2734 Lytton Street, Midway District
Oh, man. This is one desolate little stretch of street. Lytton. Loma Portal. Quarter mile of traffic-crammed blight. Maybe it’s the half light. Whatever, I come to a closed-up, windowless, brick-red-painted concrete building with no windows. Just some steps leading up to an olive-green door. Closed. Barred, diamond-shaped peep-window in it.
First thing I think: Speakeasy. This I gotta see. Second thing: How come it’s familiar? Something about the secret feel of it rings a bell.
I open the door and head into a big angular room with a bar along the far side, salmon-pink around the walls, but mostly kinda dung-colored boarding. Lady customer’s sitting up to the bar. A guy at the end is checking his phone for someone he thinks she might know. Gal behind the bar is washing glasses. Willy Nelson’s singing “Whiskey River take my mind...” Place like this, Monday nights, is where you’d come to lick your wounds, reassess your sorry life.
To drink? This seems crazy, but I don’t think I could handle a beer right now. Even though they have some good locals like Alesmith on tap. And, yes, we’re still in happy hour. Just. It’s a nice generous one, from two to seven. Which means $2 off pretty much everything liquid. I ask the gal, Lisa, if she can do me a coffee. “Sure, but I’ll have to brew some up,” she says. And, yes, they do have eats. She slides a small three-cornered plastic menu in my direction. One side’s cocktails, the second’s the food, and the third lists daily specials. Huh. Mondays and Thursdays it’s half-off wings after 7:00 p.m. Today’s Monday. The rest of the happy hour is just the drinks.
I check the menu. Buffalo wings, $5.50. So $2.75. Cool.
“It’s a good deal,” says Lisa. “Only thing is you can’t take them to go. We had people buying four dozen and then taking them to some other bar.”
And especially since the (refillable) coffee she’s brewing up is only $1, things are starting to look up. I ask for the wings.
I cast my eye down the list of nosh. Nothing over $8. That’s for fish and chips. Half-pound cheeseburger goes for $6.50. Actually, $6.50’s what you pay for most things, like the chicken sandwich, the fish sandwich, and the meatball sandwich. Then those other stars of bar food: corn dogs and fries, the buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, jalapeño poppers, zucchini sticks. Each goes for $5.50.
“So, which one gives you the most bang for the buck?” I ask Lisa.
“Oh, the half-pound burger, always,” she says. “That’s been famous since before Desi took over.”
“Yes. This used to be...”
It suddenly clicks. “The submariners’ place, right?”
“Right,” says Lisa. “This was the Horse and Cow. It closed down 13 years ago. Desi worked behind the bar here, and when it closed, she bought the place. She’s still here four days a week.”
So, I order the burger on top of the wings and settle back with my cuppa joe and try to remember the last time.
Oh, yeah. Remembering what it looked like is hard because it was totally black in here that time. Jukebox blasting full, lot of jokes flying back and forth, lot of bras dangling behind the bar, guys with beards, shaved heads, unfamiliar tattoos, and the blue-black walls covered in ghostly plaques and banners, and signs like “Caution: Vent tube before unlocking door.”
Logical this was a submariners’ hangout. The sub base is up the street at Ballast Point.
Lisa appears with my wings. Six of them, battered in crumbs, with one bowl of Frank’s Hot Sauce and another with Thousand Island sauce. And the burger. It arrives open-faced, with the golden melted cheddar glowing like a Rolling Stones tongue logo. The patty is dark and crispy and thick and juicy, and for some reason, familiar.
Now it’s coming back. That crazy night, drinking the owner Mike’s neon-green “Nuclear Waste” liquor, as he called it. Then the bar lady Desi — oh, right. That would be this Desi who owns the joint now. She had her own “Desi Beer,” beer mixed with her bath water, she said. And Mike explaining the “Horse and Cow” name. Comes from Greek mythology. King Neptune’s scepter had two serpents, one with the head of a horse, one with the head of a cow. Every submariner knows it.
“Mark’s father opened the first Horse and Cow in San Francisco, 50, 60 years ago. But base closings have affected business. Now he’s moved to Guam. Opened there,” says Lisa, like it was Custer’s Last Stand.
I attack the wings first. That Frank’s sauce has just the right amount of wrong in it. Hot, not too hot. Even though I’m almost busting from all those wings, I start out on the burger. Yes. Crunchilicious. Onions and pickles and lettuce and tomato are crispy-fresh: Wish I could finish it.
It’s not too busy right now. But I hear that around eleven (just before the kitchen closes) this place gets good and wild, even without the submariners. And, yes. Our man Chad was partying here last December and lived to rave about it. Me, I’m $10.25 poorer. Definitely coming back, hopefully when Desi’s here, to see if she has her bath-tub cerveza on tap again.
- Prices: Half-pound cheeseburger, $6.50; chicken sandwich, $6.50; fish sandwich, $6.50; meatball sandwich, $6.50; corn dogs and fries, $5.50; buffalo wings, $5.50; mozzarella sticks, $5.50; jalapeño poppers, $5.50; zucchini sticks, $5.50
- Kitchen Hours: 1:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
- Bus: 28
- Nearest bus stop: Rosecrans at Lytton