One of our most popular Irish imports made its way from Ireland not on a boat, but by air, landing first in San Francisco. In 1952, Pulitzer-prize-winning San Francisco Chronicle travel columnist, Stanton Delaplane, was in an airport bar in Ireland. He was served a warming drink containing coffee, Irish whiskey and cream.
Upon returning to San Francisco, Delaplane told Jack Koeppler of San Francisco's Buena Vista Cafe about it, and Koeppler set out to reproduce the concoction. After repeated failures, a trip to Ireland to unravel the secret of floating cream on hot coffee and an appeal for help from the mayor (who also owned a dairy), Koeppler began serving the Buena Vista’s now-famous Irish Coffee. To say it was a success is an understatement.
The Buena Vista has served over 30 million Irish Coffees, and they keep making them at the rate of a quarter million a year, their bartenders turning them out in tandem by the scores. Their most popular offerings are the Irish Coffee (made with real Irish whiskey), Bailey's Irish Cream Coffee and the Godiva Chocolate Coffee, and cozying up to a cup of it is one of our top ways to spend a rainy day in San Francisco.
With all that history and all of us thirsty journalists writing about it, it's not surprising that the Buena Vista is always busy. You can find a seat at the bar to watch the bartenders making the drinks by the dozens, or walk up to any table with some empty chairs and introduce yourself. They also serve food, but that's not their specialty and you might be better off finding your meal somewhere else.
From all the hoopla, you might think that there's only one place in San Francisco to get an Irish Coffee, but there are more. Among her picks for best Irish pubs in San Francisco, local resident Ingrid Taylar says the Irish Bank and O'Reilly's also make good ones and she especially likes the brown sugar The Irish Bank uses.
History of the Buena Vista
The Buena Vista Cafe opened in a former boarding house in 1916, its name taken from the Spanish words for "good view." For more than a hundred years, locals and visitors have been imbibing at this watering hole that sits just above the end of the Hyde Street cable car line and a block away from Ghirardelli Square. And after all those years, they still have a good view, over the cable car turnaround and Aquatic Park.
And if all that wasn't enough trivia for you, the Buena Vista is featured in the opening scene of the film When a Man Loves a Woman starring Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan.
More About Irish Coffee
According to Cocktail Times, the name Irish Coffee originated at the Port of Foyne, a busy air hub in the 1930s and 40s. When a flight was forced to turn back to Ireland during bad weather, Chef Joe Sheridan offered them the drink - and when asked if it was Brazilian coffee, he quipped: "that's Irish coffee."
Getting to the Buena Vista Cafe for Your Irish Coffee
Buena Vista CafeIf you're already at Fisherman's Wharf, it's one-block climb up Hyde Street from Jefferson to the Buena Vista at Hyde and Beach. If you're at Union Square, take the Powell-Hyde Cable car. You'll find the Buena Vista just before the end of the line.
2765 Hyde Street
San Francisco, CA