Saturday, February 20, 2021

Risqué’ Whiskey V: The End of the Line?

 

Foreword:  Over the past decade this blog on four prior occasions has featured articles dealing with the propensity of pre-Prohibition whiskey advertising to use suggestive and nude images to sell booze.  In the Note below I have listed those prior offerings.  During the past three years since the last such post, I have been able to collect ten more examples.  They were found on saloon signs, trade cards, pocket mirrors, shot glasses and other whiskey memorabilia. While the genre has by no means been exhausted, finding additional illustrations has become increasingly difficult.  Thus the title of this post.


Grommes & Ulrich have provided a delightfully suggestive tableau for a saloon sign advertising their “Marquette Pure Rye,” a whiskey ironically named for a Jesuit priest.  The master of the house is giving a quick kiss to an unresisting maid bringing him a bottle of whiskey.  The scene is completed by the gent tossing the maid’s apron over the head of his onlooking daughter.  Hubert Grommes and Michael Ulrich were proprietors of a liquor, wine and speciality grocery store on Chicago’s LaSalle Street for almost half a century.



Partially or totally bare breasted Indian maidens were another
 common theme for saloon signs.   In Saginaw, Michigan, Otto L. Dittmar, president, and L.R. Cooper, secretary-treasurer, presented this appealing image of a Native American girl to wholesale customers such as saloons, hotels and restaurants.  Dittmar, Cooper & Co. sold both at wholesale and retail from their liquor store at 300-302 Lapeer Avenue.


Somehow a partially clothed form was more acceptable for advertising whiskey if it was a reproduction of an artist’s rending.  The image of “Flora” is one of several from a booklet entitled “Famous Paintings…Funny Stories” that would have been given to the retail customers of I. Trager & Co., a Cincinnati liquor house.  All the paintings featured nudes.  “Flora” was the work of Max Nonnenbruch (1857-1922), a Germain painter from the Munich School, known for his Neoclassicism scenes. 


The Tragers’  Ohio liquor house had a penchant for undress.  It issued a trade card featuring a scene in which a winged and naked Cupid is whispering into the ear of Venus, in Greek mythology, his mother.  The company, according to Cincinnati directories, was in business from 1887 until 1918 when Ohio Voted “dry.”  The proprietors were I. Newton and J. Garfield Trager.  They were being supplied by the Old Darling distillery of Prestonville, KY.

 

John A. Bennett, the proprietor of the Crystal Bar, on this pocket mirror below advertised with full frontal nudity to his Forth Worth clientele The discovery of celluloid had made possible capturing elaborate color scenes on these advertising items and proved popular with the public.  Bennett advertised vigorously, emphasizing in his print ads his “Special Hand Made Sour Mash Whiskey” made by Master Distiller H. M. Levy in Trimble County, KY.  



Of all the risqué items that pre-Prohibition men issued to wholesale and retail customers, the most blatant use of nudity to sell whiskey was from a saloonkeeper in perhaps the most unlikely city in America:  the so-called “City of Saints,” — Salt Lake City, Utah.  Shown above is a pocket mirror issued in the Mormon city that displays a nude woman admiring herself in a mirror.  It was one of several such mirrors issued by Charles H. Reilley.  In 1892 he opened a retail liquor store at State and First South Street.  Reilley called it the Elk Liquor Store.  The establishment likely held a saloon.



Yet another common liquor advertising item was calendars.  Shown here is the August 1911 page from Goldberg, Bowen & Company of San Francisco.  It notes  that  August was named by Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar after himself to commemorate his military feats. It shows the emperor in a victory parade led by a mostly unclad lass who is spreading rose pedals in the path of his chariot. The company’s origins began with  Bowen Bros., fruit merchants, and grocery, and wine and tea merchants, Lebenbaum & Goldberg. In 1881 the two firms consolidated and became Lebenbaum, Goldberg & Bowen. In 1885 Bowen bought out Lebenbaum and the company became known as Goldberg, Bowen & Co.


