table at Louis’ Diner, with its view of the Sutro Baths, was popular with customers. (Shutterstock)

If I went for lunch it was always a toss up between a tuna melt or a BLT depending on my mood. The Shrimp Louie salad wasn’t bad either, with the heavy mayonnaise dressing…was it Thousand Island? Delicately pink, salmon or coral coloured with chunky bits of relish mixed in.

Beyond the food, it was a place that was there for me, a part of the emotional and physical landscape of my childhood, my story. I, like many people who grew up in SF, expected it to remain. I never imagined it would disappear like a sand sculpture that lasted some 80 odd years only to be sadly washed away.

As an adult I would go there on lunch or brunch dates with friends or family members and once I moved away to another continent I would always include a meal at Louis’ as part of my itinerary.

On our first trip to San Francisco together, I took my husband there for breakfast and to take in that astounding view. We were there early as a result of our jet lag and managed to be seated in a precious booth.

The author, Spring Berlandt, at Louis’ Diner in 2016. (Courtesy Photo)

The author, Spring Berlandt, at Louis’ Diner in 2016. (Courtesy Photo)

In these dramatically uncertain times, so many things we once took for granted have disappeared. Familiar patterns, rituals, places and certain freedoms we never before questioned.

As the little bookshops, theatres, family owned restaurants and business, some of them legends and institutions, vanish, we have now only our memories of them. Like the famed Playland I always heard about that had closed before my time and the Musee Mecanique, Louis’ joins the venerable family of seaside ghosts from generations lost.

When something is removed, dies, goes away from our life, a piece of our history that will never be the same, we lose a part of ourselves. We walk past the places that once housed us, that once set the stage, that were the backdrops to our conversations, exchanges and important gatherings. As time passes, little bits and pieces break off, scatter, fly away into a collective and personal history. Each of us have experienced and perceived a specific place differently but share memories and stories of a common space that was available to us as a physical possibility. The map of the city I once knew has changed in so many ways. be that as it may, there is an older city in my mind that still exists, that has not vanished, that will remain always open and accessible in my imagination and heart.

Spring Berlandt is a San Francisco native and a teacher who now lives with her husband and two cats in the Italian countryside.

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