House of Shields Is Open Again!

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All photos by Jessica Stout.

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This is almost like an early Christmas present: the century-old and newly restored ~HOUSE OF SHIELDS~ is most likely opening tomorrow (please note it will be cash only until the credit card machine is up and running). Owner Dennis Leary (Canteen, The Sentinel, and Golden West) has been hard at work restoring this beauty of a saloon with designer Charles de Lisle and Jason Langkammerer, who heads up At-Six Architecture, and bar manager Eric Passetti.

Did you know it was a private men’s drinking club until 1972? And that President Harding, who reportedly died at the Palace Hotel, may have actually died at the House of Shields, and was possibly dragged to the hotel through the underground tunnel that connects the two spaces? And how about the back bar, which was originally meant to go into the Palace Hotel, but Maxfield Parrish’s Pied Piper mural was too large, so it was sold across the street to the HOS. The chandeliers were made by the same company that made the chandeliers in the Garden Court (the HOS designers just replaced the shades on their chandeliers—and get this, they had them hand blown), and the tile floor is also exactly the same as the one in the Pied Piper. And the famed urinal of course has stayed put.

The place is looking spectacular. The Victorian statues are gleaming, the floor is fixed, the wood panels polished, and the upholstery on the booths was replaced. Bar manager Eric Passetti (Pesce, R Bar, and he opened Mamacita and Delarosa) said the cocktail list is going to be classic and straightforward—in fact, it’s just going to be a verbal list for now.

In an email to me, he said, “To me this is the most personal project I have ever worked on. My great uncle and great grandfather both owned bars in SF, in the Barbary Coast days, we are Italian, so of course in North Beach….my mother told me that my grandfather and great uncle hung out around the Palace when they were young men. And the thought of them having possibly stepped foot in the House of Shields for a highball or beer was very much a driving force behind my motivation for taking this job… So you see, this place is not about fancy cocktails to me, or being cool, being a dive bar, live music or whatever happens to be new trend or style. To me this HOS is about preserving a historic SF business and helping it evolve into its modern lifespan. I honestly hope HOS will be around longer than I am, and maybe some[day] one of my decedents can visit the bar and think about what life was like at the end of the gilded age, or how it has survived and evolved throughout all these years, and the people who have passed though, all the while being a friendly functioning place for people like myself to make a living.” Nice thoughts, those.

There won’t be a food offering for now—the plan is to remodel The Sentinel next door and expand its kitchen, and then be able to provide food for the bar. For now, come on by, and admire this beaut of a bar that is back on the scene. Hours will be Mon-Sat 4pm-2am. 39 New Montgomery St. at Mission.