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Herb Caen’s Bar Stool at the Gold Dust Lounge

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nother one of the Gold Dust's notable celebrity patrons was the San Francisco Chronicle's most well-known columnist Herb Caen (April 3, 1916 – February 1, 1997).  Herb had many favorite bar stools around San Francisco but his favorite was at the Gold Dust Lounge. Where was Herb's favorite seat in the house?
"We all sat in the back in front of the band," recounts Ann Caen. Herb and his wife Ann would close the Gold Dust on many nights palling around with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. "At the end near the drums where you can get a perspective of the whole house," is how former Mayor Brown described their prized seats in a February 14th interview with Cat Hill:  

Former Mayor Willie Brown: "I went to the Gold Dust over a long period of time, historically speaking. I palled around with Herb Caen, the famous Pulitzer prize winning columnist and for our City, he wrote for the Chronicle and the Examiner over periods of time.  Much of what we would do at night would include a visit to the Gold Dust Lounge because Herb played drums and the one place in town where musicians would permit him to join the band every time he walked in was the Gold Dust Lounge. So, my memories go back to that.  And we would turn the Gold Dust Lounge into a dance facility without a dance permit, literally, with him playing drums and all the other things that were going on there around what I call the piano bar, was always a good evening.  The musicians that were there were such talented musicians that they really needed no rehearsal, they would just start playing whatever was working that night. Or, invariably, there would be musicians from other parts of the City performing other places and they would make their last stop for the evening the Gold Dust Lounge. So, you regularly had jam sessions at the Gold Dust Lounge...spontaneous explosions by people with the horns and the guitars.

It was a well-placed venue for that kind of action and one that the locals DEARLY loved. And the people who visit San Francisco would come to look at us and see we were in the zoo and they were zoo observers. That's how good it really was.

caenMy time at the Gold Dust Lounge was when I actually wandered into the political world back in the early Sixties until Herb died in '97. These were regular visits, not infrequent visits, over a period of 40 years. They were always the last stop on our menu of whatever we were doing on that evening... We never did start at the Gold Dust Lounge...I think the Gold Dust Lounge appreciated us more at the end of the evening then they would have at the beginning.  I loved the ambiance of the Gold Dust Lounge. The openness. I loved the spirit. There was never a downer. I don't think there was one downbeat song. It was always upbeat, it was always good, always enthusiastic and never with any evidence of sadness. That's what I loved about that place. It always made you feel good, no matter what your problem was, you go in the Gold Dust Lounge, your troubles were gone...

Prized seats
The music is raised behind what would be another bar. Then there are the seats. Those are the prized seats in front of the band, particularly at the end near the drums where you can get a perspective of the whole house. Those were our seats. Whoever was there usually had to get up if we came in. We got real special treatment..."

In Herb Caen's own words:
"I'm the last of the nightcap guys. I don't mean I wear an old fashioned nightcap over my Dr. Denton's with the patented drop seat and built-in booties. I mean that when a party ends and all the fogies are heading for their cars, I'm the one who says "Anybody for a nightcap?" It's a generational thing. By me, it's never too late for one for the road.  Only the gallant and gorgeous Ann was game so we headed for the last of the authentic nightcapperies, the Gold Dust on Powell..." Man Playing Typewriter, Herb Caen, San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday March 26, 1996

Janis Joplin at the Gold Dust

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he Gold Dust has been a beloved hangout to countless patrons over the years, some of them notable celebrities like Janis Joplin. Below is an excerpt of an interview Cat Hill did with Jim & Gracia Bovis (owners of the Gold Dust since '66) on the history of the Lounge. Jim & Gracia shared their Janis Joplin story:

Jim: "All kinds of celebrities used to come in to the Gold Dust"

Gracia: "Janis Joplin came to the Gold Dust. Elizabeth Arden turned her down. She wanted to go in and have a facial. She looked pretty wild, she had rings on her fingers and her hair was out here. She looked like a hippie. They refused to wait on her. Then she went into the St. Francis hotel and they refused to wait on her too. They actually just asked her to leave. So she wandered into the Gold Dust"

257988Jim: The bartender at the St. Francis said she had to see a manager to have a drink and she said "why do I have to see a manager to have a drink?" By the time she got to me I was behind a bar with a half a dozen people standing there. So, she walked in, I just waved at her "no, don't come in." And she wouldn't leave. In fact, I said "I'm not going to serve you." She said, "man, please let me have a drink."

