|The Elixir Travelogue|
|Sunday, 04 March 2012 21:28|
Restored to its former glory in 2003 the Elixir has been in operation since 1858, making it one of the oldest continually running saloons in San Francisco. Today it is one of the top rated bars in the country and home of the Build Your Own Bloody Mary as well as some of the best craft beers and cocktails in the area. Follow along as we tell you about it's journey through time, it's dedicated owner, and discover one of the best craft drink establishments in all of San Francisco.
Located on the corner of 16th and Guerrero and smack dab in the middle of the area once known as the Barbary Coast, an area known for its bars and prostitutes, sits the Elixer Saloon. Originally opened in 1858, it is one of the oldest continually operating establishments on the west coast and second oldest in San Francisco still open today. To give you an idea of what the city was like when the Saloon was open, simply consider that in 1851 San Francisco had 537 places serving alcohol and only 8 churches. Or, for every church there were 67+ bars.
The first recorded owner was Hugh Mooney who owned the bar from 1873 until 1893. In 1893, Mooney sold the bar to Patrck J. McGinnis Esquire who was a prominent city lawyer. McGinnis owned it through the infamous earthquake of 1906 which was the cause of widespread fires that swept through the city and claimed thousands of structures including the Elixir. McGinnis rebuilt 13 years later, his original floor plan is still displayed proudly by the front door, making it the only bar in San Francisco to be rebuilt in the same location and by the same owner after the 1906 earthquake. (We think he really loved his place............)
Also of note, during McGinnis's ownership was the period of prohibition during which the Saloon was listed as a "Soft Drink Parlor." During this period there is no concrete evidence of it being turned into a speakeasy or of any illegal activity occuring at the site. But H believes, and we agree, that a place like the Elixir didn't simply shut down or suspended all activity in regards to alcohol; few places ever truly did at the time. Instead McGinnis, as a well informed lawyer, probably continued to operate the bar using his legal smarts to avoid any issues with the law.
As time progressed the bar changed owners, layouts, and even its name a few times. It was known as The Hunt-In Club from 1940-1965, which was the first known name change. From 1965-1985 it was Swede's, which is discussed in the book "The Great and Notorious Saloons of San Francisco," and named after the owner. 1985-1990 saw the place transformed in a club known by two names, Club Corona and La Bandita, and was a popular gay and transvestite latino bar. In 1990 it was Jack's Elixir Bar with over 60 beers on tap and didn't change again until 2003. Finally in 2003, H bought it and restored the original name which it continues to be known as today.
As you can see, over the years the bar has changed, the clientelle have changed, and the neighborhood surrounding it has reinvinted itself a time or two. But one thing that has never changed is the fact that the place has always been a bar, or a "Soft Drink Parlor". Through the earthquakes, fires, worldwide tragedies and the push and pull of mainstream culture, the Elixir has remained tried and true. It is a true neighborhood bar that is ingrained into the neighborhood, gives back part of what is given, and is a place that anyone and everyone is welcome.
The Bar Today:
Today the bar is owned by H Joseph Ehrmann. H, wanting to perserve the bar and its history, jumped right in and began restoring the establishment to its former glory immediately after signing the papers. He told us the bar itself was hidden behind peeling paint and bumper stickers, the floor was more of a trampoline than a floor, the bathrooms were something we probably didn't want to know about, the ceiling was barely hanging on....to put it simply, it was neglected and run down. H spent the next several months working, calling in favors from all of his friends and acquaintances (he said people would show up in suits to help out and he would put them to work with a hammer, paint brush, or whatever was needed at the time,) stripping the place down to its core and then returning it to its past luster.
In addition to the physical and visual improvements, H also brought in a few twists to the Elixir's cocktail list. Though the traditional cocktail menu is intact, they added both seasonal and regional "cuisine" to the mix. From great local craft beers, some brewed specifically for the Elixir, to cocktails that change with the season, right down to H's specialty (The Bloody Elixir,) the place has a drink for everyone.
The Bloody Elixir:
Often we list a drink that is a must try, we plan to do so here, but never have we listed one that has been more recognized than the Bloody Elixir.
The Bloody Elixir won GQ magazine's #4 cocktail in "The 20 Best Cocktails in America" for 2008. GQ described it as follows; "At an old saloon in the Mission Distric, Elixir owner H. Joseph Ehrmann hasn't just taken the Mary out of the Bloddy Mary; he's sevred the old broad's head. Think sturdy, briny, and hyperspiced." Not only was it recognized in GQ but was also the 2005 and 2006 Audience Choice and 2008 Editor's Choice Best of Citysearch, San Francisco: Best Bloody Mary. Needless to say, if you find yourself in the Elixir it is at the top of the list of must tries.
Every Saturday and Sunday morning, the Elixir offers a Make Your Own Bloody Mary. Adding a piece or two of bacon makes for a unique and great tasting twist to the traditional drink.
Charity Guest Bartending:
In the Elixirs own personal twist of giving, H has created Charity Guest Bartending as an opportunity for both individuals, celebrities, and the bar iself to give back to the community. What is it? It is an event that allows guest bartenders take a turn at bartending while raising money for their charity of choice using the tips they earn. Anyone can do it and if you want more information or even to give it a shot yourself, check out this (LINK) which contains all the info you need.
The history is long and compelling, the cocktail menu leaves nothing to be desired and the bar has won more awards than most places could ever hope for. It is a great place to enjoy a drink, spend time with friends, enjoy an afternoon or night, stop by to catch a game, or simply to chat with the regulars and staff. In short, the Elixir is a true neighborhood bar and one not to be missed.