One of Anthony Bourdain’s Favorite SF Bars Recognized by Historic Preservation Committee
At the intersection of three neighborhoods—North Beach, Chinatown and the Financial District—there lives a bar so storied that Anthony Bourdain included it in his must-visit list of dive bars in San Francisco.
“What type of psychotic fucking freak would not love this place?” asked Anthony Bourdain in Season 1, Episode 8, of The Layover.
The place in question is Mr. Bing’s, and Wednesday the Historic Preservation Committee voted unanimously for it to become an official Legacy Business.
Bourdain loved the spot so much that when rumors of its closure swirled in 2016, he spoke out: “Another good and noble thing, in this case, a fine drinking establishment, [has been] ground under the slow, inevitable, pitiless forward motion of the Terrible Wheel,” Bourdain said.
Fortunately for all of us, Mr. Bing’s didn’t end up closing—it only changed hands.
Michael Chan, bartender, makes a drink for his customers at Mr. Bing’s. | Yue Wu/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Opened in 1967 and named after its first owner, Henry Grant, whose nickname was Mr. Bing, the bar has operated continuously at 201 Columbus Ave. for 56 years.
Grant sold the business to Jackie and Peter Cooper upon his retirement in 2016, which led to the rumors about the bar’s potential closure. But the Coopers kept the name and the spirit, even as they did a major overhaul of the interior (long gone is that massive triangular bar).
The test of the past six years has shown that Mr. Bing’s remains the casual neighborhood place it has always been, despite the concerns of some regulars that the new owners—who also operate Ireland’s 32 on Geary Boulevard—would gentrify the place.
Mr. Bing’s is located at 201 Columbus Ave. in San Francisco. | Yue Wu/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
The illuminated Mr. Bing’s sign, the very same one that’s marked the watering hole since it opened, often finds itself in the foreground of photographs of the Transamerica Building, its cheerful yellow glow beckoning locals and tourists alike for convivial cocktails.
Bourdain was not the only celebrity to love the bar: The late heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey frequented Mr. Bing’s. It has also made cameos in major motion pictures, like Planet of the Apes and Venom.
The ideal corner location of Mr. Bing’s on Columbus and Pacific avenues makes it possible for not one but two parklets, a welcome open space throughout the pandemic to enjoy an old fashioned, Mr. Bing’s signature cocktail.
The bar’s building has also had a colorful history. The Columbus Avenue locale served as the home of famous North Beach photographer, J.B. Monaco, who was known for his elegant compositions of earthquake and fire. And before it was Mr. Bing’s, it was an Italian speakeasy called Zaza—that fronted as a furniture store.
The watering hole shares territory with numerous other legacy bars, like the Li Po Cocktail Lounge and Buddha Lounge, also recently added to the registry in what has underscored a lively Chinatown nightlife scene.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin nominated Mr. Bing’s for legacy status, and the application will move to the Small Business Commission for the formality of final approval within the next few weeks.