Either my memory is starting to fail, or I keep writing the same column... and no comments from the peanut gallery on either option. But when you have a tendency to write about San Francisco, and you have been doing it enough, certain themes keep coming back around, whether you want them to or not.
In addition, I am a Caen, which means I handle change very poorly, and even less so when it comes to San Francisco. I grump down streets pointing out places that don't exist anymore, and insist on calling homes by the names of families who lived there decades ago; there is the Vietor house, and the Orser house, and that is where Nils lived.
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want the Embarcadero Freeway back, I love the new location of Original Joe's, and the Giants play in the best damn ballpark in America. But cities have bones, they have guts, and sometime those places we remember are the bones of a San Francisco that each one of us keeps inside. And that little city inside is slightly different for each of us, which is one of the magical things about San Francisco; we all have our own palette for a painting we create together.
Which brings us to saloonkeepers. Sure New York is known for them, but I would put our pack against theirs any time. After all, as has been said many times before, we have more bars than churches in this town. And our saloons and their masters hold special sway here at the edge of the world. In fact, in many cases, the owner and the establishment are indivisible from each other. Moose's was... well Moose's. Peter Osborne is Moma's. Perry's is Perry Butler, and always will be. And if I say Harry, Flicka, and Jeanette, you already know whom I am talking about.
Yes, Jeanette Etheredge. And damn it, here I go writing the same column again. It was bad when Sam Wo's closed. And even worse when the Gold Dust got 86'd from their own place, although Nick Bovis and his merry band will soon be back with us. But now comes the news that Tosca has been served with a 30-day notice. An invitation to start negotiations they say, just like they said it would with the Gold Dust. Apropos of nothing, if I ever find out who "they" are, I'm going to smack 'em something good.
This time it's personal. Our clan goes way back with theirs, all the way back to the days of Bali's, one of the true backbones of my childhood. I had no idea what Armenian food was, nor could I pick the place out on a map, but the rack of lamb remains one of the primal memories for me. I still have the little laminated card from Armen Bali's memorial service, where she finally divulged the secret recipe that we had all hounded her for. Turns out the secret was pomegranates... never would have guessed.
And I remember Jeanette behind the bar with more members of the clan, both direct members such as her son, and indirect people like Rudolph Nuryev, who was an honorary member. And we would go deep into the night at the corner of Pacific and Battery, and stagger out into the night knowing that a place like this, run by a family such as this one, could only exist in a place like San Francisco.
And now they want to toss them out on their ear. To hear the statements from the other side, they would be fine with someone else running the place and keeping it open. They irretrievably do not get it. The quote in the papers today was "'What I would like to do is sell it to somebody who would run it like a business,' he said, 'and not a place for Jeanette Etheredge to sit at the bar and hold court with her famous friends.'"
Well, that's why we all go there, famous or not. Because Jeanette is sitting at the end of the bar. Because Tosca is Jeanette, the two indivisible from each other. Years ago, when I started writing for the San Francisco Examiner, I was asked if I was going to continue writing my father's column. It was an insane question, because the column and my dad were the same thing, two sides of the same coin. The only person who could write that column was him, and I was not going to even try.
Anyone else running Tosca means it isn't Tosca. The backbone is broken, the line is cut. All those nights we remember fondly, playing pool, telling tall tales, and celebrating our little victories in a town that meant something more because we were there. And then at some point we would duck into Jeanette's office, grab lollipops and head out into the night. Into a town that will always have that Barbary Coast backbone, those guts from a town made from gold and booze, shipping and hookers, grand schemes and personal disasters. All tales told at the bar at Tosca. How places have to close before those tales go dark, our back grows week, and we stop creating our painting called San Francisco.