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Juicing Up Your Juice

SF Bar Update: Comstock Saloon

The San Francisco Brewing Company, the oldest brewpub in San Francisco, closed recently. It will reopen this spring as the Comstock Saloon, a bar and restaurant headed by Jonny Raglin and Jeff Hollinger of Absinthe.

Raglin gave me a sneak peak at the construction of the space and plans for the new one. Since the bar has been around since 1907, they've been spending a good amount of time determining what's original to that date and what is newer. There were several renovations over the last hundred years, as the bar became a restaurant during Prohibition, a servicemen's bar after WWII, and a Filipino dive bar before it reopened as the Albatross and then the SF Brewing Company.


Now the brewing equipment has all been sold, although much of it is still on-site.

In the main bar, pictured above, they're keeping the original bartop and making great efforts to work within the small space between the bar and the wall behind it. This means installing a lot of kluged together parts and custom-built sinks, ice wells, and other equipment.

The bar itself doesn't have shelf space for too many bottles, so there will be a pretty limited selection of spirits once outfitted. They're planning to take the high-gloss finish off the wood of the back bar, and replace all the brass with antique (or antique-looking) silver.

The original urinal trough beneath the bar will remain. I suggested running goldfish through it, but maybe if it runs in a constant stream salmon would be the better choice. Then you could catch your own dinner.


The main room will have some tall bar tables in the front and several booths along the wall facing the bar. The room has traditionally held a piano and band area at the back, but this will now be moved to the small balcony seen in the photo above, which will be opened up to view. 


The brew room behind the bar will have the huge copper kettle and the stand around it removed. The entire room will be used for dining, with more booths, a large round table in the center of the room, and an antique chandelier hanging above it. This room has many windows facing the street so it could be really lovely. There will also be a few tables for outside seating.

As you can see, there is a lot of work left to be done over the next couple of months.


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This was always my favorte BAR in North far as historical woodwork. Papa used to take me there often while I sat inthe corner keeping my mouth shut. I hope NO TV's go in..No TVs and no plastic oxo jiggers..
Beautiful, beautiful space..

Camper English

It's going to get a lot more beautiful. I didn't describe half of what's going in there but it seems that it will be a lighter, brighter space. I had no idea the ceilings were so high because the lights were always so low!


cool stuff. what's the ETA for opening now?

Camper English

Probably March. They're aiming for the end of Feb, but you know how that goes.

Rik W. McCluer IV

That back bar looks like one of the old Brunswick back bars that the company used to make back in the late 1800's before becoming a pool table company. From my understanding, there are only around 5 or so left in the country. Would you happen to know if that back bar is a Brunswick, or is it just an old fashioned back bar from that era? (If it is a Brunswick, there's a secret compartment for a shotgun. They fitted all of theirs with one, so that in case there was trouble the barkeep could easily sneak it out without anyone noticing.)


"Original urinal trough beneath the bar"? San Francisco is (and apparently always has been) a tough town for pee-shy guys like me.

I hope there's not a mirror over it (which seems frustratingly mandatory in one particular SF neighborhood I frequent...)

Mr Manhattan

I actually remember when it was called The Albatross, which was not a dive. According to the SF Brewing Co. web site, that would have been in 1977, when they did a significant restoration on the interior. It then became the SF Brewing Co. in 1985.


Camper English

Yes you are right- 1977 was the big post-dive renovation. I'll make a text change as I forgot about the Albatross era.


What does 'urinal trough beneath the bar' mean? You mean in 19th century bars patrons just sat at the bar, and between rounds would urinate into a trough somewhere near their feet? Really?!?!

Sounds kind of fun.

Camper English

Yes indeedy, a lot of the bars from that era (1906 and older) have urinal troughs running beneath the bar on the patrons' side. Also, no bar stools so I guess you could just pee while standing there and giving your order.


I'm honestly a little fascinated by that revelation Camper. I've always been very interested in social history and I'm a sucker for accounts of 19th Century bars and restaurants, but I never remember seeing this mentioned.

Any idea if this was a specifically American thing? I've never seen or heard of it in a UK or New Zealand bar - not to say it didn't exist there.

Until the mid 1990s most of the old Victorian bars in NZ maintained a 'public bar' and a 'private bar'. The private one wasn't really 'private' (i.e. anyone could go in), but the pricing structure would be hither. In the early years of the 20th Century some establishments restricted women to the 'private bar', possibly because of all the public urination going on in the other bar?

Camper English

I don't think women went to bars in the US until Prohibition, when it was illegal for everybody. (I am not sure if this was restricted to saloons as opposed to hotel bars.) One old saloon near my house use to have a separate women's entrance where they could buy a growler of beer for their husbands without really being in the bar. I have seen a urinal in a bar in Mexico, but outside of that I am not sure if it's an American/Western thing or not.

So I guess I am saying I don't know.

Camper English

Rick- I asked Jonny Raglin. He said "no sign of brunswick anywhere that i can find, and no shotguns either. boy i could use one of those right now!"


I always thought the trough was for spitting tobacco...I'm going to miss this place. I loved sitting out on the sidewalk, drinking an in-expensive beer, watching people walk by and striking up conversations with random European backpackers. I met my girlfriend of three years there. Hopefully they don't yuppify the joint too much.

Jonas Clark

What I'm wondering is where the ceiling fan came from. I'm not from SF so I can't just go ask. Perhaps it's from the 1977 renovation? It's a CasaBlanca brand fan, rare as the proverbial hen's tooth; they made a few different configurations of belt-powered fans, some based on antiques and some not. This one is still made by Fanimation (which spun off from CasaBlanca in the early 80s) as the "Palmetto" model. Sly McFly's on Cannery Row in Monterey has another very early one of this model, but the light configuration on this one, using the standard CasaBlanca light hubs but mounted vertically, is unlike any others I've seen. The way it's attached to the ceiling is also unique but obviously original. The glass shades may actually be antiques; CasaBlanca usually provided common frosted ruffle shades, but some of their very early models (c. 1971) came with antique shades. These might have been added later.

Camper English

I'll email the owners and see if they respond.

Paul Tominac

Oh come on, that was not a urinal. Even in depraved pre-1906 San Francisco, men didn't piss at the bar. It's a spittoon. It's not the only one either----the Sea Star has one, and up in Roslyn Washington, the real Brick Saloon (not the stage set constructed in its place for Northern Exposure) has one with water running through it. Anybody who's ever drank too much, and dribbled at the urinal---to their profound embarassment, can only imagine drunks trying to get it out, seated at the bar, The bar would be a stinking mess and we'd have pictures of men staggering out with dark patches in their trousers---not to mention the public campaigns that would have used that very disgusting scenario as a reason to support Prohibition. It's a spittoon.

John Tucker Jr

McSorley's Pub- NYC Greenwhich Village area- I believe "oldest" has a pee the Standing Bar w/ (now) plumbing...B4, a bucket of WATER ! BOTH drained out to street gutter/ sewer.

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