Streetwise: Old-Time Food & Drink
by Frank Dunnigan
Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -
Many fine dining establishments that used to dot the streets of the Western Neighborhoods have disappeared over the years—the Cliff House being one of the most prominent. Other favorite restaurants—including The Hot House, LeCyrano, Café Riggio, and Louis’ in the Richmond District and Luzern, Marcello, and West Portal Joe’s in the West of Twin Peaks area—have also closed. Still others, with more casual food and drink selections, also did a steady business over the years, offering a wide variety of dining experiences to appreciative customers. Here are a few of those places.
Peter Finelli giving away ice cream on Halloween at his show across from the Francis Scott Key School annex on 42nd Avenue - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Finelli's—Finelli’s was a popular small soda fountain operation at 1356-42nd Avenue, opposite Francis Scott Key School Annex. It has long-since been replaced by a modern set of residential flats.
Sutro Terminal on Point Lobos Avenue for Market Street Railway with lunch counter inside - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
SUTRO TERMINAL LUNCH COUNTER
—Sutro Terminal was located on Point Lobos Avenue, just up the hill from Sutro Baths and the Cliff House. Streetcar passengers could get a quick bite to eat (hot dogs, hamburgers, coffee, candies, beer, wine) at the counter along the back of the terminal before or after a streetcar ride. The lunch counter was run for many years by Dan Hountalas' father. Dan worked outside selling peanuts and later operated Danny's Cliff Chalet and then the Cliff House with his wife Mary. The 1896 wooden structure was destroyed in a February, 1949 fire, one of many fires along Point Lobos Avenue
, that occurred just prior to the conversion of streetcar service to motor buses, and it was never replaced.
Alice's Fountain Lunch at Balboa and 18th Avenue - SF Assessors Office Negatives / WNP Collection.
ALICE'S FOUNTAIN LUNCH—“Fountain Lunch” was a popular business model that existed in many residential neighborhoods. Alice’s, shown here in in 1951, shared the ground-floor space of a large home at 18th Avenue & Balboa Street with a barber shop and a real estate office. Alice’s old location is now a dumpling restaurant.
Keiser's Colonial Creamery on Irving near 20th Avenue - Courtesy of Ellen Kieser.
KEISER'S COLONIAL CREMERY
—Owned and operated by local resident Ellen Kieser, the Irving Street business prospered from 1946 until just after the turn of the millennium. Ellen retired well into her 80s, and the building now houses a long-time noodle house restaurant. Read more about Kieser's Colonial Creamery
The Feed Bag Restaurant at 3401 California Street in Laurel Village - WNP Collection.
THE FEEDBAG RESTAURANT—An early Laurel Village business, the Feed Bag (later Miz Brown’s Feed Bag) operated from the post-World War II era into the 1980s, and was famous for its hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes. It eventually closed and the building was then occupied by other businesses. As of 2021, the site is vacant and for lease.
Zim's Broiled Hamburgers at corner of Taraval and 19th Avenue in September 1957 - San Francisco Examiner photo.
ZIM'S—Founded in 1947 by a returning GI, Art Zimmerman, the Zim’s chain once numbered 25 locations throughout the Bay Area. This one, opened in 1957 at the SW corner of 19th & Taraval, captured the essence of the American diner with large plate glass windows and glowing red neon signage that was enhanced by foggy weather. Facing competition from fast-food establishments and changing tastes, Zim’s closed in 1995. Many customers still fondly remember the warm apple pie following a Zimburger meal. The corner now houses a noodle house restaurant.
Scotty's Drive In at corner of Geary and 31st Avenue in 1951 - San Francisco Public Library photo - Assessors Office Collection.
SCOTTY'S DRIVE IN—Located at the NE corner of 31st Avenue & Geary Blvd., Scotty’s did a thriving after-school business with students from nearby George Washington High School. For many years, that corner has housed a modern multi-story apartment building.
Mr. Hot Dog Rancho on Geary - Courtesy of Stephanie Holzeisen Douvris.
MR. HOG DOG RANCHO
—Before there was a Doggie Diner
, there was Mr. Hot Dog Rancho Burgers on Geary Boulevard. The business began in 1946, run by LaVerne Holzeisen and her husband Steve. They retired in 1978, selling Mr. Hot Dog to a new owner who ran the place for another 15 years before it closed for good in the 1990s. Today the location is home to a Japanese restaurant. Read more about this business and see more photos in Woody LaBounty's 2014 article
Herb's Delicatessen on Taraval near 32nd Avenue in 1972 - Courtesy of Frank Dunnigan.
—Herb’s Delicatessen had been owned and operated by local residents Herb & Jennie Thompson since 1950, offering deli sandwiches, salads, and the incomparable Hot Meatball Subs on Thursdays. The shop enjoyed a tremendous increase in business beginning in the Fall of 1969, when St. Ignatius High School relocated from Stanyan Street to nearby 37th Avenue. After Herb’s passing in 1987, Jennie sold the business (along with the famous meatball recipe that came from her Sicilian mother) to new owner, Issa Cuadra, who continued to draw appreciative customers to the shop for another decade. Sadly, the building owner would not renew Issa’s lease, nor offer her the opportunity to buy the building, and Herb’s closed in the summer of 1998. Since then the building has appeared to be storage for building supplies. Read 17 years of posts on the WNP message boards about the meatball sandwich
Hal's Hamburgers at Geary and Collins Street - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
HAL'S HAMBURGERS—Hal’s Hamburgers was an early San Francisco drive-in on Geary Boulevard at Collins Avenue, just west of Masonic Avenue. It underwent multiple name changes over the years (the business even engaged in a low-price war with competitors in the early 1970s), but the site later became a small apartment building with ground-floor retail tenants.
The Hot House at Playland on Great Highway between Balboa and Cabrillo - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
—Playland was the ultimate in casual dining. With offerings from popcorn, ice cream, and candy to chicken, Mexican food, pies and more, Playland was THE place to grab a quick bite when out and about in the Western Neighborhoods from the 1920s to 1972. Condominiums now occupy the space. Read more about the most memorable Playland food outlet, The Hot House
Former Baskin-Robbins store on Clement near 7th Avenue in 1990s - Richmond Review Newspaper Collection / Courtesy of Paul Kozakiewicz, Richmond Review.
BASKIN-ROBBINS—Beginning in the 1960s, San Francisco had many Baskin-Robbins ice cream shops located along multiple neighborhood shopping corridors, including Clement Street, Irving Street, and West Portal Avenue. Slowly, though, the locations began closing, replaced by a variety of other businesses, and by 2018, the firm had no stores remaining in San Francisco.
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