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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Louis' Restaurant Lives to Grill Again

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2011 at 3:35 PM

click to enlarge Hello again ... - ROSENCRUZ SUMERA

The amber tile motif in the bathroom of Louis' Restaurant was the 1970s, every bit as much as the five-note theme of Close Encounters, Oscar Gamble's 'fro, or all the places Dirty Harry shot people that aren't there anymore.  

Well, the tile is gone. In order to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act, a restroom must be five feet wide -- and that tile, according to Louis' co-owner Tom Hontalas, would have rendered the commode half an inch too narrow. C'est la vie.

The one great advantage of living in the past: It's cheaper. Louis' reopens today after an eight-month layoff -- and it was cheaper in the past, too. Per the demands of its landlords, the National Park Service, the restaurant is now serving more organic and local foods. So dining there was cheaper in the past as well. But Hontalas isn't complaining (much). He's just happy to be behind the grill.

Readers may remember the drama that led to the Hontalas family -- which has run the joint since 1937 -- nearly having the restaurant taken away from them last year. SF Weekly earlier outlined the myriad perils that came close to sinking the eatery again and again over the years.

In a nutshell -- an organic, locally sourced nutshell -- Louis' is old enough that its original landlords were the Sutros. Had the condos planned for the site of Sutro Baths come to fruition, Louis' would have been blocking their driveway. But that didn't happen. Had Jim Hontalas not turned to loan sharks to finance a remodel during the Gerald Ford era, the place might have worn away. Recent federal rules -- the restaurant has sat on federal land since 1973 -- don't allow the Hontalas family to simply reup their contract. They had to beat out four other bidders to keep running the restaurant they've run since the Depression.

Now, however, the owners are anticipating 10 years of peace and quiet -- until the next contract go-round. They are a bit rankled, however, over a three-and-a-half-month delay prior to the approval of the joint's renovation plans. Hontalas has asked for that much extra time to be tacked onto his lease, and for three and a half months of rent credits. He was told the National Park Service will "think about it."

He may yet see that money. But you will never again see the nostalgia-inducing tiles that made Louis' Louis'.

"We did have to change that. Our lease called for us to use recycled material," Hontalas says. "So we had limited choices. It's now a shade of green."

In a way, so is Louis'.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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