From Grain to Glass
As you walk north along Columbus Avenue from San Francisco's busy financial district modern high-rises give way to the Barbary Coast's historic architecture. Stop when you reach Columbus and Pacific Avenues. At this hectic corner, Chinatown, North Beach and the Financial District all intersect. Chinatown's inhabitants shop and sell. Camera wielding tourists snap photos. North Beach dwellers and business people navigate determined courses through the bustling crowd. History intersects with the present at this corner, too. It was once the hub of Barbary Coast nightlife.
The 1907 saloon at this corner is the last standing bar of the Barbary Coast (once a playground for San Francisco's rough and tumble gold fevered 49'ers). The saloon first opened its doors in 1907 as the Andromeda Saloon. During San Francisco's wild Barbary Coast days, angling executives, sharp talking politicians and homesick sailors all rubbed elbows while brazen prostitutes flaunted coquettish charms at the brass rail of the ornate bar.
The 49'ers, and later Barbary Coast inhabitants, were infamous for their general lack of respect, but the Andromeda Saloon earned wide respect in 1913 when Jack Dempsey gained employment there. Mr. Dempsey went on to become World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. The Andromeda was still an exciting place in 1939 when, as rumor has it, public enemy number one, Baby Face Nelson, was captured here by the FBI.
Prohibition wiped out most of San Francisco's old saloons. The Andromeda survived by serving clams and oysters and calling itself the Andromeda Cafe. (They still served alcohol, but for purely medicinal purposes....) Sadly, during this period too, the bar's mahogany woodwork received its first of many coats of paint.
In 1977 two local restaurateurs renovated the bar, renaming it the Albatross Saloon. Six months were spent restoring the saloon to its original splendor. Once more, the beautiful stained glass windows flanking the oak doors welcomed all who entered. The 1907 tile floor, which matched the self-flushing "spittoon" (used for more than just spitting in the saloon's Barbary Coast era) was covered with antique wood planking. The original ceiling complete with a sky light was discovered and restored.
The most famous feature of the saloon, aside from the beer of course, is the bar which elegantly balances flame mahogany columns against a backdrop of beveled glass mirrors. These mahogany columns are cut and polished to reveal the wood grain as fiery flames surging upward. A solid plank of mahogany runs the entire length of the bar.
Nearly as famous as the bar is the fan. Running overhead the length of the bar is an enormous rotating contraption of brass and palm fronds. Run by a tiny motor via leather belts the1916 Pukka Walla fan stirs the winds of romance and the sounds of laughter.
San Francisco Brewing Company's founder and brewmaster, Allan G. Paul, kindled two passions while living on nearby Telegraph Hill: a love of brewing beer and a love of San Francisco's wild and woolly historic Barbary Coast days.
Seeking larger challenges to vent his brewing passion, Paul decided to open the first brew pub ever in San Francisco (at the time, only three other brew pubs existed in the United States). By combining his passions for fine microbrewery beer, Barbary Coast history and spirited conversation, Allan G. Paul's vision --- and sweat --- gave birth to the San Francisco Brewing Company.
In 1985, Mr. Paul acquired the perfect site to open the San Francisco Brewing Company in the restored Albatross Saloon. The basement and brew room were big enough to hold two hundred gallon tanks and other stainless steel equipment required for brewing. The elegant mahogany and mirrored bar provided an antique ambiance rich with Barbary Coast history and artifacts. Authentic English pub tables contribute to the warmth and intimacy of the saloon.
Patrons in a playful mood are offered different activities. They can play darts, chess, backgammon, cards or dice cups. For the musically inclined, a variety of instruments (including a circa 1907 upright piano) are available for patrons to amuse themselves with. Traditional holiday celebrations such as Christmas, New Years and Halloween are celebrated with spirit. Mardi Gras and Thomas Jefferson's birthday offer occasions for unexpected merriment.
On most evenings, live music, almost as varied as the brews being served, is offered. Swing, jazz, acoustic blues, or an Elizabethan instrumental troupe might provide a lyrical backdrop for lively conversation. A honky-tonk piano player often stirs the crowd with hot renditions of favorite tunes.
For adventurous souls, the San Francisco Brewing Company offers a variety of adventures. Each year the brew pub sponsors a team of runners for the famous Bay to Breakers Annual Race. Those who love high sea adventure join the salmon fishing trip. Tastemaster Ed Dopman offers a series of Bay Area wide brew pub crawls. A favorite of some regulars is beer tastings. Also available are private tastings.