William Drueke, a German immigrant who settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, featured a whiskey he called “Loreley” and marketed it with a bare-bosomed figure of a woman.  It recalls the German legend of a beautiful maiden who threw herself into the Rhine River in despair over a faithless lover and was transformed into a siren who lured fishermen to destruction. In English she is known as Lorelei.  With a partner Drueke opened his own Grand Rapids liquor house in 1883 but dissolved the partnership in 1888 and became sole proprietor. The business name was changed to Wm. Drueke Company.


Shot glasses were not a usual medium for nude images but from time to time were employed by liquor dealers.  For their shots advertising “Spring Hill Perfection Whiskey,” Lazarus and Adolph Scharff of St. Louis chose a Lorelei-like figure in a flowing dress.  Often calling themselves distillers, the Scharffs were drawing liquor from several sources including from a registered distillery in Anderson County, Kentucky.  Their firm success is indicated by their being in business from 1883 to 1918, a run of 35 years. 



Although pictures on shot glasses were small, they often showed off the artistic abilities of the craftsmen who etched them.  So it is with the final image in this series, an elaborate illustration apparently of Lady Godiva. The large rearing horse, apparently spooked by a tree branch, and apparently in danger of throwing the nude passenger, provides a lively ad for “Mazeppa Bourbon.” This was one of at least nine brands featured by Hildebrandt, Posner & Company of San Francisco.  This wholesaler claimed ownership of the Rock Island Distilling Company  of Covington, Kentucky.


Note:  The four prior “risque' whiskey” posts can be found on this website at January 15, 2011, July 7, 2012, July 5, 2013, and December 9, 2017.

























Saturday, February 6, 2021

Hiding in the Oval Office Drapes

 


In October 1963,  my boss, Rep. Clem Zablocki, received an invitation to be part of a sizable delegation of congressmen and senators meeting President Kennedy at the White House to protest foreign imports of shoes and gloves.  Milwaukee was a major producer.  Zablocki was overseas on that date and I was asked to substitute by the White House. 


At the appointed hour I joined a delegation of senators and congressmen, led by Sen. Ten Kennedy, at the White House.  Kennedy shook our hands and was polite but noncommittal on protecting the domestic shoe industry.  An official photo was taken in the Oval Office and, as the only staffer present, I am in the very back visible only by my horn rim glasses. 


As it turned out, being stage rear had an advantage.  Eventually Kennedy invited the delegation to go out onto the White House lawn because Marshal Tito, “President for Life” of Yugoslavia would be arriving momentarily.  He would be reviewing troops on the lawn and both leaders would speak to the assemblage. 


The thought of seeing the fabled resistance leader of World War II up close overrode my good judgment. The delegation was instructed to walk outside for the ceremony and everyone filed out open glass doors behind the President’s desk. Leaving had absolutely no appeal to me. I concealed myself behind a drape in the Oval Office in order to get a better look at an historic moment.  


Dressed in a mouse-gray military uniform with gold trim and dripping with medals,  Joseph Broz Tito strode into the room with a vigor that belied his 71 years and the several attempts by Hitler and Stalin to kill him. I looked on for at least five minutes, apparently unobserved by the Secret Service. Using translators Tito and Kennedy chatted briefly and then were ushered to the West Lawn. I followed, cautiously peeling out an adjacent exit lest I attract notice.  


In the security atmosphere of recent times my gambit might have gotten me at least a reprimand or even arrest.   But it left me with a good story.  On several occasions I have regaled listeners in Montenegro and Serbia, once part of Yugoslavia, with the story of hiding out and seeing Tito “up close and personal” at the White House.












Saturday, January 23, 2021

Gilbert & Sullivan: An Appreciation

 

Since high school I have been an unabashed fan of the light operas of W.S. Gilbert, who wrote the lyrics, and Sir Arthur Sullivan (no relation) who wrote the music. Here they are shown in a cartoon, Gilbert at left. Their operas go in and out of fashion — currently out except for the occasional production of the always popular “Pirates of Penzance” by high school and local theatre groups.  


