The Magic Of San Francisco’s Buena Vista Cafe

Established in 1916 by the owner of the property, Buena Vista means “good view” in Spanish. And a good view it is indeed. Looking out over the bay and Fisherman’s Wharf the Buena Vista is a wonderful spot to spend some time sipping a beverage or having a bite to eat at one of the communal tables.

But what makes the Buena Vista special to me is its mix of tourists and locals, a rare blend in most big cities theses days. I love the fact that there will be a pack of out-of-towners swilling the obligatory Irish Coffee right next to a local reading a book, sipping on his or hers own. There is the perfect vibe there and, although the locals generally shun them, the Hyde Street cable car stop is pure convenience. If you dare do the lame, touristy run through Fisherman’s Wharf grab a sandwich or some crab from one of the stands outside but make sure you pop in for a cocktail at the bar at Fisherman’s Grotto. It’s pure old-school San Francisco. No matter what avoid Joe’s Crab Shack and Rainforest Café, you can do those in Vegas.

My parents had their first date at the Buena Vista and I remember my father telling me about the fashionable Sunday brunches there in the mid 1960’s. He told me about sipping Ramos Fizzes (now a lost art) and spending the day taking the cable cars up to Nob Hill for beverages afterward. It’s hard for me to envision what those days were like but I bet there were a lot of turtlenecks involved. I also remember visiting Fisherman’s Wharf as a child with my Grandmother so, yes; I am a sucker for the area.

But more on the Irish Coffee story, I’ll take this straight from the Buena Vista itself.

“The historic venture started on the night of November the 10th in 1952. Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista, challenged international travel writer Stanton Delaplane to help re-create a highly touted “Irish Coffee” served at Shannon Airport in Ireland. Intrigued, Stan Accepted Jack’s invitation, and the pair began to experiment immediately.

“Throughout the night the two of them stirred and sipped judiciously and eventually acknowledged two recurring problems. The taste was “not quite right,” and the cream would not float. Stan’s hopes sank like the cream, but Jack was undaunted. The restaurateur pursued the elusive elixir with religious fervor, even making a pilgrimage overseas to Shannon Airport.
Upon Jack’s return, the experimentation continued. Finally, the perfect-tasting Irish whiskey was selected. Then the problem of the bottom-bent cream was taken to San Francisco’s mayor, a prominent dairy owner. It was discovered that when the cream was aged for 48 hours and frothed to a precise consistency, it would float as delicately as a swan on the surface of Jack and Stan’s special nectar.
Success was theirs! With the recipe now mastered, a sparkling clear, six-ounce, heat-treated goblet was chosen as a suitable chalice.”

Sitting at the bar watching the bartender making a dozen at a time is wonderful to watch and even better to sip. If you dare they will even make them to go, with an airline bottle of their own brand of Irish whiskey on the side. Perfect enjoyment for your cable car or taxi ride back to your hotel.

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