When a Well Loved Business Owner Moves Out of SF
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We’re sitting in The Pub, a barbecue joint right below Ghirardelli Square. Just outside the window, Aquatic Park bustles with tourists gawking at all the colorful street performers, hawkers, and hustlers trying to get a piece of that sweet tourist money. The sweeping views of Alcatraz, Marin County, and the San Francisco Bay are nothing short of magnificent.
Sitting next to me is Scott Broccoli. The way he asks “You gonna have a shot of tequila with me or what?” sounds deeply New York, but I don’t know if it’s actually his accent or his overall demeanor that makes it seem that way. Regardless, you can tell he’s not from California, and that is exactly why we’re hanging out.
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In three days, Scott is moving back to Dobbs Ferry, New York with his family after living in San Francisco for 17 years. “It’ll be great for my wife and kids and I,” he tells me “and I’ll be near the rest of my family.” There’s nothing family friendly about what we’ll be doing today though. In what amounts to a victory lap and/or a farewell tour Scott and I will be spending the day eating and drinking our way through his five businesses, Ace’s Bar, Ha-Ra Club, Dobb’s Ferry, Dobb’s Bar, and of course The Pub, where we’re sitting right now. Scott maybe be a very successful businessman, but he also knows how to have good time.
Opened in 2010, The Pub is one of the few places in the area that caters to a sizable local crowd. Since it’s open late, they get a lot of service industry folks who come in after their shift at nearby spots like Gary Danko, Waxman’s Restaurant, and McCormick & Kuleto’s. Even though The Pub is crawling distance from the fuckery that is Fisherman’s Wharf, Budweisers are only $4 and well drinks are just $6 because Scott wants to be able to “give something to the everyday guy”.
Chef Spencer Omeara drops off a mixed platter of various delicious things to eat. There’s brisket, ribs, sliders, and one of the house specialties: Tommy Tots, which are tater tots tossed in sweet and sour sauce and bleu cheese crumbles. The food is really damn good. So good that The Pub actually does all the catering for the Warriors home games. “You better put some food in you,” Scott tells me, “remember, I told you to wear your drinking shoes.” I looked down at my New Balance sneakers, hoping they’d be enough to keep me balanced. I knew I was in for a big day.
After eating at The Pub, and having a few drinks, Scott calls an Uber for us. A bunch of his employees stop at the door to say goodbye. I can tell they genuinely like him and are bummed to see him go. We have places to go and people to see so we head out the door to Ace’s, the first bar Scott opened.
As I’m getting out of the car, I say to Scott, “So I’m not gonna walk in and get a bullet in my head am I?”
“What?” Scott asks, “Oh that! Hahahaha. No, We’re good.” The “that” is the reason me and Scott started talking in the first place.
A few months before, I broke a story about a bartender kicking someone out of Ace’s for essentially looking queer. A shit-storm descended on Ace’s, for obvious reasons, and the bartender in question, a 70 something year old Vietnam vet named Shaky Jake, was fired. As you can imagine the folks at Ace’s were none too pleased with me. But once Jake went to sensitivity classes and got his job back, I wrote a story on that as well, and the fences were mended between the Ace’s family and myself.
While I wasn’t really concerned about getting a bullet in the back of the head (ok only 7% concerned), this was my first time going into Ace’s since the whole incident and I was slightly nervous. I mean wouldn’t you be if the article you’d written caused them to get absolutely destroyed on the internet? Luckily everyone had gotten passed that, and nobody came after my kneecaps with a bat. My liver on the other hand is a different story.
Sitting down at the bar, Scott introduced me to Tommy Whalen, his partner in both Ace’s and Ha-Ra Club. Tommy started as a door guy at Ace’s ten years ago but worked his way up to being an equal partner in both bars. He’s from Winthrop, near Boston, and sounds like it. Together, the two of them are a tour de force of East Coast-ness. Considering everyone in San Francisco is on their tippy-toes trying to be as PC and inoffensive as possible, hanging out with these guys is refreshing for an asshole like me. Off color jokes and shit talking is the lingua franca with them, so I fit right in. “Yeah,” Scott tells me, “We often end our phone conversations with ‘Go fuck your hand!’” I knew we’d get along famously.
It’s mid afternoon now and the bar is filled with a handful of people watching sports, getting day drunk, or both. That’s the kind of bar Ace’s is. After years of working at other spots like Amante, Tony Nick’s, and Le Central, Scott opened Ace’s in 2005 with Barbie Tice, owner The Bell Tower. There was a need for a solid bar for New York Sports fans to congregate in. Ace’s showed up to fill that hole and it is New York as fuck. There’s tons of NYC sports memorabilia all over the walls, they have real seats from the old Yankee Stadium, and every year they throw a fundraiser for the FDNY Burn Center.
“So, who’s Ace?” I ask Scott after a beer and a shot.