Virtually forgotten are two Gilbert & Sullivan offerings that are particular favorites of mine, “Patience, or Bunthorne’s Bride” and “Yeoman of the Guard.”  The former was first performed in 1881, not long after the pair had a smash hit with “The Mikado.”  It was the first theatrical production in the world to be lit entirely by electric light.  The opera is a spoof of the aesthetic movement of that period in England that paid homage to “art for art’s sake” rather than for any pragmatic ends.


The story revolves around two foppish poets, Reginald Bunthorne, “a Fleshly Poet” and the Archibald Grosvenor, “an Idyllic Poet.” A photo shows them on stage; Bunthorne is standing. The first act opens with a chorus of women singing “Twenty love sick maidens we…”   All are in love with Bunthorne, who adores reciting his “highly aesthetic” poetry to the fawning women.  Among his admirers is Patience, a lowly milkmaid.  Bunthorne dominates the first act, until the very end when in a pivotal moment Grosvenor shows up declaring:


“I am a broken hearted troubadour 

Who’s mind’s aesthetic and whose tastes are pure!”


The lovesick maidens are immediately attracted:


“Aesthetic!  He is aesthetic!”


To which the Idyllic Poet replies:


 “Yes, yes—I am aesthetic, and poetic!



That is enough for the fickle maidens to abandon Bunthorne.  They sing to Grosvenor:


Then, we love you!


Leading up to this moment the music has been romantically lush.  Now comes a quartet involving the maidens, Patience, and the two poets that is truly memorable — and the curtain falls.  The second act continues Gilbert’s clever foolery, again to Sullivan’s appropriate music.  In the end Grosvenor shucks off his poet’s garb for a business suit and the lovesick maids decide to abandon the aesthetic pose and become “everyday young girls.”  Although Jane still claims to be aesthetic, she rejects Bunthorne for a Duke.  Although the movement satirized in “Patience” is ancient history, deflating pomposity has enduring appeal.



“Yeoman of the Guard,” subtitled “The Merryman and His Maid,”  is a later offering from Gilbert & Sullivan.  Set in the Tower of London, above, during the 16th Century, it has dark overtones quite different from the frivolity of their earlier work. For example the action takes place at a prison, with a leading character under sentence of death.  Critics consider Sullivan’s score to be among the finest music he composed, however, and the overture continues to be popular as an opening  for orchestras.


The “merryman” is Point, a court jester, in love with Elsie, a singer, who performs with him.  Elsie, who needs medicine for her sick mother and for money agrees to marry Colonel Fairfax, a man being held in the Tower who is to be beheaded the next day.  After Point facilitates the nuptials, Fairfax escapes and a whole series of events ensue, many designed to elicit sympathy for Point.  In the end, Elsie turns away from Point finally to marry Fairfax, who has received a reprieve.  Point sings: 


“It’s the song of a merryman, moping mum,

Whose soul was sad and whose glance was glum,

Who sipped no sup, and who craved no crumb,

As he died for the love of a ladye.”


The stage directions then say that as Fairfax and Elsie embrace, “Point falls insensitive at their feet,” and the opera concludes.  Some have interpreted the ending to mean that Point dies, certainly an unusual ending for a light opera.

Other commentators think the jester merely faints.  Whatever the interpretation, with elements reminiscent of both Puccini’s “Tosca” and Verdi’s “Rigoletto,”  “Yeoman of the Guard” is a far cry from Gilbert & Sullivan’s early comic operas.



My hope is that as fashions in musical entertainment come and go a future generation will discover the joys of Gilbert & Sullivan and revive these operas on stage.  In the meantime many of them, including the two reviewed here, can be found on CDs.
































Saturday, January 9, 2021

Who Killed Pakistan’s President Zia?