Hosting private events is one of the brew pub's proudest specialties. A catered menu is available upon request (or menus can be tailored to suit particular preferences). Two rooms are available for private parties. The Brewhouse Room easily seats 30 and the private upstairs Dempsey Room seats ten. (Reservations are available for parties of five or more except on Fridays.) Ample public parking is available across the street at 170 Columbus Avenue.
Tours of the San Francisco Brewing Company are given by staff upon request. Curious guests are never disappointed. The tour begins with an explanation of Brewmaster Allan Paul's approach to fine beer making.
"The San Francisco Brewing Company takes a traditional approach to brewing. The use of time and gravity are important elements in the ancient art and mystery of brewing and the use of time and gravity, here, distinguishes our approach from other breweries. From grain to glass, these beers are handmade using only the finest hops, barley malt and yeast available. We purchase from as far away as Australia and Germany when local sources are unable to provide the high quality ingredients which we require,î Allan Paul explains.
A tour of the brewery starts in the Brewhouse Room. The Brewhouse Room captures the essence of the brew pub and provides an opportunity for beer enthusiasts to enjoy fine beer in the very room where it is made. The San Francisco Brewing Company was the first brewery in the United States to offer this combination. On one side, the room is a small, charming dining room surrounded in mahogany woodwork, mirrors, beveled glass and picture windows. On the other side of the room is the brewhouse. The brewhouse, where the beer is actually ñbrewed,î is an adaptation of an ancient tower brewhouse used centuries ago. The tower brewhouse elevates one vessel above another. The brew starts at the top and the liquid flows slowly downward from one vessel to another. Patrons are often treated to a show as busy brewers scramble up and down a steel ladder which spans the brewhouse tower. On brewing days the comforting scent of hops and barley warms the air.
The focus of the Brewhouse Room is the handmade, copper brew kettle which reflects glittering city lights and the laughing banter of happy patrons. The sight of the bright, shiny copper kettle makes a striking contrast to the antique setting. The copper kettle was handcrafted by one of the nation's foremost coppersmiths, Fred. H. Zaft. Brewmaster Allan G. Paul and industrial designer Robert H. McAndrews designed and installed the custom-made brewing structure.
Both the copper kettle and mash tun are heated by fire, the source of which is natural gas. The heating of the brew kettle with an open flame produces fire brewed beer. The direct fire brewed process produces a more desirable, quicker boil than modern steam processes and provides greater control over the brewing. The unique properties of copper in the brew kettle contribute a special richness to the color and flavor of the beer.
The fermentation and aging cellars, again following tradition, are located in the basement. The beer, which ferments in three to nine days, is naturally carbonated. After aging anywhere from several weeks to several months, the beer, served unfiltered, flows directly from the cellar into your glass.
The San Francisco Brewing Company produces approximately 200 gallons per batch, or 6 barrels of brew at a time. Annual capacity is nearly 1000 barrels of beer. Brews are sold primarily at the brew pub. Select local stores and restaurants carry the beer in 750 ml champagne bottles. In addition to bottles, beer to go is available in 1 gallon brew cubes and in 3, 5 and 15.5 gallon kegs.
Paul's love of Barbary Coast history (and his sense of humor) find a vent in the colorful names of his brews such as the classic Albatross Lager, a Pilsner style lager, and the Emperor Norton Lager, a Munich style lager. In 1993, the Company completed construction of a new ale cellar expanding the capabilities of the brewery. Now, in addition to the lagers, true ale beers such as Gripman's Porter, Pony Express Ale, Andromeda Wheat Beer, Alcatraz Stout and Oofty Goofty Barley Wine are offered.
Those who dine at the pub are tastefully rewarded. The kitchen, which is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, offers international pub fare. Locals have definite favorites including the grilled chicken sandwich, fried calamari and spicy gumbo. And daily specials are offered to round out the menu.
The San Francisco Brewing Company's excellent brews, rich historic location, music and events are no secret. Since 1985, the brew pub has been featured on MTV, ABC World News, Mission Impossible, and Tokyo TV. It has been written about in Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and the World Guide to Beer.
The San Francisco Brewing Company offers a warm ambiance where locals come for the beer and return for the friendly atmosphere. Tourists come to savor world class microbrewery beer and go home to tell their friends about it. The best way to find out about the San Francisco Brewing Company, however, is to come by and try it out for yourself. We look forward to seeing you. Until then, cheers.
Last Update: April 01, 2000
© SFBC 1996
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