“There is no Ace,” Scott tells me. “Back when I was first opening the bar I was always saying things were ‘aces’, like instead of ‘good’ or ‘awesome’. So someone suggested I name the place Ace’s and I did. I had to stop saying ‘aces’ though because it would be weird if I said things were ‘aces’ when we were in a bar I named Ace’s. Know what I mean?”
We have another round, god knows how many drinks I’ve had by this point, at least five or six, and we’re only at the second bar on our journey. The folks at Ace’s give Scott high-fives and hugs as we head out the door. “We’ll miss you Scotty!” and old drunk says as he pats Scott on the back. I’m feeling pretty good by this point, which must explain why I stopped taking notes after Ace’s. The rest of the day just tumbles together like a perfect San Francisco day often does.
As Scott, Tommy and I head down to Ha-Ra after leaving Aces, Scott turns to me and says, “You know you’re pretty cool. I was worried for a little bit before I met you, but you’re just like us.”
“What, dirtbags?” I responded.
“Exactly,” they said in unison just as we got to Ha-Ra’s front door.
There’s a decent amount of people in the Ha-Ra considering it’s late afternoon on a Saturday. A cluster at the end of the bar is watching the Giants game while a couple properly salty fellows are sitting around telling dirty jokes near the door. Everyone gets animated when we walk in the door. “Hey-oh Scotty!” one of the cats near the door yells, “I thought you were gone already.”
“Nope, still here for a three more days,” Scott explains as the rest of the patrons either smile and wave at him or come over and say hello. Scott and Tommy bought Ha-Ra, with their friend Wizz Wentworth, and did a fantastic job with the place. Originally opened by a couple bartenders named Hank and Ralph after returning from WWII in 1947, the joint had been inherited by Ralph’s son, Rick, who ran it until Scott, Tommy and Wizz bought it. It was a perfectly divey TL bar for as long as I’d known it and when I heard it had gotten bought, I was worried it would be turned into another fucking cocktail bar where people wait in line forever, while bartenders get tennis elbow from shaking drinks. Luckily it was Scott, Tommy, and Wizz who bought it, and all they did was restore it to it’s former glory.
“You know,” Tommy told me as the three of us tucked into the short end of the bar near the door, “we found a loaded pistol in a secret compartment when we were redoing the bar. It’s just over there.” I went over and sure enough, framed above the bar is an old pistol. It somehow goes perfectly with the boxing memorabilia and old photos from the 40s of Ha-Ra that decorate the place. Tommy, Scott, and Wizz managed to perfectly nail what a new-old bar should look and feel like in the 21st century Tenderloin. No pretention, just solid people, shots, beers, and simple drinks.
At this point my drinking shoes had been put to the test and it was time to put some more food in me so I didn’t becoming a stumbling mumbling wretch. I don’t even recall if we walked to Dobbs Ferry or took a cab, but I remember thinking how perfect it was that it was the final destination. After all, Dobb’s Ferry, New York was where Scott was moving in 3 days.
Sitting in the heart of Hayes Valley, Dobbs Ferry Scott’s venture with Chef Mike Yakura, Danny Sterling, and Todd Trippany, is decidedly more upscale than the other places we’d been so far. It’s a fairly fancy place where exposed brick is decorated with modern art and images from the town of Dobbs Ferry. Scott had called ahead while we were at Ha-Ra so a table was waiting for us when we arrive. “Water please,” I asked the waiter as I folded myself into a chair, “lots of it…and I guess a vodka soda with lemon too.” I’d made my bed, might as well drink in it.
“What are you hungry for,” Scott asked me.
“Yes,” I responded.
Scott ordered a bunch of magnificence off the menu. I don’t remember all of it but I do know there was Chicken Scarpariello, Goat Cheese Fondue, and Pete’s Meatballs, which are Scott’s dad’s recipe. “And Burrata!” I garbled in time for the waiter to hear it.
I ate some bread and sobered up a little as we talked about the future for Scott and his businesses. “So are you gonna be selling your parts of the bars and restaurants?” I asked.
“Nah, I’m still gonna be out here like one week a month,” he told me.
“You’re gonna be here one week a month? What the fuck is all this goodbye shit we’ve been doing all day? Could’ve sworn we were in 25th Hour.”
Tommy chimed in, “Just because he’s gonna be back all the fucking time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a blowout.” He made a good point and we cheersed and drank a bit more.
The food was superb; there’s a good chance I actually motorboated the burrata cheese –no one can hold that against me though – and I ended up eating myself into proper food coma. I mean, after eating and drinking our way through town for 10 hours I’d earned the right to go home and go to bed. So that’s just what I did.
Despite knowing how to party, Scott Broccoli is still the consummate businessman. Even though he’s only in SF one week a month, he just opened his newest venture, a lunch spot in the Financial District called Noodle Me. He keeps enticing me to check it out, which I plan on doing once I recover from our last outing.
Every once in awhile when he’s in town, Scott hits me up to see if I want to get a drink with him. I keep turning him down. I think I lost my drinking shoes the last time we went out.