When the Customer Side of the Bar is the Urinal
There are some taverns in the San Francisco area where
the customer side of the bar itself
is actually a urinal.
"Do men actually use it that way?", you ask.
I'm sure it happened all the time back in the 1880s and 1890s, when Jack London was doing his schoolwork at Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon in Oakland, and men were passing through the Bay Area on their way to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896–1899.
"But what about now?"
I'm sure that it would be a violation of some health code, and the staff would not be happy to see it happening.
I"m also sure that it happens at times.
I certainly didn't use the bar-front urinals, you will see that none of these pictures have the broad light blue "I used this" border.
Andromeda Saloon 1907–1920,
Andromeda Café 1920–1933,
Andromeda Saloon 1933–1977,
Albatross Saloon 1977–1985,
San Francisco Brewing Company 1985–2009,
Comstock Saloon 2010–
The second-oldest operating saloon in San Francisco is at 155 Columbus Avenue, on the corner of Columbus, the diagonal avenue running from the area of the Transamerica Tower up the hill into North Beach, and the east-west Pacific Avenue. The famous City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Café are in the next block up Columbus. (For the oldest saloon, see the Barbary Coast page.)
This saloon opened as the Andromeda Saloon in 1907, just a year after the devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake and following multi-day fires.
Jack Dempsey began working here in 1913. He would make money by going to saloons and claiming that he could beat anyone there, taking a cut of the ensuing betting. He went on to hold the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship from 1919 to 1926.
Prohibition was in effect from 1920 to 1933, closing many of the Barbary Coast saloons. The Andromeda changed its name to Andromeda Café and served shellfish.
The Andromeda was renamed as the Albatross Saloon and renovated in 1977. Many coats of paint were stripped off the mahogany woodwork. The stained glass windows and skylight were restored. Also, the 1916 punkah fan covering much of the ceiling.
In the mid 1980s there were only three brew pubs in the U.S. Allan Paul purchased the Andromeda in 1985 and established the San Francisco Brewing Company, making it the fourth. A large copper kettle and mash tun along with other brewing equipment was custom designed and installed. Fermentation and aging took place in the basement. They were producing about 200 gallons (or six barrels) at each brewing session, for about 1000 barrels per year. Fermentation took three to nine days depending on the recipe, and aging was another several weeks to several months.
The San Francisco Brewing Company closed in November 2009. It was purchased, remodeled, and re-opened as the Comstock Saloon in April 2010. In late 2012 the new owner, Joshua Leavy, re-started brewing under the San Francisco Brewing Company name. It has since sold again, and was owned by two bartenders from Absinthe Brasserie and Bar when I visited.
Let's go in and see the unusual plumbing:
The antique full-width urinal, euphemistically called a "spittoon", has been restored. But you are supposed to observe it, not use it. It's a trough lined with the original 1907 white ceramic tiles. I've seen one illustration that showed the front face of the bar covered with sheet metal, which would have been a necessity when it was in active use as a urinal.
Oakland — Merchant's Saloon
Next, I took a ferry across the Bay from near the Ferry Building in San Francisco to the Oakland Inner Harbor, between Alameda Island and the mainland. The Merchant's Saloon is at 401 2nd Street in Oakland, two blocks in and three blocks down from the pier where the cross-bay ferries arrive and depart. Just three blocks away are the wooden cabin housing Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon, and Jack London's cabin from the Klondike, relocated to here.
Well, it's kind of Jack London's cabin reassembled. The real story is that a local businessman somewhat obsessed with London led an expedition into the Klondike in 1968 to investigate a small cabin found in the forest on the north fork of Henderson Creek, near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. It matched the approximate location and description of London's cabin, which he had abandoned.
The cabin had been rediscovered by trappers who noticed London's name inside, scratched into the interior wall or ceiling. The businessman brought along a handwriting expert from the Oakland Police Department's forgery detail, to analyze what purported to be London's signature.
The handwriting expert said that it matched samples of London's writing, and so the expedition disassembled the cabin. Half of the logs were given to Dawson City, and the Oakland Port purchased the other half. Both Dawson City and Oakland built replica cabins out of their halves of the material. This one was dedicated in 1970.
Back on the plumbing tour, the Merchants' Saloon was established in 1916.