Beloved Nob Hill bar's days numbered? 

For nearly 40 years, lower Nob Hill denizens have treated a modest bar in their neighborhood as a comfortable living room. But now they find themselves waging a passionate campaign to prevent the place from closing down in June.

Loyal patrons say the John Barleycorn on Larkin Street near California is more than just a bar — it’s their community center, their living room, a safe meeting place for blind dates and, with its cache of local memorabilia, their history book of the neighborhood and San Francisco.

"You don’t even have to buy a drink," owner Larry Ayre said. "It’s a place you can come home to. You can go out on Friday and Saturday night, but this is the place you come home to."


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The bar’s future became uncertain last year when local restaurateur Luisa Hanson purchased the building at 1500 California. Hanson told Ayre that she had no plans to renew the bar’s lease, which expires this June, according to Tony Antico, the bar’s weekend bartender and coordinator of the "Save the John Barleycorn" campaign.

More than 1,500 loyal patrons, residents and past customers from around the world have signed a petition since then urging Hanson to renew the lease. Several of the supporters, in fact, promised to boycott whatever establishment replaces the Barleycorn, should it close, Ayre said.

Hanson did not return phone calls for comment Thursday.

Robert Flores, the bar’s daytime manager for the last nine years, has been going there for about 20 years.

"I’ve met some of my best friends in the bar," Flores said. "It’s a close-knit community. They won’t be able to replace this with anything close to it."

The bar’s interior is unique with historic furnishings that include cable car benches, church pews from the Old St. Mary’s church and original seating from Seals Stadium, where the San Francisco Giants played theirfirst game. Antico recalls that it was a go-to place after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, where locals went to check in on one another.

The longtime establishment has at least one powerful friend in Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, whose district includes the bar.

"It is a venerable institution that has been part of the neighborhood fabric for decades and is the neighborhood’s living room in a very congested part of The City," Peskin said. "It is full of San Francisco historical artifacts and characters, and it is truly a great neighborhood bar. I hope we’re able to intervene and not lose it."

tramroop@examiner.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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