Ruka and I continued our journey northward and our next stop is San Francisco. I said to Ruka, well, where do you think we should go in San Francisco? And she replied, “We?” She went on to say, “This is your town and I think I’m going to stay home and take a nice long nap while you go out and rediscover your youth.” Does that mean I get a get-out-of-jail-free card? I said, “No,” she replied, “you never get that.” I just chuckled realizing that it gave me a great idea. I thought, wouldn’t be great if you could have a time machine and go back to a place you once spent time? That’s right, to live again in a setting that is just the same as it once was. I decided to turn back the clock to 1988. I decided to go to BIX.
There are over four-thousand places to eat in San Francisco. So, finding great food is not hard to do. If a restaurant doesn’t serve good cuisine, have an appealing ambiance, and a friendly service staff, then with the fierce competition in San Francisco, the venue won’t stay around too long. BIX is soon to have its thirtieth anniversary which is what makes this place so special. The fact that BIX is found along Gold Street, in what once was the Barbary coast in the mid-1800’s, adds to its lure. Just imagine that day, in May 1848, when Sam Brannan ran down the little one block alley and shouted “Gold! Gold on the American River.” In the historical building that once was the old Assay Office where miners would bring their gold to have it weighed, is now one of San Francisco’s classic Supper Clubs.
"In the historical building that once was the old Assay Office where miners would bring their gold to have it weighed, is now one of San Francisco’s classic Supper Clubs."
At this point in this article, I think it best to fully admit that I know the owner of this establishment. I met Doug Biederbeck when he was the opening General Manager of Fog City Diner in the summer of 1985, and that is where this story really begins. The mid-1980’s was a great time for the “haves” in San Francisco and I was lucky enough to be behind the bar to get a glimpse of every angle of society. As I think back to that era, I got to meet three California Governors, a hand full of Mayors, members of both houses of Congress, dignitaries, celebrities, and most of all the regular folks that were just out to have a good time in a fun place. Fog City Diner was that place, with an Alabaster bar that was lit from beneath that gave everyone a glowing complexion. This was the one place that made you look good and feel good too. Well, as you can imagine, I have lots of stories I could tell. It’s the place where I met Timothy Leary or the time when Francis Ford Coppola called Chef Cindy Pawlcyn to say, I was one of the best bartenders he has seen, (Yeah, I love that one) or when I was waiting tables and waited on Lily Tomlin who thought that I was so funny that she came back the next night to have me wait on her again. But then this story is about the restaurant BIX.
I called up a couple of friends, Nancy and Miriam, who I met at FCD in 1987 and convinced them to meet me at BIX. There we were again, just like old times. The best part of sitting at the bar is that the bartenders are the same two gentlemen who were there in the beginning. Bruce and Bradley are what makes BIX different than nearly every other place where the staff is rotated through a revolving door. The only things that have changed are our reflections in the mirror and they are easier to see now, of course, because there’s no longer smoke in the air. I ordered my favorite, a perfect Manhattan up, of course, with a twist and Nancy and Miriam ordered wine. The funny thing is that when I looked down at the drink menu, there it was, the BIX Perfect Manhattan made with George Dickel rye, Angostura bitters, Dolin Dry & Carpano Antica sweet vermouths. BIX has always had a compelling bar card, that fact hasn’t changed, yet the drinks on the list have evolved over time. Now you’ll find drinks like the Velvet Hammer, the Cat’s Paw, and the Ginger Snap; drinks that you’re not likely to find made the same elsewhere. One of the other dinks I enjoy sipping is a Sidecar. At BIX, they make it with Germain-Robin Brandy, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, and lime juice. When I asked Bruce if they make a Bobby Burns, a Brooklyn, or a Hanky-Panky, he said, “No, we don’t make any old drinks, we make the same drinks we made in the 80’s.” His answer was both charming and perfect, I thought; let those nuevo establishments send you back to your grandfather’s cocktails. The Manhattan was excellent, and it was made perfectly served in an oversized chilled cocktail glass.
As we sat at the bar I could see the light bulb come on over Nancy’s head. She finally realized who Bruce was: she now remembered him from FCD. That’s right, Bruce and I worked together thirty years ago. She then starts talking about the good old days. Oh boy, I thought, here we go a stroll down memory lane. Then again, I thought this adventure was about going back in time, wasn’t it? So, Nancy says to Bruce, “What do you remember about tending bar at FCD?” “The people,” he responds. Then begins to tell us a story about Warren Hinckle and Hunter S. Thompson. I began to chuckle because I knew where this was going. I too had met Hunter S. Thompson at the bar at FCD. I was introduced to him by Will Hearst. On that Saturday, I began my evening shift only to find this character sitting on a bar stool and to his right on the next bar stool was his briefcase and on the bar stool to his left was his fat Beagle. I thought to myself, what’s the dog drinking? Then as I looked up, I saw Will. We had met a few times before, and he says to me “this is Hunter S. Thompson.” Oh, I thought, well that explains the dog. So, Bruce tells us about how Warren and Hunter had been in many times, but on one occasion Hunter opened his briefcase while he was serving him. What do you think was in Hunter’s briefcase? A large amount of cash and a handgun. If you have read the book, or seen the movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and wondered if the imagery was true, well, it is true. Bruce was right. What was awesome about that era was the people. My two favorites, both whom I loved so much, were Shirley Temple Black and Robin Williams.
It was great to be back in the room that has so much history. It was great to turn back the clock. The décor at BIX is fashioned from the art deco era, the silver walls, the large mural above the bar, the glass shelving behind the bar, the light fixtures, the gentle staircase that leads to the upper dining room and the nightly jazz music gives the guest the feeling that this is an era gone by and a great place in time to visit. Some people just focus on the menu at BIX which offers modern San Francisco cuisine. I would begin with Caviar or crab rolls listed under hors-d’oeuvres, or I might hop to the starter section and have oysters, but I’m just as inclined, to begin with, the ceviche. I knew if Ruka were here she would start with the steak tartare and the marrow bones. But unfortunately, we didn’t have time to move to the dining room. We stayed at the bar and reminisced. It’s hard to believe that thirty years have passed by so quickly. I really can’t wait to go back again and next time and enjoy the Petrale sole or the California lamb Porterhouse. Just maybe next time I’ll bring Ruka. I’m sure she’d love the Dry aged New York Strip Steak. But whatever your menu choice may be, when you visit BIX you’re in for a glimpse of the past and the fresh locally sourced and sophisticatedly prepared cuisine of one of San Francisco’s best supper Clubs.
If you’d like to know more about the people mentioned here, check out the links below.
Please log on to ChasingCuisine.com and follow my journey….
Enjoy life, drink responsibly.
© Copyright Chasing Cuisine 2017 all rights reserved
Author : Neal Murray
Designed By : Sean Derning