Too many years ago, I moved to California with six friends. We had met working in restaurants and a German class at the University of Minnesota; some of us had other friends out here already, and as all our circles of acquaintances rippled outward and overlapped, we enjoyed getting to know our new home. The whole world may not have been our oyster, but San Francisco was quite enough.
A few times that mobile party took us in the vicinity of the Gold Dust Lounge, down near Union Square. Many of my friends were once again making good money in restaurants (and staying out late) while I was just getting established in the 8 to 5 world. Plus, the touristy Union Square area wasn’t the ambiance we sought. (Why pay $4-5 for a beer when they were $2-3 in our neighborhood joints?) Needing to be at work early also made late nights difficult; I could rally through the morning, but after putting lunch in my belly there were some brutal afternoons. So I didn’t visit the Gold Dust Lounge often, but I saw the place a few times, and appreciated a rollicking joint as much as the next person.
I do remember being surprised during the holidays in the late 1980s when I found out several of my coworkers not only didn’t know what a Tom & Jerry was, but had never heard of the drink. I called the Gold Dust and, sure enough, they could serve them, so I arranged an afterwork office outing to Union Square; they were as delicious as I remembered.
Recently the Gold Dust got into a squabble with their landlord. There were articles in the newspaper about the place getting shut down after all these years, and ad hoc efforts to rally support and keep the place open. Ultimately the landlord succeeded in shutting the old venue down.
Among those reminiscing about it was former mayor (and former speaker of the California assembly) Willie Brown, who remembered: ” I palled around with Herb Caen, the famous Pulitzer prize winning columnist [who] 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. … 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.”
Early this winter I happened to pass by early one morning and found the front door open. The whole interior had been gutted, even the wall with the adjoining business. I pulled out my mobile phone and took a couple blurry shots. The first shows the bar itself (it had been at left). I also noticed the false ceiling, now exposed:
Here is the view from the front door of the lounge to the space of the next door business at right.
It’s going to be a clothing store. The space that had been the Gold Dust will now be the escalators. I’m not too inclined to give them my business.
Meanwhile the Save the Gold Dust crowd has something to celebrate. From one touristy area to another: the new Gold Dust will soon open up in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. From the looks of it, they’ve done a good job of re-creating the space, with lots of red and gold to the inviting interior. Sure, it’s touristy—but it was before, too. If you are ever in the neighborhood, you should check it out; if it’s anything like the old place, there are lots of friendly spirits in the new haunt.