If there is one thing we San Franciscans love talking about, it's those hallowed days of yore. These proclamations are usually preceded by "in the good old days..." and then off we go into San Francisco history, sighing deeply as we remember places, faces and times from long ago.
It makes me wonder: Did those people back then think they were in the good old days? Did they see the city around them the same way we do, or were they also reaching back even further to what they considered their good old days. You know, the days before indoor plumbing, or electricity. The question is, do we know they are the good old days when they are happening?
The reason I am thinking about the good old days this Friday is because of Washington Square. Now, if I ever had a second neighborhood after my home court, it was the Square. One of my father's closest friends and confidants was restaurateur Ed Moose, know to the family more frequently as "Brother Moose."
If bars are the confessionals of choice for many locals, then our favorite priest was Ed Moose. I know you think that I am hitting the religious metaphor a bit hard here, but it makes more sense when Ed's head bartender, Michael McCourt, is still known to this day as the "Right Reverend McCourt." Years ago, during one particularly nefarious moment in time, master bartender Tim Stookey shared the plank with McCourt and was immediately dubbed "The Bishop of Booze."
And all this happened at a place called the Washington Square Bar and Grill (also know by its shorthand of "The Washbag"). Bottle Cap is currently residing in this hallowed place, and most visitors these days don't know the history of the place. If someone were to take a classic New York bar filled with members of the press and plop it down in the 415, this is what it would look like. Tom Brokaw and his news crew were constant visitors. Walter Cronkite would anchor the corner of the bar every time he visited, a tradition that was continued by a constant stream of out of town members of the fourth estate.
This ringleader for this entire circus was Brother Moose. Ed was the city's consigliere, in the classic sense. He was always behind the scenes, never made himself important, never tried for the spotlight. And legions of politicians would make their way to his door for advice. If Ed Moose had ever decided to run for mayor, he would have run unopposed.
But that wasn't his style. He liked being the conductor, not the orchestra. One of his greatest creations was Les Lapins Sauvages, his quasi-lethal squad of softball players that would traipse around the country, and sometimes the globe, playing against other news teams. That they won more often than not, was frequently attributed to their ability to drink the other team under the table the night before.
Ed attempted to retire, but everyone knew it wouldn't last. He opened up his new restaurant -- Moose's -- across Washington Square from the Washbag, and we were all off and rolling with yet another circus led by the master. McCourt appeared once more behind the plank, joined by his perfect opposite in Bobby McCambridge, and a young Wizz Wentworth.
Ah, those were the good old days. The Washbag, Moose's, and Fior d'Italia at the corner of Stockton and Union. We would never see a time like that again, kids. The Washbag became something called Cobalt, several places made a stand in Moose's old place, but nothing stuck. Fior moved down the road to their new place, and a pretend San Francisco restaurant called "Joe DiMaggio's" opened in their place. The locals were not fooled. But what can you expect? Those days were past.
Which made yesterday so much fun. A friend from out of town appeared and wanted to catch up. He heard about the reopened Original Joe's, so off we went. When we got there, it was like time had stopped. First off, the place was packed. The San Francisco Firefighters were celebrating their hero of the year in great style. We waded our way to the bar in time to see... Reverend McCourt! This was between remembering all the old Joe's waiters, almost all of whom seem to have come over.
It was as if time had suddenly swept backwards. Properly attired waiters, real San Francisco food (diet plate? Good luck...), and a killer group of veteran bartenders behind the bar. I recognized a good third of the clientele, a slightly scary thought given that it was three o'clock on a Thursday.
We walked out, just shaking our heads. We looked over at Park Tavern, and started to realize that something was happening here. Park Tavern is in the old Moose's spot, and has brought energy back to a room that so needed it. It's still a beautiful place, and even through the redecoration I can see the bones of the old joynt, and it looks great. However, it seemed too early for the Tavern, so we decided to see if Wizz was around.
After Moose's, Wizz opened Amante around the corner on Green Street. We wandered in and were greeted by... Bobby McCambridge! Sitting at the bar chatting with him was Marty Nolan of the Boston Globe, another Washbag veteran. Suddenly we realized that something magical was happening. The Washbag was now Bottle Cap. Florio was now Original Joe's. Moose's was finally filled with life again as Park Tavern. Sometimes the good old days happen so quietly that you don't see it until it's too late. So I will see you all down in the Square. Let's enjoy the new good old days.
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