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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Washbag Returns, And So Do Its Regulars

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 10:40 AM

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For many years (say, between 1973, when Ed Moose opened it, and 1996) it seemed that no Herb Caen column was complete without a reference to "the Washbag," the nickname Caen himself had coined for the Washington Square Bar & Grill. Moose was himself a former newspaperman (a reporter for the St. Louis Post & Dispatch), and his old-fashioned bar and grill welcomed writers, politicians, neighborhood characters, and anybody interested in straightforward American cooking and even more straightforward drinking. (Caen liked to hang out over two or three icy vodka martinis, which he referred to as "Vitamin V".)

Moose and his wife Mary opened another place across Washington Square, Moose's, in 1992, but hung on to the Washbag until 2002, when it was sold to new owners, who made a mistake after a few years when they painted it cerulean and re-named it the Cobalt Tavern. (Many refer to this as the Washbag's "blue period.") The Washbag had seemed nearly as much an SF institution as Tadich's, Sam's, or Le Central, to name a few, and the never-an-SF-institution Cobalt Tavern closed down on New Year's Day of 2008, leaving a void in the heart of North Beach.

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But have no fear: Liam Tiernan and Susan Tiernan, ex-husband-and-wife who still remain co-owners of Tiernan's Irish Pub down on Fisherman's Wharf, and who are longtime Washbag fanciers, have seen the light and performed a resurrection. They rebuilt the place, but you'd never know it. The timeless feeling, polished wood, gleaming brass, white tablecloths, is just the same. They re-hired longtime bartender Michael McCourt; created a rotating roster of pianists to tinkle the ivories at night, and organized jazz groups for Saturday and Sunday brunch; and opened a week ago Monday, March 2, to general cheers.

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We ambled over for lunch the day before yesterday, admiring the witty WSGB golden sign, with two initials reversed depending on which angle you were coming from, gleaming in the early afternoon light. We were given a lovely

sunny window table, with an excellent view not only of the park, but

also a terrific vintage black-and-white photograph on the adjacent wall

of the Bay Bridge in 1930s mid-construction, reminiscent of what's

going on today. The Washbag itself was still mid-construction: a ladder

was propped up against another wall, but was eventually removed.


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My

companion enjoyed her small but tasty grilled flat iron steak ($19.50),

topped with a melting pat of maitre d'hotel butter unmentioned on the

menu, served with excellent crisp pommes frites and a container of

ketchup. I would have had a better lunch if not for two silly service

errors. The time to tell a customer you're out of the corned beef

Reuben sandwich ($11) is when you give them the menu, not 15 minutes

later when they attempt to order it.


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Which

also would have been a good time to mention the meatloaf special, which

I would have ordered instead of the decent but unexciting chicken club

sandwich, also served with those excellent frites ($11), that I chose

in haste as a replacement. We overheard our server describe the

meatloaf, as well as the soup of the day, which we'd also not heard

about, to the table of four that were ordering just as we left, alas.


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But we'd enjoyed both the classic creme

brulee ($8) we shared for dessert, topped with three plump raspberries,

and the frequently-refilled cup of very good coffee ($3).  Not to

mention viewing such framed memorabilia as old Washbag baseball team

jerseys, and a vintage typewriter -- hanging on the wall! -- from famed

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Stanton Delaplane.

 The place was almost totally full, with people who looked like happy

regulars ("They've been telling us how happy they are that we're back

all week!," we were told), including a noticeable number of

well-dressed men in suits with ties -- a few of which were even jaunty

bowties -- most of them clutching a cocktail glass.


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I

noted on the way out that the Monday dinner special was buttermilk

fried chicken. I knew I would return, very soon, and this time I'd be

clutching a cocktail glass myself.


Perhaps Ron Fimrite, onetime member of the Washbag's baseball team Les Lapins Sauvages, and author of the 1989 The Square: The Story of a Saloon, will have to write a new chapter. Or two.

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Washington

Square Bar & Grill, 1707 Powell (at Union), 433-1188. Open for

lunch Monday -- Friday 11:30 a.m. -- 3 p.m., dinner nightly 5 to 10

p.m., and Saturday and Sunday brunch 10 a.m. -- 3 p.m.


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Meredith Brody

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