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Friday, December 12, 2014


Venerable, woodsy, House of Shields recently remodeled, is now a late-night craft cocktail bar across from the Palace Hotel on New Montgomery, just south of Market Street. 
SAN FRANCISCO--Early in my magazine career I was editor in chief of San Francisco Magazine.  Our offices were on Howard Street at the foot of New Montgomery Street.   It was thirsty work.

At that time, I lived in North Beach on Lombard, where that famous street climbs east to Telegraph Hill.  On good weather days I’d walk home from my office.

But to make such a trek into North Beach one needed to stop to refuel at the House of Shields at 39 New Montgomery at Stevenson Alley.  Built in 1908, this classy establishment looms a few paces across the street from  the venerable Palace Hotel’s main entrance.  Per tradition the “Shields” has never had a clock or a TV on the premises.  The décor, especially the hanging lights and the rich wood work throughout, is simply stunning.

Seldom did I get home without listening to the sirens beckoning me like Odysseus unbound into the House of Shields for lunch or happy hour or both.

Soon after being hired at the magazine, I took a copy of one of the daily newspapers to lunch at the House of Shields. Back in the day it was a classy financial district eatery and great bar.  I sat at the north end of the bar at a small deuce.  White table cloth and a tuxedoed waiter made me feel  very cosmopolitan.

As I waited for lunch and while I sipped on my Irish Coffee (it was raining this noon) I read to my amazement a small paragraph in a gossip column was about me.  I was being chided in print for being a Los Angeles type hired to be editor of San Francisco Magazine.  How odd, I thought.  Did anyone really care I was hired away from LA-based PSA Magazine, where I was its editor?

Of course, years later when I left San Francisco to take a magazine job in San Diego, the newspapers in the border city didn’t moan that a San Francisco editor was now in charge of the editorial department of San Diego Magazine.  Oddly, enough one newspaper did ask in print if I was going to marry the publishers’ daughter.  I found that rather odd, as well.

But, let’s get back to the House of Shields.

As I paid my first lunch tab at the House of Shields, I slipped the waiter an extra $20 explaining to him that I really would love to have this same table every Friday noon for lunch.  I thought it important at 29 years of age that I should have a tradition going for me.  We introduced ourselves with a firm handshake.  To this day, I remember him.  He was an older gentleman named Donald—not Don.  I liked the fact that waiters in San Francisco can make a solid living as waiters—many for long careers.

The following Friday, I walked into the House of Shields, and looked around the crowd for my new favorite waiter.  Donald was nowhere to be seen and to my chagrin my new favorite table was presently muy occupado.  In fact, they had just been seated and were now looking at menus.

I asked the bartender if Donald had taken the day off?

“No, actually, he retired last week.  He was here 37 years.  We’re going to miss him.”

Note: the place is a high end craft cocktail bar, no food.  It was remodeled in 2010.  Its famous Moscow Mule is served in a copper mug, but you have to leave your ID with the bartender until you return the mug.  Is the place in town for whiskies.

House of Shields full tilt

Located in the Sharon Bldg., next to Stevenson Alley and
across from the Palace Hotel stays open late in the
Financial District.

Cozy booths ideal for private conversation and cocktails. Classic San Francisco bar with
plenty of stylish wood, lighting and tilework

A nod to San Francisco’s older bars and restaurants is found here:

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