There are some places that I only go to when I just can’t get out of going, places I would never think to want to go to and that, when someone else suggests them, I think of excuses to get out of going. The Buena Vista, in San Francisco, is one of those spots. Tucked neatly away in the part of town that’s hardest to get to and most filled with soul-less tourist traps, you spend at least a half an hour parking the car for the privilege of squeezing into the always crammed bar and eating the most average of all average food. For years this was my only experience of the famed Buena Vista. I would get dragged in at least once a year to celebrate the birthday of one or another member of my family full of Buena Vista aficionados, and I would turn up, eyes rolling and patience tried before I even stepped in, sure that fit was not possible to have a good time there.
And so I was there yet again this last weekend, for my father’s birthday this time. But, for once, I had a really different experience! Why? Certainly the Buena Vista didn’t change at all. They’ve been serving the same Irish coffees and Ramos fizzes for 58 years. The same man has been behind the bar since before I was born. And the bay view out the giant picture window is unchangeable. Somehow this weekend, though, all that enduring, living history stuff started sinking in. I’m writing to you now from a computer that is dying because it was built to be replaced. I ate lunch in a big chain that survives by making sure it is on top of all the most current “health” fads, and may not last long into the future anyway. The Buena Vista is not temporary and, this weekend at least, that felt really good.
I will say, though, that a not small part of my change of heart probably had to do with having drinks only. The Buena Vista’s Irish coffees are timeless and irreplaceable, the omelet only reminds you that you can eat really well in San Francisco without nearly so much hassle. Sorry. A bit of that old cynicism just won’t let go.