Monday, October 06, 2008

for shame, Harry's Bar of San Francisco

This weekend I took nine year-old Iris Uber Alles to hear Neil Gaiman read from his latest children's book (she was the only child we saw in the audience, which was composed primarily of obese people with lovely manners, dressed in black, on dates). Afterwards we strolled through Japantown, admiring Japanese kitsch, envying majestic stone Buddhas, and fingering fabrics. Iris was tired and hungry, and rather than setting out for home, wanted to eat first. We were also eager to start reading our signed copies of "The Graveyard Book.

It was the end of a long day for Iris; we'd held a joint birthday party for her and just-turned-six Lucy that day and she'd sat still for two and a half hours of the Gaiman extravaganza (Neil G. read out loud for a solid hour in a mellifluous baritone; we saw scenes from the upcoming "Coraline" film; he took questions -- questions causing him to wonder for the sanity of his San Francisco readers). I thought it wasn't the moment to brave the authentic Japanese restaurants of Japantown, so we turned up Fillmore Street in search of child-friendly comfort food. We stopped at "Harry's Bar of San Francisco", which, although it claims to be affiliated with the Harry's Bar of Venice, is in fact a restaurant which serves low-brow food. I checked the menu, which included macaroni and cheese, veggie burgers, and grilled cheese sandwiches. We went in, following a couple with a toddler, and sat down away from the bar.

We were relaxing, and Iris was reaching for her book, eager to start it, when someone pulled the menus brusquely out of my hand, confiscating them. In a foreign accent which was from a continent far from Italy, the manager said abruptly, "This is a bar. There are no children here" and then bustled off to evict the family with toddlers. I was rather shocked at his rude delivery. I would have left quietly if he'd spoken kindly to us, perhaps said he was sorry. I stood by our table and showed him the menu, saying that as an attorney, I was familiar with the California laws and that it was legal for children to be in here because it was a restaurant, not a bar. The manager said dismissively, "This is a bar, not a restaurant."

I held out the extensive menu, which ran to more than one page, saying "You serve food, you have a long menu, this is a restaurant and he cut me off. "We have a bar menu" he began, ranting on at me and raising his voice. At this point, my hackles were well up, and I demanded an apology. His went up as well. Iris slipped her hand nervously in mine as the man shouted at me. I demanded he apologize to me before we leave, and he threatened to call the police. I pointed out that all he had to do was apologize for us to leave, and he shouted for a while about calling the police. At some point he realized that apologizing would get rid of me, and he managed to say he was sorry while making it abundantly clear, in tone, gesture, and rolled eye that he didn't mean it in the least. We left.

I explained to Iris how angry I was that she was being discriminated against for her age. Iris is a quiet, well-behaved child who had intended only to eat a sandwich and read her new book. The place in question was not an upscale or quiet place where children would have been inappropriate. We walked up the hill to a crepes restaurant, ate, our moods darkened by the Harry's incident, and went home.

Later, after the children had gone to bed and I was doing a special favor for the Sober Husband, the sort of favor wives sometimes do for husbands, my mind clicked through the Harry's event and then seized upon the telling point. When I was free to speak, I said, "I was right! They have outdoor seating at Harry's bar, and that makes me right! Only restaurants have outdoor tables in San Francisco." The Sober Husband, in that sort of daze which precludes one from following reasoning, mumbled, "You were right, honey."

I bounced up and ran a search online. I soon determined that I was RIGHTRIGHTRIGHT and that only restaurants and cafes are allowed permits for sidewalk seating in San Francisco. Bars are not eligible (no one wants a lot of drunks out in the open, sprawling on the sidewalks). "Harry's Bar is legally a restaurant," I said. "The hypocrites, saying they're a restaurant to get outside tables and saying they're a bar to throw Iris out."

"You should write a letter, " said the Sober Husband amiably and drowsily as he settled off to sleep.

The irony is that Iris has been to the real Harry's Bar, in Venice, which is nothing like the restaurant here appropriating its name. The true Harry's Bar is a small, upscale place with starched white tableclothes and highly professional waiters, who doted upon little Iris, bringing her treats and kneeling down to address her on her own level. "Che bella", they murmured as they gave her free snacks from polished trays.

17 comments:

Laggin said...

Better than a letter, you should invite several of your friends with kids to help you make a point. Arrive with many starving and crabby children. Wreak child havoc on the place and DO NOT let them evict you. Have printed off copies of the various ordinances with you to make your point. Let them call the police. Maybe take a video camera?

Ok not really. That's probably a little too intense for kids. But I feel better having written it.

cognosco said...

