Blooms Saloon Aims to Maintain Vibe Under New Management

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Last fall, Tom Frenkel, owner and manager of Blooms Saloon for 34 years, transitioned to the role of silent partner; 18th Street resident, Barbi Tice, became manager and two-thirds owner.

Located at 1318 18th Street, the tavern was originally called Joe’s on the Hill, founded by the late Joe Cadinale in the 1930s following Prohibition. In 1979, Cardinale sold the business to an investment group that changed the name to Klonsky’s, after Alan Klonsky, the group’s principal investor. Frenkel, who had moved to San Francisco from St. Louis in 1969, purchased both the bar and building in 1982 for $290,000, and changed the name to Blooms Saloon, inspired by the fictional character Leopold Bloom, protagonist in James Joyce’s Ulysses. According to the 76-year old Frenkel, it’s Potrero Hill’s oldest bar, featuring a casual, laid back sports-oriented atmosphere.

“My vision was to get to this age without ever having a real job and I think I succeeded,” said Frenkel. “I got into the bar business in 1976. An eight year lease on a Cole Street bar ended, so I was on the lookout to buy another bar. In 1981, a friend took me over to Klonsky’s and I heard it was for sale. It was cheap and came with the option to buy the building, which made it attractive as I wouldn’t have to deal with a landlord.”

Frenkel modeled Blooms Saloon’s atmosphere after his experiences hanging out illegally at a simple, neighborhood bar as a teenager in St. Louis. Despite earning a law degree and working on a single case between 1973 and 1974, Frenkel felt he belonged more in the “t-shirt and jeans” world than the “coat and tie” one.

“I managed to waste all the money I had made in my 20s but still became a modest success and created jobs for people; some have worked at the bar for 15 to 20 years,” he said. “Barbi was the perfect person to buy the bar because she lives two blocks away and she doesn’t want to change anything significantly. The bar was never put on the market. I made a deal with Barbi because I wanted the bar to succeed. It’s a 20-year, favorable lease deal at the low-end of the market.”

As two of the longtime bartenders — now in their 70s — have retired, Tice works shifts twice a week and has hired a new bartender alongside remaining staff. She also owns the Bell Tower restaurant at 1900 Polk Street and another bar, Ace’s, at 998 Sutter Street. New to bartending, Tice took the management reigns gradually and has been focusing on keeping existing patrons happy, as well as attracting newcomers. She views her role as maintaining Blooms Saloon as a “Cheers” style public house but with a fresh vibe that’s welcoming to everyone.

“The neighborhood bar is a little gem in Potrero Hill,” said Tice. “A lot of bars have become hipster places, which is fine, but I want the Saloon to remain the Saloon. It’s a bar not a cocktail lounge. We have decent prices and no cocktail menu. It’s a little hole in the wall with an amazing view of the City.”

Tice and Frenkel had been contemplating their partnership for the past five years, with the goal of working to increase the bar’s popularity, given population growth in the neighborhood, while retaining its familiar atmosphere. So far the most notable change under Tice’s leadership is that the Saloon now accepts major credit cards. Events like the annual Independence Day picnic and Super Bowl party are slated to continue. Two pinball machines and a pool table are available for use by patrons. Although no food is served, people freely continue to bring fare to the bar, especially at lunchtime.

Blooms Saloon features simplicity in its offerings, with no specials or signature craft drinks. According to Tice, all the basic drink recipes are covered, including a popular Manhattan and plenty of Jameson flowing on a typical night. Largely due to being in close proximity to the Anchor Brewing Company, Anchor Steam Beer is often on tap, with local brews by Harmonic Brewing coming soon.

“I don’t see how things can stay the same with the huge hotspot coming at Mission Bay and gigantic condos everywhere,” expressed Frenkel. “I see the Hill getting busier, especially when the Warriors move down there. It’s not the quaint Potrero Hill of the past. There has been a lot of restaurant turnover and the rents are astronomical. Hopefully the bar will become a more popular neighborhood spot but won’t become an exotic bar like one of those foofoo Downtown places.”

“Everyone is welcome,” Tice said. “I love the influx of younger customers who’ve moved to the neighborhood. I want to keep it an old timers bar where everyone is welcome. People come here to celebrate the neighborhood. We want to make it a great welcoming place where people can gather.”