The story behind the die-hard Bay Area sports bar somehow located in hostile LA

  • e9c4c 920x920 The story behind the die hard Bay Area sports bar somehow located in hostile LA

    The San Francisco Saloon, a Bay Area sports bar located in Los Angeles.

    The San Francisco Saloon, a Bay Area sports bar located in Los Angeles.

    Photo: Sean Cooley/SFGate

  •  The story behind the die hard Bay Area sports bar somehow located in hostile LA



The San Francisco Saloon, a Bay Area sports bar located in Los Angeles.

The San Francisco Saloon, a Bay Area sports bar located in Los Angeles.

Photo: Sean Cooley/SFGate

No matter how hard you look, you will not find an LA Rams bar in San Francisco.

Charger bars in SF? Not entirely positive they even have LA Chargers bars in LA (maybe a Shakey’s pizza buffet has the game on?).

Dodgers bar in the Bay? Hahaha nope.

Yet the opposite NorCal-to-SoCal polarity exists, as a diehard branch of Niners Nation — replete with Irish coffee-swilling, marching band drum-banging fans — is thriving in Los Angeles’s Sawtelle neighborhood: the San Francisco Saloon.

Built in 1934 on a triangular stretch along Pico Boulevard that was formerly pea patch farmland, the Saloon is a safe haven for Bay Area fans wishing for a reprieve from the glitz and glamor (read: vanity and entitlement) of sports-agnostic Hollywood.

This year’s 49ers season opener can’t come soon enough for Saloon General Manager Brian Conroy. Over the course of my Friday happy hour visit to the bar, Conroy shows me the outside Golden Gate Bridge mural on the side of the bar, only to have a distracted SUV nearly swerve into us a foot off the curb. After hopping out of LA traffic, through the swinging saloon doors, we find a patron attempting to eat alongside an unlicensed “service” Pomeranian. Conroy approaches her, and in the most diplomatic way imaginable, asks that she keep the dog off the table, you know, where people typically eat.

“At least she was nice about the little fluffy, furry thing,” concedes Conroy, an affable self-described codger who’s an even-keeled presence contrasting the rowdy patrons found at the Saloon come game time.

It’s hard not to daydream about NFL Sunday when the likes of Pomeranian lady would be subbed out for a table of 49ers faithful bobbing their heads to E-40′s “Yay Area,” or flashing back to Super Bowl XLVII when the hostile SUV driver would have had to detour around the droves of overflow fans watching on a TV outside the at-capacity bar to see the Harbaugh brothers go to battle.

A Slice of SF

The Saloon has had San Francisco bones dating back to the early 1970s when the layout was a fern bar with 27 potted and hanging plants, couches, and coffee tables amenable to a yuppie crowd. It wasn’t long until Conroy, at the behest of new ownership, ditched the foliage thereby showing off more of the interior features of the Saloon. Made in the Henry Africa mold — with stained glass lampshades and dark wood floor-to-ceiling — today, one could easily mistake the layout for Buena Vista Cafe (see: the slideshow above).

For more Bay Area bonafides, you’ll find shades of Shakedown Street with a Haight Ashbury-graffitied guitar, a national cash register propping up Giants tile coasters, and a back bar built from a salvaged saloon in Petaluma — a bar whose legacy will be well-preserved … once anyone can manage to recall said bar’s name. On the walls hang mariner maps and reproduced prints of turn-of-the-century buildings and earthquake damage courtesy of the San Francisco Historical Society.

Of course, transitioning away from ferns also freed up more real estate to put in TVs and turn the Saloon into a cozier sports bar. Opening the gate to many electric nights with the 49ers, Giants and Warriors dynastic runs.

“The bar has a real district neighborhood kind of vibe, which doesn’t happen all that often in LA,” says Conroy.

Over the years the bar has even survived dumpster fires — not just the Chip Kelly era, actual dumpster fires from a neighborhood arsonist in the summer of 2007.

Home Away from Home

The SF Saloon owner, Bruce Beach, a California convert by way of Connecticut, can recall the officiating in the 2013 49ers-Seahawks NFC Championship game with vivid detail (and disgust).

“Oof, the refs were terrible, what a missed call on roughing the kicker and then the extra time added onto the next drive,” says Beach.

Hence the reason to curate one of the best sports bars west of the 405 where fans can commiserate and celebrate, sharing in that same diehard passion.

“The San Francisco fans are another breed,” says Beach. “They’re resilient, even when their teams are down, the love of the sport is very important for them.”

On any given Sunday, the tailgate atmosphere inside the bar builds at 9am when the SF Saloon Squad, official fan chapter of the 49ers, turn out in full regalia, jerseys, t-shirts, scarves, some in helmets, and one with a “defense” drum. You’re certain to find Squad President Alycia Jones sipping on her patented off-menu Alycia Margarita made with pineapple juice. The sole exception being when the Rams host San Francisco and the club turns Coliseum Lot 5 into Candlestick South.

Having grown up in Pasadena, the red-and-gold sheep in a family of Raiders fans, Jones frequents the SF Saloon for its familial camaraderie that welcomes seasoned transplants and passing-through visitors alike.

“There are a lot of people from the Bay Area that turn out for games, at first it’s almost like a Disneyland theme park, like you’re in San Francisco surrounded by fans,” says Jones.

For Jones and the Niners Faithful, the upcoming NFL season carries the promise of their team’s return to glory and a breakout season from Jimmy Garoppolo.

“Our pride in the team is off the charts and I’m excited for how we’re looking, hopefully we can return to those glory years and finish our quest for that sixth ring,” says Jones.

Sean Cooley is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Twitter: @seancooley

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