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Feb 2, 2009 5 min read

Retro San Francisco

Retro San Francisco
Table of Contents

I'm a vintage girl at heart--I've always felt like a displaced spirit, pulled out of 1928 and plunked into modern times. Even while I was in high school and working at my grandmother's store in San Mateo, one of the cute older ladies, Margie, used to call me Zelda. Not too long ago, a friend's son noted that I was like an old lady as he looked upon my collection of handbags and bracelets and scarves. Hilarious. Yup, I most definitely have an inner old lady.

I feel at home in old places, comforted by their stories. I appreciate their quiet civility, and the vestiges of a well-mannered past. Even though we continue to lose our gems over the years (OJ's, please come back soon, and Owl Tree, I will always miss you), we have some fine examples that continue to soldier on, with their carpeted floors and white-jacketed waiters.

Below is an itinerary I put together one night of local retro places I have always wanted to visit. (I know, guilty secret, I had never been to the Buena Vista Café for an Irish Coffee, serious grounds to remove my San Franciscan membership.) Lucky me, my fabulous pro photographer and stylee friend, Mathew Sumner, was game to come along and document our swank adventure.

Photos by Mathew Sumner.

First destination: a cocktail, of course. We headed on over to ~JOE'S OF WESTLAKE~ in Daly City. The angular 1950's architecture is so fab, like it's a steak spaceship transported from Palm Springs. And let me tell you, the place was hoppin' on a Saturday night. We hung out in the lounge, tucked in at a low table and sitting in chairs on rollers, absolutely loving our cocktail server's sweet and sassy way (her fab buddy Brenda behind the bar was sporting a seriously bedecked vest o' buttons).

The décor highlights included the bunches of glass grapes behind the bar and the large painting of Italian dudes drinking wine, but we really fell for the Maker's Manhattans that each came with their own little shaker, and $11.50 for two, I kid you not. Sadly, the fireplace wasn't lit up, and I was distressed with the looming TV screens, especially since there was plenty o' primo people watching, from chatty families, to packs of blue hairs still throwing back some cocktails, thankyouverymuch, to leather-jacketed tough guys out for dinner with their ladies.

I'll come back to try a steak with some martinis (yes, plural) in one of the Garden Room's booths soon, but it's going to be tough to tear me away from the lounge with Hutch and friends playing jazz on the piano and the sax. Yup, a real live piano bar, so spiffy.

Joe's of Westlake
11 Glenwood Ave.
Cross: Lake Merced Blvd.
Daly City, CA 94015


Photos by Mathew Sumner.

We were hungry. It would have been easy to drink our dinner in the lounge at Joe's, but we had to stick with the plan: it was time for vittles. And not just any vittles, but seriously traditional Italian-American vittles. We scooted over to South San Francisco and found ourselves in a booth at ~SODINI'S BERTOLUCCI'S~. How many times have you driven by this place on the 101, with it's pink neon sign gleaming in the night, making you wonder what Bertolucci's was all about? Too many times to count. It was finally time to pull it on over.

This place got its start in 1928, and then Peter Sodini bought it in 2005, hence the Sodini's name that is tucked up on the sign. The dining room was a bit modernized, but still has enormous booths that are soooooo Goodfellas, plus a gurgling fountain, chandeliers, deep red curving leather chairs, and a pervasive smell of Parmesan cheese. Fabulous.

We warmed up with some minestrone soup (tasty), followed by an impossible-to-consume mountain of ricotta gnocchi ($16). My friend valiantly took on the eggplant Parmigiana ($17), coated with enough mozzarella for a large pizza, and it needed more melting, that's for sure. I know these are the kinds of classic dishes that make big eaters very happy, and trust me, I can put it away, but plates with this much food just do me in. The trunk of my car swiftly became headquarters for leftovers.

What blew my mind was their bread. Seriously notable focaccia--one bite and I was curious about its provenance. It ends up Peter Sodini's father used to have a bakery in North Beach, Cuneo, and Peter started Golden Boy Pizza in 1978. Bingo. There you have it. So delicious. I'd love to return and hang out in the adjoining vintage lounge one night, have a few cocktails, eat a mountain of their bread, and take in the scene. Nice folks work here, too. There's nothing like the vibe of a good family joint.

Sodini's Bertolucci's
421 Cypress Ave.
Cross: Lux Ave.
South San Francisco, CA 94080


Photos by Mathew Sumner.

It was time for a nightcap, so we circled back into the City and cruised over to the ~BUENA VISTA CAFÉ~ for a famed Irish Coffee. The turn-of-the-century vibe was a bit of a break from our Rat Park theme for the night, but the saloon has such good history. The one thing I didn't understand is why the place was so lit up--it just blasted away the atmosphere with the lights set so bright. Hello, pores.

Definitely got a kick watching our no-nonsense bartender line up and pour a row of Irish coffees, pow pow pow, and yes, he's probably been doing them for years. But as my friend noted, imagine them making one with really good coffee (hmmmm, Blue Bottle?), and it would be that much more lovely. Agreed, but it still hit the spot that chilly night (two for $14.50). I'm glad I was able to scratch the Buena Vista off my list of places to go in San Francisco--you gotta appreciate a place that has been pouring a drink the same way since 1952.

Buena Vista Café
2765 Hyde St.
Cross: Beach St.
San Francisco, CA 94109


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