The Hofbraus of the San Francisco Bay Area
California is, and perhaps always been, a place one comes to reinvent themself.
Sure, you’ve heard of the gold rush and the small-town girls who ride a Greyhound bus all the way to Hollywood in search of fame and stardom, but what about Gregg Rolie?
Who’s that, you say?
Dude, he only is the guy who moved down to San Francisco after his Seattle restaurant went kaput to form one of the biggest, legendary, stadium rock bands this Ci-tay has ever seen.
Um, yeah! I am talking about Journey. Duh?
You remember? Remember the feather-backed hair, the tight blue jeans, the big schnoz, the black guy on bass?
I mention all of this because whenever I hear “when the lights, go down, in the Ci-tay-ee” or (I love this line) “th'ssay that the road ain’t no p'lace to staahht a fam-lay”, I get all transported to a time when lunch was cheap, American beer flowed freely from the tap, and mash potatoes and big hunks of meat were plentiful.
In other words, I get transported to a Hofbrau. Specifically, a crusty ol' San Francisco hofbrau.
In most of the Western world, a hofbrau is, literally, a "court brewery", where many Helmuts and Gretchens got tanked while throwin' down Herr Kaiser's own homebrew - the most famous one being the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany (chain coming to you soon!)
But here in the American West, specifically California, hofbraus have very little or nothing to do with Germans or Germany. Instead, they are cheap (less so lately) places to grab a beer, watch sports, and eat hand-carved roast beef, ham, turkey, or beef brisket sandwiches or dinner plates in a cafeteria-style setting.
No one knows for sure who had the first California-style hofbrau since the modern-day versions, and the ones we know and love, all pretty much started around the same time – the 1950s and 60s. I have read some who believe hofbraus were once German-style, but changed over the course of time to reflect American tastes. I have also read some who say that the hofbrau developed out of the San Francisco "free lunch" school of bars at the turn of the century that served food to entice more people to drink on their lunch hour.
No matter who was first, the fact is that many are becoming the last.
A Citizen Fish show I went to at the old Hofbrau (punk shows happened on their second floor) on Broadway in Oakland. It's now Luka's Taproom.
Changing tastes, shifting demographics, and original owners passing away only to have their kids sell out have caused many of these restaurants to close down the steam table for good.
Some hofbraus have changed with the times in order to compete, with some even serving Asian food alongside the standard mash potatoes and gravy-covered turkey leg. Others have tried to spruce up and update their image, while simultaneously raising prices. In fact, some of these hofbraus do not deserve to be featured on these hallowed pages. However, I'll have to cross that greasy spoon when I come to it.
And while there are hofbraus located outside of the Bay Area, notably Sam's Hofbrau in LA which morphed into a strip club in order to survive, most of the old-school, truly unique, American, hofbraus are centered in and around the Bay Area.
Because I believe it's time these restaurants (and dives!) had their due respect, as places to eat and as cultural icons, Dive is going to be featuring them for the next couple of weeks.
As I visit and review each hofbrau, I will add it to the list below, along with the link to the post. Please bookmark or check this page often for updates.
Now, won't you join me for some rib-stickin', overeatin', cafeteria-butt havin' good times? Grab your wetnap, cause we're about to get greasay!
Hofbraus of the San Francisco Bay Area
Harry's Hofbrau (Redwood City)
Silver Spoon Hofbrau(closed)
Hayward Hofbrau and Chinese (closed)
Jerry T's Hofbrau (not a hofbrau)
Frank's Saloon and Hofbrau (not a hofbrau)
Gubera's Pub and Hofbrau (not a hofbrau)
Walnut Creek Hofbrau House (closed)
Jerrold Market Place
Sam's Hofbrau in Oakland (closed)
Robbie's Hofbrau (closed)
Article on Hofbraus by Jonathan Kauffman (and featuring your's truly)