It turns out, yes, there is such as thing as a free lunch in San Francisco. Well, sort of. Welcome to the Comstock Saloon, opened in May 2010, a throwback to the old Barbary Coast saloons, when drunken men would fall through trap doors and wake up shanghaied on a ship in the Pacific Ocean.
This cocktail-centric restaurant, an homage to 19th-century San Francisco debauchery, is about as spot on as you can get without turning the place into a gimmicky Disney-fied version of a theme restaurant.
The owners, both mixologists who came over from Absinthe, are Jonny Raglin and Jeff Hollinger. During my walk along the Barbary Coast Trail, I stopped by Comstock to chat with Raglin about the place and the Barbary Coast, and hoped I wouldn’t fall through its trap door and wake up in Shanghai.
“We wanted to open a pre-Prohibition cocktail saloon,” said Raglin, who figured the 1920s speakeasy-style cocktail bar has been done too much to add yet another to the scene. “And I’m fascinated with the Barbary Coast history.”
And it’s not just him. “There’s definitely a buzz about the Barbary Coast these days,” said Raglin. “Think about it: in the 19th century, it was the only place on the West Coast to really party.” He added that when they first opened they had been putting out the phrase ‘Barbary Coast’ in their publicity and then a few months later the Wayfare Tavern opened up and they, too, were boasting a Barbary Coast theme. “Ah ha! I thought,” said Raglin. “This is catching on.”
True, but it seems Comstock is doing the best job of keeping the Barbary Coast spirit alive, from the teak high-ceilinged interior and 19th-century-esque sartorial choices of the staff to the Victorian-era cocktails. Oh yeah, there’s that free lunch too. Buy any two “adult beverages,” as they’re called on the menu, and you get a free lunch.
“It’s an old San Francisco tradition,” said Raglin, who couldn’t think of any other place in town that still maintained the practice. The Comstock Saloon offers the lunch deal Monday to Friday and it’s always one pre-decided menu item per day.
And just as I ordered a second cocktail–a cherry bounce (watch Raglin make it in the video above)–Raglin said, “Get that man a free lunch.” Ten minutes later a delicious BLT was sitting in front of me.