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Read Text Only: Pride Issue
NIGHTLIFE: Comstock Saloon


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 “It’s nineteen-ten here,” said our convivial host, “less a few adjustments of course.” A sly smile crept across his face as he led us past the opulent mahogany bar where patrons sipped Negroni’s and Manhattans on claw-foot stools. “Here we are,” he gestured, presenting our velvety high-backed booth, “Welcome to the Comstock Saloon.”
   As San Francisco was rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake, the Andromeda Saloon opened at the corner of Columbus and Pacific. It quickly established itself as the place where “angling executives, sharp-talking politicians and homesick sailors all rubbed elbows while brazen prostitutes flaunted coquettish charms at the brass rail of the ornate bar.”
     
Over a hundred years later, and less the coquettish prostitutes, Absinthe bartenders Jonny Raglin and Jeff Hollinger have re-opened the space as the Comstock Saloon. Named after 1859’s Comstock Lode, a major discovery of gold responsible for the better part of San Francisco’s growth, Raglin and Hollinger’s bar seeks to capture the turn-of-the-century charm and excitement San Francisco’s Barbary Coast had in its heyday.
    To do so, and in respect to the buildings historic status, the duo orchestrated a thoughtful renovation of the space. The original bar has been refinished, and serves as the saloon’s stunning centerpiece. Overhead, a brass and palm pukka walla fan from 1916 slowly turns, according to the former residents to “stir the winds of romance and the sounds of laughter.” For the adjacent dining room the original ceramic floor tiles have been preserved and the tin-ceiling restored. Their attention to detail is astonishing, and a refreshing change of pace from the hyper-modern restaurant/bars that litter the city. As a feather in the Comstock’s cap, a player-piano (found in the basement during renovation) sits in the mezzanine for a ragtime pianist to entertain happy hour attendees with.
But Comstock’s dedication to San Francisco history doesn’t end with aesthetics. The drink menu too is inspired by the days of yore. The Martinez, (Old Tom Gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueurs, and bitters) is the predecessor to the Martini. The Dempsey (gin, calvados, absinthe, and grenadine) is named after Jack Dempsey, an Andromeda Saloon employee from 1913 that went on to become the world heavyweight boxing champion.  And if you simply can’t decide, order the Barkeep’s Whimsy, where “the folks behind the mahogany drive your fancy”.
    On the other side of the table, Carlos Espinas slings “turn-of-the-century saloon fare,” inspired by cookbooks from the early 1900’s. Unpretentious, hearty, and comforting dishes like the “Fishermen’s Salad,” with asparagus, artichokes and salted fish; the beef shank and bone marrow pot-pie, and even the dessert of sassafras candy and salted caramel pudding help round out the Comstock experience.
    And that experience is just what Raglin and Hollinger are after. With their bartending history, the two have confidence in their ability to create the appropriate “product,” but their painstaking efforts have been focused on creating an all-inclusive experience. An experience of which you’ll be extraordinarily aware once you set food in the Comstock Saloon.