 With the exception of days in Indochina during the Vietnam War, only occasionally have I been caught up in political crises abroad. In that genre perhaps the most notable event was my trip to Pakistan in 1988 to develop a proposal to support U.S. business development efforts there.   On my second day in Islamabad, I was having drinks at the home of a former USAID colleague, when the phone rang.   His daughter answered.


“Dad,  they want to talk to you.


“Get the number and tell them I will call back,” my host replied.


“Dad, it’s the Embassy,  they say it is urgent.”


When he returned, his face was ashen.   “The President’s plane has crashed on takeoff.  He was aboard with the American ambassador, Arnie Raphael.  Both are dead.”


The President was Mohammud Zia ul-Haq, the same Zia who had insulted Carter, winked at the burning of the American Embassy by a mob in 1980,  and ordered the execution of his predecessor,  Zulfikar ali Bhutto, despite the pleas of international leaders, including the Pope.   The general was widely known as the Bad Zia among American diplomats to differentiate him from President Zia of neighboring Bangladesh, known as the Good Zia.


There ensued an almost surreal five days during which the U.S. embassy strictly decreed that all Americans should stay in their hotels.   Television showed scenes of wild emotion among crowds surging here and there.  At the same time, with all shops closed, streets downtown were empty and quiet.  I was unable to visit the USAID Mission.  It was closed.  Nor could I visit the quarters of local collaborating organizations and potential subcontractors.


A Pakistani businessman whom I had hired to help me arrange appointments was a member of the inner circle of Benizir Bhutto, later to be Prime Minister herself.  As Pakistani and world leaders memorialized Zia with words of praise,  Benizir was quoted in the Islamabad press expressing a few tepid words of sympathy.


“What is she really saying behind the scenes?”  I ask my contact.  


“The Lady  [as he always referred to her] says that justice has come to the man who murdered her father.”


In this atmosphere of heightened tensions, the Embassy advised all Americans to stay off the street.  A quiet service quickly was conducted for Ambassador Raphael, whom I had never met, shown here at his swearing in by President Reagan.  He was buried in a local cemetery.


I found it possible to do business only by asking contacts to meet me in the hotel lobby.  A half dozen contacts visited to discuss the project over the ensuing days.  Even that traffic stopped as the day of the funeral approached.  There was nothing to do but watch on television from my hotel room as wild expressions of grief and political turmoil gripped Pakistan.


As these tumultuous events were unfolding, my head was throbbing with the worst toothache I have ever experienced.   Quickly running out of aspirin, I went searching for more.  There were only two tablets in the entire hotel and no way of going anywhere to get more.   Forced to substitute by sucking on ice cubes made from tap water, I soon compounded my misery by bringing on  “Mohammed’s revenge.”


The moment I stepped aboard my Pan Am airplane bound for the U.S. it was like waking from a very bad nightmare.  The attendant quickly brought me aspirin and the trip home was blissful.  The USAID project for which I had ventured to Pakistan, however, subsequently was cancelled.  My trip had been a wild goose chase.


No conclusive proof exists on why Zia’s plane went down.  There have been plenty of theories:   a suicidal pilot,  a nerve gas bomb in the cabin,  a sidewinder missile launched from the end of the runway.  Because the airplane was a U.S.-made C-130, suspicion fell on Americans. One or two individuals who wrongly have thought me a covert member of the “Company” have suggested that my presence in Pakistan at that time was more than coincidental.


My response:  “The CIA is not in the habit of killing the American ambassador.”  But then again maybe I do not see enough movies.



Note:  Above is Ambassador  Raphael as his swearing in by President Reagan.






Saturday, December 26, 2020

N.C. Wyeth Defined Advertising Art

 

Foreword:  Fascinated by the design and images of American advertising, I previously have featured on this website a number of well-known artists and illustrators who have made notable contributions to the genre.  They have included Thomas Hart Benton, Norman Rockwell, Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisal, and Ludwig Bemelmans. This post is devoted to the acknowledged dean of American illustrators whose career spanned almost half a century, N.C. Wyeth.