Gracia: "Meanwhile a customer wrote down "THAT IS JANIS JOPLIN" and showed Jim"

Jim: "I said, "Janis Joplin doesn't mean anything to me. I didn't want her to stay. Finally, when she wouldn't leave I said, "what do you want?" "A double screw driver," she said. And I said, "do have any money?" I see a lot of hippies, they walk in, say "gimme a drink" then they walk right out.  But she had her hippie purse full of money. She sat down. She got up to play the juke box. A guy by the name of Mike Maloney wrote down on a napkin, "Jim, she's a famous rock star." When she came back from playing the jukebox I said, "hey are you an entertainer, something like that, a musician?" She said "Yes, I am." She said, "you have my records in your jukebox."  And after that when she was in town she would come in and say hello, have a drink. She was a very lovely lady.  She used to shake the dice to see who was going to play the music. At the time, all the bars, they had dice to determine who would pay for the drinks and so on."

The Gold Dust Lounge- 1966

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ustles & Beaus, was a burlesque bar where two waitresses slid simultaneously down a fire pole every half hour or so, as stated a 1960 Examiner article, they couldn't compete with Carol Doda taking her top of in North Beach at the Condor Club in 1964.  As long time Gold Dust bartender Chuck remembers, men thought to themselves, "clothes, no clothes, clothes, -no clothes." So, business died at "Bustles & Beaus," which Bustles-Ashtray2made way for the birth of the Gold Dust Lounge. Current owner Jim Bovis was working up the street at the Yankee Doodle and he bought the lease. The rest is history.

In the words of Historic Preservationist Christopher Verplanck:
"Bustles & Beaus was a burlesque bar, replete with scantily clad cocktail waitresses dressed in Victorian-inspired outfits embellished with – you guessed it – bustles and bows. On the half-hour, waitresses would go up to the mezzanine level above the bar and slide down a fire pole near the front of the bar, where there was also a stage for them to perform. At one time the line to get in the bar went around the block, but when Carol Doda went topless in 1964 at the Condor Lounge, business began to drop off.
Gold Dust Lounge owner Jim Bovis was working at the Yankee Doodle at 447 Powell Street when Bustles & Beaus closed in 1965. He acquired the lease on the space, made a few changes, and opened it as the Gold Dust Lounge in 1966.  Jim's brother Tasios became a partner in 1970.  Jim Bovis remodeled the exterior of the bar in 1966 to open up what had been a dark, windowless interior.  In addition to building a window and seating area, he removed the fire pole and stage at the front of the bar, shortened the bar by several feet, and built a bandstand at the rear of the bar. He also painted the red flocked wallpaper gold. Otherwise, he left the interior alone, leaving the red carpeting and upholstery, as well as the ceiling murals, bathroom doors, and light fixtures.

Jim's wife, Gracia, painted several oil paintings of the cocktail waitresses of the Gold Dust Lounge. These still hang from the walls of the bar.  In 1974, after the marquee was hit by a truck one too many times, Jim and Tasios Bovis had it shortened from 14'-2" to 81" and installed the backlit plastic signs...  When it opened in 1967, the Gold Dust Lounge was exclusively a cocktail lounge, serving no beer or wine. Says Jim Bovis:
"When I first started out my special was a 76 cent Irish coffee. Cocktails were 60 cents. All the drinks were 60 cents. Martinis and Manhattans were before dinner drinks. Drinks were also small at the time. Glasses were small. It was straight alcohol served on the rocks, over ice. At the time, one person could come in and have 5 or 6 drinks but they were an ounce or less. Now they're an ounce and a half. There was no beer or no wine. We've only served draft beer over the last 20 years."

The New Gold Dust Lounge
The New Gold Dust Lounge
Fisherman's Wharf
165 Jefferson St. Suite #1
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 397-1695
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