One of the few remaining icons of old San Francisco, is John’s Grill. I first became familiar with it, when my waiter , John Konstin, at Jack’s on Sacramento Street bought John’s in the 70s. Here is some interesting background.
Nestled in a building two blocks from Union Square and not far from San Francisco’s big convention center and major hotels, John’s Grill has been hosting celebrities from all over the world for more than 100 years. It was created in 1908, only two years after San Francisco’s devastating earthquake. Indeed, John’s Grill was the first downtown restaurant to open after the quake. It quickly became a bustling anchor in the city’s multi-faceted life – hosting a beguiling and lively mixture of politicians, cops, journalists, entertainers, lawyers, business leaders and the just plain curious who wanted to join in the fun, all while eating some of the best food on the west coast. From the time when San Francisco was rebuilding itself and becoming the financial capital of the western United States, on through World War II (the city was the major embarkation point for troops heading to war in the Pacific) and into the heady hippie days of the Sixties and beyond, John’s Grill was – and still is – the downtown gathering place for those who ran the town and those who wanted to run the town.
Inside, today’s customers will find period furnishing and dark paneled walls framed with hundreds of photos of movers and shakers (and a sprinkling of the not-quite movers and shakers), most of them from the San Francisco Bay Area, but several from the world of state and national politics. On the robust menus, diners have their choice of great steaks, fresh seafood and a variety of salads – try the famed seafood combo salad named for fitness guru Jack LaLanne.
John’s Grill is widely known for its carefully curated menu of salads, steak, seafood, pasta, and sandwiches, all at reasonable prices. The restaurant’s signature dish is the Sam Spade’s Lamb Chops, named for author Dashiell Hammett’s famed private eye. Hammett, a frequent customer of John’s Grill, had Spade wolfing down a plate of John’s “chops, baked potato, and sliced tomatoes.” The restaurant has a subtle motif adapted from the Hammett classic, “The Maltese Falcon,” and there’s a statue of the infamous black bird in a case on the second floor.
Some famous patrons are: Marlon Brando, Truman Capote, Sophia Loren, George Lucas, Julia Child, Lauren Bacall, Anthony Quinn, Andy Warhol, Alice Cooper, Herb Caen, Robin Williams, and Joe Montana.
I have dined here on numerous occasions, but not in the last ten years. I am looking forward.