One of the most successful illustrators of all time, Newell Convers Wyeth, shown here,  was born in Needham, Massachusetts in 1882.  Wyeth showed an early passion for drawing and was encouraged by his family.  Beside credited with more than 4,000 illustrations, N.C. Wyeth is famous for being the father of artist Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of artist Jamie Wyeth— among the  most famous families in the history of American art.


N.C. Wyeth’s first illustration, published when he was 21, ran in the Saturday Evening Post in 1903.  Soon after he became in demand to do advertising art.  Here I have displayed a dozen of the artist’s commercial illustrations, roughly from his early career to his final days.  The 1906 ad for Cream of Wheat hot breakfast cereal demonstrates that the young man had a lively sense of humor.  My reading is that this grizzled old rancher has made his Cream of Wheat case into his mail box.  Although born an Easterner Wyeth early made rugged Western themes central to his artistic efforts.


In 1909 he did another ad “going postal,” this time entitled “Alaskan Mail Carrier” and advertising Champion Harvesting Machines.  They were the product of a farm machinery company located in Springfield, Ohio.  What message Wyeth was attempting to convey escapes me.  A tough looking postman has dropped his mail pouch on the ground while he has shot down no fewer than eight wolves that apparently were intent on making dinner out of him.  Perhaps the Alaskan was “harvesting.”


Guns were a familiar object in Wyeth illustrations.  In a period encompassing at least 1909-1911, he did a series of ads for the Winchester repeating arms company of New Haven Connecticut.  Among them were the relatively benign illustration of a hunter with two dogs hunting in a corn field.  The target likely was pheasants.  The quarry in a second Wyeth effort for Remington is distinctly more dangerous as a duo of hunters bang away at a bear.



During the following decade the age of the automobile came to full bloom with car companies springing up all over the landscape.  Among them was the Overland Motor Company, originally located in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Wyeth gave  the automaker a view of their #1075 Runabout in a Wild West setting, showing riders on horseback enthusiastically welcoming the Overland to the “lone prairie.”  Lest we lose the meaning, in the upper left he shows ox-drawn wagons and labels the central image, “The West of Today.”



The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company was an American motor vehicle manufacturer based in Buffalo, New York, that was active from 1901 to 1938.  Pierce-Arrow was best known for its expensive luxury cars, some of which were still running in my childhood.  The picture is of a blacksmith with space in the upper right for the sales pitch.  Another automobile-related picture was done in 1917 for the Fisk Tire Company,  headquartered in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts.  It shows workers bringing balls of rubber to a ship docked in some tropical port, perhaps in the Caribbean.   Although an attractive picture, it romanticizes the often harsh realities faced by rubber workers. 


 


That lack of sensitivity is also is evident in this 1935 ad for Paul Jones Whiskey.  Jones and his successors, strong believers in the Confederate cause, in the 1930s shaped company advertising around a pre-bellum gentility that was largely a myth.  Here the Colonel is commanding his obviously enthralled black servant:  “Toby, fetch…”  A similar whitewashing of history occurred in a series of ads Wyeth did for Philip Morris on the theme “Nature in the Raw is seldom MILD.”   At left below is a heroic depiction of General George Armstrong Custer firing away at the surrounding Indians, far from the modern day view of the reckless commander.  At right, two menacing Indians look down on a group of (unseen) pioneers below them.  The text suggests Wyeth was“inspired by the fierce cruelty of the savages….”



Wyeth seems to have found other, more benign, sources of inspiration as he gave a definite Norman Rockwell look to a circa 1936 ad from Coca Cola A frequent illustrator for the soft drink manufacturer, he shows a straw-hatted boy with a pole and his dog headed off to the “old fishin’ hole.”  The lad has two bottles of Coke in his hand.  While the theme is redolent of Rockwell, the clouds that are the backdrop for the image are patently Wyeth.




