Friday, October 10, 2014

The Bars that Time Forgot, an occasional series, vol IV: The Jack's empire

Today's TBTTF is a little different because we're not talking about just one bar, but a whole chain of bars that used to dot the city.  When I first got here in 1990 there were at least 6 of them and there may have been more before then.  I'm assuming that there was a real "Jack" who opened the ur-Jack's at some point and then his empire grew and grew but I don't know for sure.

Here's an ad from a 1994 SF Weekly:

As you can see, six bars are listed there.  I did some research and by research I mean Googling for 10 minutes and here's what we've learned:

Jack's Bar - Maybe the flagship?  Who knows.  It was at 1601 Fillmore and is now the Boom Boom Room.  I can remember going there when it was still Jack's.  According to "Historic Walks in San Francisco: 18 Trails Through the City's Past," Jack's originally opened in 1933 on Sutter and was the first bar in the area to cater to African-Americans.  Pretty cool.  When I went there it seemed like it catered mostly to drunk white boys like myself.  I remember a lot of taps?  Was that their thing?  Maybe.

Jack's Cable Car - at 1548 California, now the horribly-named "Soda Popinski's."  In the interim it was apparently at some point called "California Dream'n," as referenced in this SF Weekly piece that notes that the Jack's Cable Car sign is still out front.

via SF Weekly, natch
Jack's Red Bear - 1176 Sutter, where R Bar is now.  I have no memory of this ever being Jack's Red Bear!  Prior to R Bar, the space was An Sibin, a DJ bar back when there were "DJ bars."  Again, SF Weekly proves helpful by informing us that before it was An Sibin it was Mulligan's so who knows when the Red Bear bit the dust.

Jack's Elixir - is now, unsurprisingly, Elixir, at the corner of 16th and Guerrero.  According to Elixir's own website, it was a Jack's only from 1990 to 1998.  I can definitely remember coming here when it was a Jack's.

Jack's Taps - This is the one that blew me away.  At 1300 Church (at 25th), it's now a "Purely Physical Fitness," which I guess is the opposite of a bar.  Walking by there, there is no indication that it used to be a bar.  I had no idea.

Jack's Presidio - Well, I guess this one surprised me too.  3490 California, now a UCSF Primary Care center, which I guess is just as opposite of a bar as a gym.  I have no memory of ever hearing anything about Jack's Presidio, but apparently it was a bar as late as 1994.  Street view for 3490 California gives no hint:

Based on that picture (which looks like it could be in Anytown, CA, BTW), I would say the building housing Jack's Presidio has long since been demolished.

So that's about it.  I have this feeling there has to be a much better history of the Jack's chain of bars somewhere so if you know where that is, please point me to it.  It's kind of amazing that this whole chain just disappeared without a trace.

(Postscript: I have no idea if Jack's Cannery Bar is a holdout or is in any way related to the original Jack's chain. I kind of doubt it but I could be wrong.)

UPDATE!!!!!  Reader Stephen has reminded us that the current home of Emperor Norton's Boozeland (which is a fine bar in its own right and worth a visit for the $3 Anchor California Lager on tap alone [but that might just be for happy hour]) used to be Jack's Deco and then just Deco.  In fact, if you had the magical ability to see to the left and right of the ad pictured at top, you'd see the next door neighbor ad on the left is for the uni-named "Deco," indicating that Jack had already left the building,  Thanks, Stephen!

FURTHER UPDATE!!!!  Another helpful reader writes in with memories about the mysterious Jack's Presidio:

Re Jack's Presidio location:  I have lived in LH since 1986.  The picture you have on your web site shows a mixed-use building with apartments, Charles Schwab, a high-end sandwich place, etc.  Before that building, however, there was a big diner called the Sugar Plum, which was a much larger version of the Zim's and Miz Browne's Feed Bag diners across the street in Laurel Village.  It had a small cocktail lounge built inside it.

Yes, at one time there were three diners in the hood, and now there are none.  But we do have an eatery with the ridiculously precious name Beautifull!, which sells yuppie catnip at stoopid prices.

Anyway, sometime circa the early 1990s, the Jack's Bars began to explode throughout the city, grabbing on to the early microbrew explosion in SF, which began in the mid-1980s.  From my memory, the Jack in the Mission was the first one, with all other ones branching off from that...but my memory only goes back to 1984, when I moved here.

So, the small cocktail lounge was replaced by a Jack's branch.  Absolutely nothing was done to the interior to modify or upgrade it.  It was still a hole-in-the-wall, just with a better beer selection.  It offered the nice opportunity to do a beer "runner" between that location and the Pig and Whistle, which opened up a Geary/Laurel circa the early 1990s.  Jack's Presidio only stayed open a few years, though, maybe 2-3.


Stoney said...

I visited three, maybe four (not sure about Cable Car). I remember going to Jack's Taps. It's kind of odd, in hindsight, that I hung out in Noe Valley on occasion when I was in my 20s. There was Rat and Raven, too.

Stephen said...

Also, there was, where Emperor Norton's Boozeland now reigns, Jack's Deco. I can't remember if it was Deco, then Jack's Deco, or Jack's Deco, then Deco.

Jess would disagree with you on the name Soda Popinksi's, as she's a fan of Soda Popinski, a character from a video game of her youth - Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. That's also her personal nickname for Hunter Pence.

TK said...

Stoney - Thx for the confirmation that Jack's taps actually existed!

Stephen - I had no idea that SP was a video game character! Do you think the bar owners licensed the name from Nintendo? If not, should we let Nintendo know?

Stephen said...

I still can't understand how Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem hasn't been cease-and-desisted.

Anonymous said...

I am leaving a comment just because my WordPress avatar happens to display my large Soda Popinski stomach tattoo. I've never showed you this?

Anonymous said...

Oh, but of course that avatar doesn't display here, so now I just sound like a crazy person. I guess that's not far from the truth.

lucydeecy said...

I did spend time at Jacks Taps, a fine bar. Got me thinking about the old Cork 'n' Bottle on 24th, which was so lousy with red-nosed drunks at 7am I'd walk on the other side of the street. Which brought me to Googling Cork 'n' Bottle which brought this article to my attention which I thought TK would like!

Forty fuckin Niners indeed.

lucydeecy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I lived at 25 and Church in the 90s and was at Jacks Taps daily. Jacks Cannary was part of the chain. 24th street had good dives back then: Rat and Raven, Cork and Bottle, Noes, First Ining (misspelled intentionally)

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