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Monday, March 27, 2006

"Lefty" O'Doul's

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to go into any dining establishment and snap pictures left and right without nearly a wince from anyone working or eating there.

Lucky then that Lefty O'Doul's is located smack dab in the middle of the tourist hell that is Union Square. In fact, I think not taking pictures would make you stick out here.

I think it's awesome that an old school, inexpensive hofbrau still thrives in the heart of Niketown, Macy's, Needless Mark-up, Burberry, Coach, Bulgari, H&K, Williams-Sonoma, art galleries, and exclusive hotels.

In fact, any tourist to our city should feel lucky (like the Irish?) that without trekking to far off neighborhoods in search of an authentic San Francisco experience, you can get your high rolla shopping on and later take in a cheap, but filling, meal at Lefty's, all within the walking distance of a few blocks.

I won't go into much detail about Lefty's because if you've stepped two feet into Union Square more than once, you probably know more about it than me. In fact, everyone and their mother, father, brother, sister, and cousins can tell you about Lefty's.

However, this blog tribute to Bay Area hofbraus wouldn't be nearly complete without a visit to one of the shrines of California hofbraus, Lefty O'Doul's.

Many observations from tourists and out-of-towners who experience Lefty's remark that it is an Irish pub. Eh, wrong. I've also read that the place is overpriced tourist food and is bland and boring. Eh, wrong again.

In fact, it seems that most people who comment on Lefty's have neither hide nor hair of understanding about hofbrau cuisine. And that's understandable. For example, recently, I surveyed my close friends (some of whom were born and raised in the Bay Area) for hofbrau recommendations and was suggested a few restaurants with German-sounding names. But as I've said before, the hofbraus I'm talking about having nothing to do with German food or beer.

Lefty's may draw it's own local crowd - which is rare for a place smack dab in the middle of touristville – and that crowd may be crusty, sports-minded, and even lecherous, but that's part of it's charm. Of course, the food isn't to be sneezed at (though sneezed on, it may be).

What I like about Lefty's is that it "knows itself" and yet doesn't. You know what I mean?

Sure, they know they're an "institution". They know the place was started by a famous San Francisco baseball player/coach who "discovered" Joe DiMaggio and that, no doubt, there are countless guide books telling tourists to stop in and see a blowup of Norma Jean DiMaggio's ID card.

They know that even a whiff of a hint of them closing for good will bring outrage from the old timers and histrionics from preservation societies.

True, Lefty's is a cut above many other hofbraus. Not only do they have a baby grand in the front lounge (drunken piano karaoke anyone?), but they even have something unheard of for most hofbraus – a website; one with so much java-script and plug-ins it sends my antivirus and firewall software into panic mode.

So, even though this hofbrau "knows itself", the staff at Lefty's seem completely down to earth – albeit a little curt – but down to earth. And as far as the customers are concerned, this isn't the "sweater around the shoulders" crowd, although I'm sure there may be a few of them who are regulars.

But the real reason why we layeth the macketh down at Lefty's is the amazing hofbrau choices, such as the roast beef and the pastrami, and their assortment of side dishes. I've also heard the mac and cheese here is awesome.

Bruce and I both got the freshly cut pastrami sandwiches; his on rye and mine on sourdough.

As is the custom, my sandwich roll was dipped in jus and then topped high with the pastrami. Even though Bruce thought the pastrami was too dry, I liked it. And actually, it could've been more moist, but it probably had been sitting under the heat lamps a little too long. Despite the dryness issue, it still was a pretty decent sandwich, especially with a little mustard and/or horseradish sauce.

The pasta salad was good for being what it was. It basically was spiral pasta, a few black olives, and Italian dressing. Actually, I liked Bruce's red potato salad better. It needed a little more salt and pepper, plus a tad bit more horseradish, and then it was pretty satisfying.

If you are looking for an "only in San Francisco" and an authentic hofbrau experience, this is it folks. This is why I've devoted the next few weeks of my life to documenting the hofbraus of the Bay Area.

Now, about that late-night drunken piano karaoke.



At 9:58 AM, Blogger Amy Sherman said...

I hope you'll review Tommy's Joynt, another classic hofbrau next. I interviewed the current manager recently and learned a lot about California hofbraus. Not many of them left.

At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father, Mr. Salvatore DiMaggio, has a copy of a letter that Mr. Lefty O'Doul wrote my Dad, concerning playing for the San Francisco Seals. We copied it and gave it to him framed for his 83rd birthday. Along with a picture of him when he was young. They were all good looking when they were young.

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous rick dreher said...

my great-grandmother was a dimaggio her name was kate. she married a man named pietro acquaviva and moved from pittsburgh, ca down to monterey. my nonno looks a lot like joe dimaggio.

At 4:30 PM, Anonymous greg said...

We tourists from Fort Worth found Lefty's by accident a bunch of years ago and loved the singers around the piano (a cut above most Kareoki which I hate so much I can't spell it). Never tried the food but the later night was filled with colorful delightful locals most of whom could sing wonderfully.

Enjoyed a repeat visit in the 2000 time frame and, while the singing was not as memorable, the local characters had increased in entertainment value.


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