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Bayview's Old Clam House Goes Under The Knife

[Photo: Eva Frye]

It's in Bayview. Seriously...who goes there? Well, I'll tell you: enough people to keep this cornerstone open for 150 years. That's who. Oh, and Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage from MythBusters. You know, the ones who continually test old wives' tales and attempt to blow things like pig stomachs up on The Discovery Channel. They've been going there twice a month for years. Old Clam House general manager Jorge Verduzco told us so; and we can trust him because he's been with the restaurant for over 11 years. But who knows if they'll be back. Things are changing at Old Clam House and the clientele will probably morph along with it. What was once a funky, established neighborhood gem is seeing a total overhaul brought on by Jerry Dal Bozzo the man behind San Francisco fixtures like The Stinking Rose, The Franciscan, Bobo's and Calzone's. To his credit, Dal Bozzo redid the Cliff House in 1973 and that's done quite well. Regardless this Old Clam is about to be gutted and cleaned out, giving a proverbial scrub to the lovely grit he's been working so hard at for 150 years.

Generations worth of memorabilia has already been stripped from the walls, including the hood of a '67 Jag convertible that once protruded from above the bar and a collection of 19th and 20th century license plates. The patio area is currently morphing into a 20-seat, glassed in number and the flooring is being torn up right now.

One could say change is a big part of Old Clam House's history. When it opened in 1861, the restaurant sat on Islais Creek which flowed into Mission Bay and its hustling fishing economy: Dungeness crabs, shrimp, sardines and oysters. To get there from downtown San Francisco, you had to take one of two wood-planked roads. Over the past 100 years debris has continually been dumped over the creek, so the restaurant now sits solidly inland.

The evolution continues. "The bar will look like the dining room next door," says Jorge. "They're redoing everything." According to Tablehopper, Dal Bozzo and co. are refreshing the space one room at a time.

The menu has already changed considerably. No more calamari, but deep fried "sand dab" strips. And the Cherrystones in their signature bowls of large clams have been switched out for smaller Manilas. Their chowder, which used to have lots of oil and flour, has been lightened; and extra virgin olive oil has made its Clam House debut. "The ingredients are much better," adds a hopeful Jorge. When pushed further about the future, he and bartender Maria Anderson do their best to stay plucky about the changes. "They're very professional," says Jorge. And Maria chimes in, "they know what they're doing." But there's a sadness underneath those smiles.

Regulars have been coming to this spot, dirty and funky as it is, for decades, and most liked their chowder floury and their surroundings dusty. So the changes are coming with mixed reviews. But Maria says she's happy with the expanded booze options. Now there's 60% more alcohol than she's ever seen behind a bar she's worked for 25 years. When asked what she thinks will happen to business, she replies, "after publicity dies down, that's when you know. I'd check back in next spring to see how well it's doing."
-Eva Frye