The final illustration below is similarly benign.  Done for the Home Insurance Company near the end of Wyeth’s career in 1940, it depicts Daniel Boone with his family and others crossing the Appalachian Mountains to reach their new home in Kentucky.  Although Boone and others in the party are carrying rifles, a tone of tranquility is set by the woman riding a horse and tending to a baby. 


Killed in a train-car accident in 1944, Wyeth left a lasting mark on American advertising but that accomplisment is perhaps is less well recognized than his contribution to book illustration.  The artist’s ability vividly to present to his audiences images ranging from the violent to the romantic and bucolic, all done with equal skill, mark him as a master.


Note:  The information about N.C. Wyeth was gleaned from multiple Internet sources, as were the illustrations of his work in advertising. 







































Saturday, December 12, 2020

High Jinks at the UN General Assembly


In the Fall of 1973 I moved to New York City for the General Assembly Session of the United Nations (UNGA) as part of the U.S. delegation.  As an assistant to two congressional delegates. I had an office in a nearby building, a secretary, and a mandate to keep the House members happy.  From the beginning things went badly.  


Henry Kissinger had just been named U.S. Secretary of State,  having successfully undermined the incumbent, William Rogers,  with President Nixon.  Kissinger was anxious to be part of the U.S. delegation at the opening ceremonies of the General Assembly.   Since his confirmation was still pending in the Senate,  his status was still unofficial and as a result he was assigned to the periphery of the U.S. retinue.  


Henry ended up seated next to one of the congressmen, the Honorable Robert Nix of Pennsylvania,  an elderly African-American gentleman and longtime member of the House of Representatives and chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa.   The United States delegation was seated alphabetically right next to the folks from Upper Volta and their sign was not far from Nix’s elbow. Kissinger leaned over to Nix as the Assembly was coming to order and inquired in a friendly fashion:  “How are things going in your country?”


Highly insulted and disdaining to explain,  Nix walked out and could not be found later for the delegation photograph or to accept Henry’s apology.   Although an official member of the delegation, I had not been invited to the opening session and was in my office when the frantic calls came in from the State Department.   When I stopped laughing,  I began to look for Nix and finally found Nix at the fancy Beekman Towers apartment the US/UN Embassy had rented for him.  


“Tell ‘em to go to hell,”  he growled.   Although he continued to occupy the Beekman and take the New York per diem,  Nix never showed at another UN meeting or social function for the entire four months.


The plus side of Nix’s absence was his willingness to let me program his $800 representation allowance.   Bradford Morse, a former Massachusetts congressman who now headed the United Nations Development Program,  proposed that the U.S. congressional contingent host an event for all the parliamentarians in the various delegations.  John Buchanan, the other House member,  was willing so we arranged a catered lunch in one of the UN Headquarters dining rooms.


At issue was alcohol.  Buchanan was a Baptist minister and at least theoretically a teetotaler.    After I pointed out that a glass of wine was appropriate -- for toasts and the like at international gatherings -- he agreed but seemed reluctant.


The response to our invitation was huge.   It seemed that virtually every country in the world had 1) one or more parliamentarian delegate,  2) delegates who once had been parliamentarians, or 3)  perhaps my imagination -- people who would like to be thought of as parliamentarians and thereby nab a free lunch.


The banquet table seemed to stretch the length of the building.  “It will take a while to prepare meals for this many.  There will be a short delay until we can serve,”  the maitre d' whispered to me.  “May we offer some mixed drinks before lunch?”


I went to Buchanan with the problem, and he promptly tossed the decision back to me.  “Serve ‘em up,”  I told the maitre d'.  The short delay turned into over hour -- a period during which the alcohol flowed like water, with notable effects on our guests.  During the meal a Dutch delegate -- a stocky gentleman with one arm -- rose majestically and roared,”I propose a toast.”  Everyone raised a glass and a long silence ensued.  “I drunk,” the Dutchman concluded.  “I sit down.” 