Did you call the manager? You should at least do that.

A very observant friend of mine once pointed out that for all of the "putting children first" rhetoric in this country, we actually treat our kids like shit. I usually opt to take my toddler out for some kind of "ethnic" cuisine (mexican, indian, thai, even sushi!) because I find that the people working there are much nicer to us and dote on him.

Oldsoul_NotQuite said...

I've been to Venice and even lived in Italy and still haven't been to the real Harry's Bar. I think I want to be Iris in my next life!

hughman said...

you might try a note to EaterSF or a post on Chowhound SF. these are two foodie blogs that are popular and you might get some feedback from other people there as well.

Amy said...

What Hughman said. Not to mention Yelp.

hughman said...

yeah, i didn't mention yelp because they have a questionable editorial policy (they take money to eradicate bad reviews). it's also considered in the foodie community to be a little too general in taste. there's a lot of posts about where to go to score hot dates. ugh.

otherwise, take it to the people! i particularly like chowhound as i am a contributor. like i mentioned, the feedback is very helpful.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I don't feel like writing something to one of the food sites, for a very specific reason. What, pray tell, is that reason? That most people who read those sites are not parents, and most non-parents in San Francisco do NOT want children taken ANYWHERE. It's something parents of little kids talk about a lot, the waves of hatred that come off people who are otherwise smart, witty, tolerant (of everything but children), and well-educated. It's accepted in this society to have a violent prejudice against children and brag about it. A friend of friends once said in a social situation, IN EARSHOT OF THEN SEVEN YEAR-OLD IRIS, "I hate all seven year-olds. They are incapable of logical thought. " You wouldn't say, "I hate all gay people" in San Francisco, or "I hate all black people" or the like, but it's smiled upon to make anti-child remarks.

I am thinking of contacting my representative on the board of supervisors. The restaurant is not in our district (the Castro), but our dear supervisor is himself a parent (a gay man, he had a much wanted child with a lesbian friend), and there's definitely an issue about a misuse of the city licensing laws here.

Joyce said...

Carole, I WORK for Chowhound and I'm a parent. I think parents are better represented than you know, since the food sites skew older.

hughman said...

yeah, i have to agree with joyce. i've seen very little kid bashing on chowhound ever, even here in apprearance loving LA.

besides, who cares about the haters? you might be giving valuable info to the parents out there.

Joyce said...

And I have to agree with Hughman...parents need to know which restaurants welcome them with open arms, and which are jerks. If you really want to tar Harry's rep, Chowhound (and to a lesser extent, as Hughman says), Yelp, and EaterSF will do a tremendous job of that. I have seen that attitude you refer to out there, Carole, but for the most part the Chowhound folks are so delirious about food they don't give a shit who is in the restaurant. The scene-y hipster type folks on Yelp are actually more of the "kids be gone" crowd; the real foodists tend to be older, more tolerant and so distracted by figuring out what herb is in the sauce (chervil? tarragon?) that they don't have energy to negate kids, even if they don't have them.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I put a negative review on Yelp yesterday, not mentioning the child aspect but focusing on the rudeness. I'll go over to Chowhound and add something there.

brightside-susan said...

While you are at it - get a meeting with Gavin Newsom. I have always wanted to have a reason to get a meeting with Gavin Newsom...but maybe that's just me. Sorrry.

Joyce said...

yay for you, carole. we sf parents have to stick together and let each other know what places are good and which suck. boo harry's.

derfina said...

*snort* My mind sort of wanders to some really strange places too when I'm doing those little 'special favors' as you so diplomatically put it!

Anonymous said...

Long long ago (the 1980s) I worked for Spectrum restaurants, which had a lovely Harry's Bar and American Grill at the corner of Van Ness and McAllister. That was a classy joint, where the management would never have permitted the kind of shoddy treatment you received. Spectrum changed hands several times, but some version of it still exists in Southern California and still operates a Harry's in La Jolla. You might make some trouble for these Gianni-come-latelys by bringing their operation to the attention of Spectrum's trademark lawyers. A complaint letter to the Southern California office should do the trick -- it would indicate damage to reputation as well as actual confusion as to the ownership of the mark.

Krista said...

No advice, just I'm sorry to hear that happened to you and your family. So much is made of "children running wild" that I think it's become an excuse to exclude all children, because they "might" be rude or noisy or what have you. :(

-Krista

Green said...

Speaking as one of the childless adults in the city, it's not that I hate children. It's that I hate adults who don't take children out of the restaurant when they're being loud or annoying.

I would not mind at all being seated near Iris.