On Sunday evening, I received word about the upcoming permanent closure of the 157-year-old CLIFF HOUSE on December 31st, due to a mishandling of the contract by the National Park Service (NPS). Dan and Mary Hountalas have been proprietors of this historic location since 1973, and the way they’re being mistreated (and the 180 employees losing their jobs) is a heartbreaking ending to their 47 years of stewardship (as if the closure earlier this year of Louis’, their neighbor, wasn’t already sad enough).
You can read more in their note on the Cliff House website about the issues with the NPS, their contract extensions, and their “offer” to have the Hountalas family “continue guarding and maintaining their building with all costs to be paid for by us without any compensation whatsoever from the NPS” for one more year. With the pandemic and unknown timing of a return to business, that “offer” is on a particular level of insanity—especially when it costs thousands of dollars every month to maintain the San Francisco landmark.
It gets worse: since there isn’t a successor operator, the Hountalas family “must remove all personal property in the building including all memorabilia as opposed to being paid for our property by the ultimate successor operator as provided in our contract.” A lot of it is going to be auctioned off, separating the property from its precious artifacts. The property will be enclosed and boarded up, and it could be another two to three years before another potential operator has a contract. What that operator will discover is a building that has been left to be a victim to the harsh elements—perched on the cliff, the saltwater and winds will take their toll on this beloved location.
This is a landmark that has burned and been rebuilt twice. The first Cliff House even suffered damage when a schooner loaded with dynamite ran aground on the rocks below. But even in its third and neoclassical iteration, it has always had that captivating view. We have seen countless black-and-white images of Victorian ladies and gentlemen in bowler hats in front of the Cliff House. Many of us remember visiting the Arcade (and being terrorized by Laughing Sal) when the Musée Mécanique used to be underneath it.
I have seen some comments on social media that the food wasn’t that good and was overpriced. Some of that is true, but not entirely. After walking across the City for my friend’s 50th birthday celebration, we ended our journey with a delicious meal (and Manhattans) while taking in one of the most iconic and breathtaking views in the City. It was one of those restaurants where I could recommend out-of-towners visit the bar and café for some clam chowder if they couldn’t afford the main dining room experience—you could still enjoy some unique atmosphere and bask in the glory of the Pacific Ocean. There’s nothing quite like it at sunset, or even on a foggy day, it has its charms.
In their letter, Dan and Mary Hountalas say, “This is certainly not the way to thank us, a local small business owned and operated by native San Franciscans, for taking care of this San Francisco treasure this past year at a significant financial loss. Again, this all could have been prevented by the award of a long-term contract two and half years ago.” It’s a shameful ending, and robbing future visitors of a special experience for at least the next few years.
You can write to the NPS and share your disgust with their failure to maintain one of our landmarks, and their mistreatment of the Hountalas family, and the 180 employees. You can email the NPS directly. You can also call Nancy Pelosi at 202-225-3121 and voice your concern.
After the temporary closure of outdoor dining a little over a week ago, we knew there would be some impending closures of restaurants who can’t survive this impossibly bleak winter season without federal assistance (and on takeout alone). But the mental preparedness doesn’t make it hurt any less when you find out a special place like AUGUST (1) FIVE is closing. Owner Hetal Shah was a dedicated and thoughtful operator, someone who left tech and followed her passion for elevating Indian food and hospitality to open this stylish and modern Indian restaurant. My recent meal in her cozy parklet reinvigorated my affection for the sophisticated and creative and incredibly delicious dishes (and cocktails!) they served, and so receiving her email about their upcoming closure on December 21st hit hard.
She opened the restaurant in November 2016, and has had to suffer through all the construction on Van Ness, along with the many challenges of running a profitable restaurant in SF, and now a pandemic. I know she and her team tried so hard. In her heartfelt note, she says, “I truly believe that this industry plays a pivotal role in shaping the youth and immigrant population of this country, and some fortunate ones like me walk away with a treasure chest full of lifelong lessons of humility, learning what it truly takes to hustle, and most importantly the art of kindness.”
They will be missed so much. You can order takeout/delivery through December 20th, be sure to enjoy the palak chaat and spinach and paneer lasagna one last time. 524 Van Ness Ave. at Golden Gate.
I was also dismayed to see the Instagram post from MISSION CHEESE announcing their closure at the end of the month after “nearly 10 years of slinging amazing American cheeses.” Like many independent businesses, they have been struggling greatly since March to make it through this period with little relief. It’s a shame to lose this place that championed craft American cheeses so passionately, as well as so many local product makers.
Mission Cheese was the site of many first dates, first meetings, and friends gathering over cheese flights. Thanks to the founder, Sarah Dvorak, for creating one of the best third places in the City. You have two weeks to swing by for one last wedge of Harbison and a bottle of En Cavale s.b. Thanks to the team for all their dedication to offering such a thoughtful experience. 736 Valencia St. at 18th St.
And one last thud: LUCKY 13 has officially thrown in the bar towel after so many closure close calls over the years (those sad condo conversion plans have been looming for five years). You can read more in this post from Broke-Ass Stuart. Like the closure of The Stud, it’s so sad to have to close a longtime business (27 years!!) during the pandemic, with no farewell party, no last shot, no final thanks to the bartenders. So many San Franciscans have popcorn-scented memories in that tried-and-true dive bar. Raising a glass. 2140 Market St. at Church.
The exterior of the Cliff House. Photo: © tablehopper.com.