That’s why, he said, it was important to him and his family to keep their own slice of city history in San Francisco.
“This city was built on bars and saloons,” Bovis said. “We’re trying to keep a sliver of old San Francisco alive.”
On Friday evening, the Bovis family will celebrate the Gold Dust Lounge’s one-year anniversary of moving from its longtime Union Square outpost to tourist hot spot Fisherman’s Wharf. The 6 p.m. celebration is expected to have special guests such as Mayor Ed Lee, former Mayor Willie Brown, comedian Will Durst and other Gold Dust patrons and fans.
The long and winding road to the Wharf started just days before Christmas 2011. That’s when brothers James and Tasios Bovis, who had operated the Gold Dust in Union Square since 1964, were served with an eviction notice by landlord Jon Handlery.
By June 2012, after unsuccessful attempts to remain in the location and nationwide media attention on the eviction, their hopes of keeping the downtown stream of Irish coffees alive were extinguished when the Gold Dust officially left Union Square to make way for an Express clothing store.
In between, the Bovises sued over claims that they were deceived during lease negotiations to the point of “elder abuse” while the Handlerys counter-sued and sought $25,000 for breach of contract. There also were attempts to have the establishment made an official landmark, but that did not materialize.
“If you have a city full of chain stores, you’ll have a city just like the rest,” Bovis said.
But within three months of finding their Fisherman’s Wharf location, Bovis and a construction crew renovated the space, bringing the red-velvet seating, damask wallpaper and Old West chandeliers to the very heart of the former Barbary Coast. The venue, which is three times larger than the Union Square location, hosts cherub murals on the ceiling that replicate those in the former bar space.
“The most rewarding part of it all is that old customers are coming in and saying that it feels just like the old place,” Bovis said.
Though Bovis admits they’ve lost some of the locals who used to frequent the Union Square watering hole, they’ve gained some new ones at Fisherman’s Wharf. As for the numbers, Bovis said they’re doing about the same at the new location.
“There are so many stories that surround the Gold Dust Lounge,” Bovis said. “People finding their oasis from the shopping chaos here, couples getting married there, fathers bringing their sons here.”
Some of those stories involve the celebrity patrons who frequented the place, such as Jackie Gleason, Janis Joplin and beloved newspaper columnist Herb Caen. The latter, according to Bovis, often came in for his nightcap in his designated barstool: a Vitamin V, which was a vodka spritzer served in a wine glass with an orange wedge.
In the future, Bovis said, he hopes the family’s younger generation will take the reins as he did from his father.
And come March, he is planning to spice up the evening with burlesque shows after 10 p.m.
“I’m a big believer in letting San Francisco go a little wild,” Bovis said.
All in the name of tradition.