Old Ship Saloon, one of the oldest bars in San Francisco, has opened its doors in Jackson Square once more, following a change of hands and brief remodel. It’s the best case scenario for the historic watering hole, which narrowly escaped closure after the owner and landlord Bill Duffy announced his intention to retire last year.
The bar was built upon the ruins of a Gold Rush-era ship, the Arkansas, which ran aground on “Bird Island” (aka Alcatraz) in 1849. The ship was hauled to what was then the shore in the Barbary Coast area of SF. Eventually it was covered with landfill, and the building that now houses Old Ship was constructed above it. Closure would have been a San Francisco tragedy of epic proportions, given its rich history.
Luckily a group of (mostly) anonymous bar and restaurant owners, led by Marc Bruschera and Eric Pasetti under the name Beware of Bird Island, banded together to save the saloon, which Duffy purchased in 1992.
It was a labor of love and preservation— one of the main goals was to retain the charm and aesthetic of the bar, while gently upgrading it. Hardwood floors have replaced the carpet and period wallpaper has been applied. Some minor kitchen updates accompany the remodel, which took place during a brief closure. Eventually patio seating will become available, depending on permits from the city.
The bar has reopened with a new menu, executed by chef Matilda McNamara. Consulting chef Erik Hopfinger helped put together a short selection of sandwiches, salads, and macaroni and cheese that includes a roast pork sandwich with garlicky rapini, Fontina cheese, and parsley salsa verde ($14). A secret menu includes truffle fries and other delights.
The cocktail list, led by barman Tim Gapchenko, is a selection of historic and simple drinks like the Gold Rush, with bourbon, lemon, and honey — named after San Francisco’s big boom as treasure-seekers flocked to the city in the mid-1800’s.
Old Ship’s hours are Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. til 2 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.