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A Bueno Brunch At Buena Vista Cafe, Home of Irish Coffee

This is as clear as we could get our packed table for a shot of the Buena Vista Cafe's trademark Irish Coffee.
This is as clear as we could get our packed table for a shot of the Buena Vista Cafe's trademark Irish Coffee.
Photos by Andrea Grimes and Man O' The Hour

Generally speaking, I don't recommend visiting restaurants that have attached gift shops if you are over the age of 10. And really, if you're under the age of 10 believe me when I tell you: Absolutely nobody gives a shit about your Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt collection, least of all the cadre of friends and relatives you've baby-bullied with your tiny, nerdchild tears into bringing you back the overpriced sartorial souvenirs. And in a few years, even Goodwill is not going to give a shit about your Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt collection. No one will think less of you if you don't ever get the Madrid shirt, Andrea, nobody! NOBODY! GIVE IT UP NOW AND START COLLECTING VINYL.

Oh, dear.

But specifically speaking -- if it gets any more specific than addressing your 10-year-old self on a Dallas food blog -- I do recommend visiting the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco, which has a gift shop but! but! also what is probably the country's, if not the world's, finest Irish Coffee and a crab eggs Benedict that will make your brain fall out of your head if you try to understand how great it is.

I spent the New Year's weekend in Northern California with the Man O' The Hour, who took me on a whirlwind 72-hour tour of his homeland. We visited some mighty fine dive bars and ate In-N-Out Burger (tasty, but I'm not sure I understand the hype). We scarfed down Indian pizza, something I hope catches on with more fervor than Korean tacos. And we ate brunch at the historic Buena Vista, which is in the touristy area over by Geerardelli Square. I am not going to look up how to spell that because we have brunchy booze and eggs to discuss, both of which are mightily superior to chocolate.

New Year's Day was probably as crowded as any hangover Saturday near the water, with soggy, cold patrons fighting for first-come, first-serve seats inside the wood-paneled bar, behind which imposing, gray-haired bartenders responded to calls of "MAKE FIVE! MAKE TWO!" from vested waitresses counting Irish coffee orders.

The mix of locals and tourists made the place feel a bit like McSorley's in New York City, the Man O' The Hour mused. It's homey and friendly, but also a guidebook destination. The bar and cafe is too loud and messy and difficult to navigate for faint-of-heart tourists, and if you've got a full agenda of buying sourdough, chocolate and reproduction prison uniforms from Alcatraz, you're not going to want to spend a couple of hours elbowing your way through a plate of eggs.

Bloody Buena Vista Mary, con giant stalk o' celery.
Bloody Buena Vista Mary, con giant stalk o' celery.

We found a place at the bar a few minutes after 11 a.m., ordered a couple of Bloody Marys, and had two seats at a round five-top in 15 minutes or so. The Buena Vista Cafe is known for its Irish coffees -- they say the drink was more or less invented there -- but I needed some vitamins with which tamp down my New Year's Eve hangover, so Marys came first in squat glasses filled to the brim with what I believe was a spicy Clamato mix and ridiculously tall celery stalks that dwarfed our fat chalices. Our final bill wasn't itemized, but the delicious, tangy drinks couldn't have been more than $5 apiece.

We sat down among some middle-aged Bay Area outliers sporting tie-dyed T-shirts and a couple of white-boy 'fro-puffs, downing Irish coffees as if some set decorator had put them there to make sure I got my fill of Northern California hippies on the trip. They recommended the Crab Benedict, which we ordered along with the Eggs Blackstone for something like $13 apiece, because when somebody says "grilled tomato," I say "Immediately, please!"

Insert joke about getting crabs here.
Insert joke about getting crabs here.

The Crab Benedict "

Find the Eggs Blackstone under all that Hollandaise.
Find the Eggs Blackstone under all that Hollandaise.

For dessert, we ordered two Irish coffees, made with Tullamore Dew and a dollop of the most amazing almost-whipped cream I've ever tasted. The cream, it seems, is a big part of the Buena Vista secret. It's aged and then whipped until it's not quite actual whipped cream, so it floats perfectly on top of the whiskey and coffee. The bartenders at the Buena Vista are said to make up to 2,000 of the drinks per day, which possibly accounts for how cheap they are -- again, probably a fiver each.

I could have sat inside that toasty bar all day long, alternating Bloody Marys and Irish coffees, watching the rainy day float by the San Francisco Bay. But alas, there were bridges and seals to see, so we closed our mightily affordable tab and headed back into the Northern California rain. I didn't stop in the gift shop.


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