Shortly after that an African gentleman from Niger, who was elegantly dressed in an embroidered gown and wearing a tall conical hat, slid out of his seat and under the table.   As I left, clutching a bill that was more than double the estimate,  Brad Morse,  our guest of honor,  was waltzing enthusiastically with a gray-haired waitress.


Lest it be thought that the United Nations is solely a party animal, serious things were happening there as well.   The 1973 October War broke out in the Middle East during the session and the UN Security Council began to meet early and late to obtain a ceasefire.  The crisis occurred during a high boiling point in the Sino-Soviet rift.  


While these events of some magnitude swirled around me, my role was minimal.   Although I was accredited to the United States delegation and bore all necessary credentials,  State Department officers apparently were frightened that I might someday be embolden to speak during one of the committee session I regularly attended.   On one occasion when I momentarily was left alone as the sole American representative at a meeting, the Embassy dispatched a 23-year-old secretary  to replace me in the American chair.


In the final analysis, I found the United Nations -- essential as it is -- too much talk and too little action.   By comparison, the UN made the Congress of the United States look like a dynamo of action.  When the General Assembly session ended,  I returned to Capitol Hill with not a little relief.






 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf

 In the Summer of 1950 when I was fifteen the family drove from Ohio to California to visit close relatives in Pasadena.  We were treated to a weekend in San Francisco, a city this adolescent immediately fell in love with and declared to all who would listen that this was the place he wanted to live as an adult.  Contributing significantly to this euphoria was finding Fisherman’s Wharf, shown below, and the seafood served there.




The story of Fisherman’s Wharf began in 1900 when the State of California set aside that area of the San Francisco waterfront for commercial fishing boats.  That led to fishermen selling part of their catch to retail customers from wharf side stalls.  Then one enterprising fisherman had the idea of selling clam chowder across his counter to hungry patrons, according to historians.  A neighboring stall added table and chairs.  Soon others got the memo and dropped angling in the deep to angle for diners.  Among them was Mike Geraldi, who abandoned his boat after 26 years and built a restaurant — Fisherman’s Grotto.  About 1930 he served the first complete seafood meals on the Wharf.



It was to Fisherman’s Grotto that the family hied that weekend.  The dinner was delicious.  I became thoroughly hooked on Grotto seafood and recall insisting on going back a second night.  Same result.  I never realized my dream of living in Frisco, going East instead, but as an adult transited through the city on several occasions on trips abroad, staying a night or two downtown or near the airport, never venturing anywhere near the wharf.  In the meantime I heard tales that Fisherman’s Wharf had become a tourist “trap,” somewhat seedy and the food mediocre.


All that changed in 2003 when I came to San Francisco for a weeklong conference, staying in a hotel not far from the wharf area.  Arriving in the city in the early morning, my cab took us up Jefferson Street right past Fisherman’s Wharf.  More than a half century had passed since I had last been there and a wave of nostalgia washed over me.  I had to go back.



Lucky some of my fellow conferees were of the same mind.  Better yet, they knew of one of the Wharf restaurants that still had a solid reputation:  Scoma’s.  Shown on a map here, this eatery was opened in 1965 by Al Scoma in a small coffee shop on Pier 47 that served local fishermen breakfast and burgers.  From that small beginning Scoma and his brother expanded the place into what has been called “one of the nation's highest grossing independent restaurants.”



Because it is both highly successful and relatively small, with no reservations taken, it is also difficult to get into.  Often with long lines of perspective patrons stretch down Pier 47.  By judicious timing of a visit, however, it is possible to endure only a relatively short wait — one well worth the trouble.  That week and subsequently, whenever in San Francisco, I found my way to one of Scoma’s restaurant tables and enjoyed.


The experience also invariably casts me back those many years I first cast eyes on Fisherman’s Wharf and San Francisco, deciding then and there to make the city my future home. Instead, I will settle for looking at a few souvenirs and remember boyish dreams.