Sam Jordan’s in Bayview keeps its unique vibe alive 

click to enlarge Channel Beasley
  • Jessica Christian/Special to the S.f. Examiner
  • Bartender Channel Beasley talks with customers at Sam Jordan’s Bar in the Bayview, where Sam Jordan’s children are still keeping his legacy as a community leader alive.
It’s Saturday night, and I’m cutting a rug in the middle of a crowd of white collars, gray vests, shiny dresses and high heels at Sam Jordan’s Bar.

It’s the Jones family reunion at the Bayview watering hole and barbecue joint.

Too $hort is blaring through the speakers as LED lights are tracing through the room. Some folks are two-steppin’, while others are droppin’ it low. People are sweating out the problems of the long workweek to the clap and the bass, some with their arms wide as if they’re driving a big rig.

And there are dreadlocks, fades, big chains and hoop earrings that you could fit your hand through. Some are drinking Hennessey from plastic cups. Others are imbibing blue curacao and apple puckers. Uncles and aunties. Nieces and nephews.

And then there is Mr. C, an old-school player rocking suede and a turtleneck. So cool he never breaks a sweat.

“You got to keep your bank tight — young women like OGs, we got the manner, we got the money and that’s what they need,” Mr. C tells me, top hat and alligator wingtips pointed in my direction.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Sam Jordan’s is a popular neighborhood bar that’s served as a community anchor for generations. It received landmark status from The City in 2013.

In 1959, Texas-born Navy veteran and boxer Sam Jordan opened his namesake bar after renovating a tavern that had occupied the site since the 1880s. At the time, most bars refused to serve black people. Jordan welcomed all races, and even women, too.

A community man who would often feed homeless people and was involved in the politics of the district, he eventually went on to become the first black person to run for mayor in San Francisco. It was 1963, during the height of the civil-rights movement. Though he didn’t win, finishing fourth, he nevertheless became known as the “Mayor of Butchertown,” a reference to the Bayview’s history of slaughterhouses.

In its prime, Sam Jordan’s hosted some big acts — Sammy Davis Jr., Ramona King and Nate Thurman, to name a few.

After Jordan’s passing in 2003, his children Allen and Ruth run the operation along with Ruth’s husband, Clyde Colen.

Though Jordan was father to eight, he was a mentor to many more.

“He always claimed he had 19 or 20 kids,” Allen said. “He was father to a lot by love, not blood.”

Ruth and Clyde run the bar portion while Allen runs the kitchen, which pumps out barbecue favorites such as oysters, ribs, brisket, chicken, mac and cheese, and cobblers.

When I asked for Allen’s fried chicken recipe, he assured me it was something I couldn’t have.

“You want the recipe? Get out your pen and write this down,” Allen said. “Here it is: salt, pepper, black power.”

The bar still resonates as more of a gathering place than a spot to get drunk. It is believed that the bar is located in what was once an old social-services building.

“It’s still like the social-services center, just without the government support,” Clyde said. “No problems. Just family.”

To carry on what Sam Jordan did for the community, the kitchen serves up a free meal every Tuesday for all bar patrons.

Contrary to the notion that the Bayview-Hunters Point is a dangerous place to go out, I felt completely safe and welcome, like I was part of the family — even in a sea of unfamiliar faces.

I’ll be back.

About The Author

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado

Bio:
Rhys Alvarado is a cocktail enthusiast and sucker for soul and sweet reggae music. A food and drink blogger since 2009, Rhys has sipped his way from Hawaii to Santa Barbara and up the coast to San Francisco, where he's found a glorious wave of craft concoctions and expert drink-makers.
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