Mixologist: Fall punch-drunk in love with Hobson's Choice 

Before cocktails were cocktails, there was punch. Or you drank the spirit straight. And before San Francisco had specialty bars, it had Hobson’s Choice, one of the first rum bars to ever land in San Francisco. We caught up with local favorite Ellis Clayton, who has ladled out punch at this beloved watering hole for nine years. Though the bar offers a rather in-depth cocktail menu, three punch bowls take center stage. They are filled with three libations: the House (which has always been the signature punch of the house), the Victorian and the Gogo. And because anything in a punch bowl is typically rad, patrons can order a whole bowl of punch for their table. Now that’s punch-drunk love. And we just have to mention the musical atmosphere. In the half-hour we were there we heard this awesomeness over the jukebox: Supertramp, General Public, Jefferson Airplane and Flock of Seagulls.

Hobson’s Choice
1601 Haight St., San Francisco
(415) 621-5859,

How long has this place been around? It’s been here 11 years. Before that, it was a place called Achilles Heel and for a few years in between, it was empty. I’m pretty sure the Achilles Heel has a lot of history to it.

Who was Hobson? Thomas Hobson was a stable owner and a mail carrier in England [during the 16th century]. Since it was a livery stable as well as a mail carrier stable, he used to rent his horses out to people in his area that would need them for various types of things. He started noticing the horses were getting overworked, so he devised this plan that each day he would pick a horse that he’d want to rent out, tie it up by the barn door, and had a motto: “You can pick any horse you want. As long as it’s that one.” So Hobson’s choice is you basically don’t get to choose.

How’s that work in the bar? You can leave it up to the bartender to decide what drink you are going to have. We have the sign up here that says “Hobson’s Choice Wednesday” and so it’s just a question mark. And people will ask, “What’s Hobson’s Choice?” It’s whatever I give you.

This place has a rep for being pretty rowdy. Nooo. It doesn’t get very rowdy to me. You’re thinking when we have street fairs or Bay to Breakers.

If you could serve a drink to anyone, who would it be? Ernest Hemingway.

Anything you’d ask him about? He was a journalist during both world wars, I’d probably ask him about his experience with that. I’m a big military history buff. A lot of people who come here a lot know I always have it on TV.

Do people here in the Haight get mad that you have a military channel on? It’s known that’s what I watch, or people come in and just get drawn into it. We have a joke here that 4 o’clock is Hitler hour. More often than not, 4 o’clock comes around and they’ll have some documentary about Hitler. If anyone has a request, I always turn it off.

What are three things you can’t live without? My computer, a good book and my wife.


Featured recipe
Victorian Punch

  • Silver rum
  • Coconut rum
  • Pineapple rum
  • Cranberry juice
  • Pineapple juice

2 to 2½ parts rum. Add juices. Ladle into a tall glass filled with ice.

About The Author

Staff Report

Staff Report

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