There are at least five or six good reasons that you will want to include the historic Buena Vista on your itinerary when visiting San Francisco. Love it or hate it, count me with the majority who overwhelmingly love it!
The History of Irish Coffee
The plaque outside the corner establishment tells the story: “America’s First Irish Coffee Was Made Here in 1952″. The night was November 10 in that year. The cafe’s owner, Jack Koeppler, suggested that he and the travel writer, Stanton Delaplane, re-create the excellent brew they loved as it was served at Shannon Airport, Ireland. Stirring and sipping and attempting to get the cream on top to float just right, the challenge was on. It just so happened that the mayor of San Francisco was a prominent dairy owner who assisted in the discovery that only cream aged for 48 hours would froth and float consistently on the surface. Couple that little discovery with a heat-treated glass goblet of exactly six ounces and news of the success at the Buena Vista traveled wide.
Hints for the original recipe are found on line as still in use to this day at the BV, as the place is affectionately known, where over 2,000 Irish Coffees are served daily. To celebrate an anniversary on November 10, 2008, the Buena Vista went for the Guinness World’s Record of the largest Irish Coffee, weighing in at 12 gallons in a custom-made three-foot-tall glass with a spout at the bottom to serve the assembled crowd of press and well-wishers. Mind you, even a regular-sized glass or two will nicely ward off any chill from San Francisco fog after a rigorous day of sightseeing.
The Cable Car
With a coveted location at the famed cable car turnaround at Hyde and Beach Streets, a window table is the place to be if you should get as lucky as I did on my last two visits. Imagine yourself already there; just turn up the sound and log on to the Buena Vista website to be greeted by the clang of the cable cars outside the BV. It’s the last stop in Fisherman’s Wharf on the Powell & Hyde line.
The Good View
With its astonishing series of steep hills, it is not difficult to stumble upon incredible views all over this city. The Buena Vista is no exception, where the name translates as “good view” in Spanish. Until 1926, this corner building was a boardinghouse with a first floor saloon. Fishermen and salmon canners would assemble here while they peered toward Alcatraz and the Bay, enjoyed a bottoms up before the boats came in, and then scrambled down the hill to work. Today, you’ll catch a world-class view instead of fish. Come just prior to sunset to make the most of it, but be early as there is frequently a line forming outside the door.
Second best, grab a seat at the bar and chat with the friendly bartenders who it seems have been there for time eternal! There is a true mix of locals and tourists. It’s pretty loud with conversation, a bit cramped and chaotic, but hey, it’s an Irish pub. Be prepared to share your table – and your stories – with strangers. Try to avoid being seated at the back room to make the most of the ambience.
Hits the Spot
Just a couple of blocks from touristy Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, only five blocks from Lombard Street (“the crookedest street in the world”), the Buena Vista feels like a world apart.
While 90% of the drinks made are Irish Coffee, there are a twenty other choices on the drinks menu from Akvavit to Widmer Hefewiezen beer. Some swear by the classic fare: Reuben Sandwich, Eggs Benedict, Steak & Eggs, Clam Chowder, French Toast, Crab Cakes, Meatloaf (like mother made it) or Corned Beef Hash and more. If you go for a sandwich, you’ll be sure to enjoy it on another local classic served at the BV, San Francisco Sourdough.
…and remember, the Buena Vista bartenders advise to always pre-heat the glass when attempting to concoct one’s very own Irish Coffee at home! Better yet, come to San Francisco one day soon.
The Buena Vista Cafe
2765 Hyde Street (at Beach)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Open: Monday to Friday 9:00 a.m. -2:00 a.m. and Saturday to Sunday 8:00 a.m.-2:00 a.m.