By next month The Connecticut Yankee, located at 100 Connecticut Street, will change hands from Fritz Frisbie to The Pour Guys, a partnership composed of restaurant industry veterans Joey Christensen, Tony Cooney, Stephen Crawford, and Eric Mejia. The Guys own two other bars: the Tempest, at 431 Natoma Street, and Louie’s, 55 Stevenson Street, which cater to the Financial District’s after-hours crowd.
Frisbie, who has owned and managed the Yankee since 1988, decided to sell the bar because he recently moved to Oakland. He’s also concerned about the impending minimum wage hike. “I’ll be retaining 10 percent of the business as a partner. I will be involved on a semi-regular basis: bartending, waiting tables, and offering my sage advice,” said Frisbie.
The Yankee’s staff will keep their jobs. The sports memorabilia on the wall will stay. The bar’s status as a New England Patriots/Boston Red Sox/San Francisco Giants home base won’t change.
The Guys see the Yankee as a markedly different spot from their other establishments. “The Tempest and Louie’s have more foot traffic and heavy drinking. They’re “get rowdy” types of bars,” said Cooney. “The Yankee’s been there since 1907. It’s more of a neighborhood bar, visited by families with kids as well as regulars.”
“It’s our first endeavor that’s not in an alleyway,” said Crawford, the Yankee’s new chef.
Christiansen said he and the other Guys found the Yankee about three and a half years ago, before they bought Louie’s. “We really wanted to be in Dogpatch, and so we started a walking tour at Parkside Tavern. We took a bunch of employees from the Tempest on a Sunday afternoon and said, “We’re going barhopping!” The Yankee was the second stop on that round. We kind of fell in love, especially with the patio. We hit up all these spots, but we just couldn’t stop talking about the Yankee,” said Christiansen. “It’s got something you can’t build: character. I tend to like bars with a lot of history, a patina.”
About two years after their initial visit, Cooney and Christiansen started playing on a softball team at Jackson Park. They ran into Frisbie and discussed the Yankee. Christiansen and Frisbie became friends. Their regular conversations led to the sale becoming final in July 2015.
Cooney said the Guys expect to revamp the kitchen and do a lot of cleaning. Their number one goal is to make the Yankee feel the same. “It’ll stay an old Boston bar,” said Cooney.
The Guys don’t plan on advertising or marketing. “We rely on word of mouth. We do a lot of apparel, play on logos,” said Cooney. “We like to let it grow organically over time.”
The Guys expect to preserve much of the menu initially. As they learn customers’ tastes, they’ll slowly make changes to dishes.
Crawford plans on adding Northeastern fare “with California seasonality and a California twist. We’ll do a couple more entrees and possibly transition into seafood. I’m thinking of smaller sociable plates, things that can be shared. We may do some events in summertime, maybe clam bakes and seafood boils,” he said. “We want to consolidate to some degree without scaring off the regulars.”
Brunch will become a regular offering on weekends. “We want to use that patio space. It’s great to sit outside on nice days,” said Crawford, who is originally from North Carolina. He’s worked in Hawai’i and for Michael Mina’s restaurant group.
Christiansen brings experience from Tres Agaves and EPIC Roasthouse. Cooney met Christiansen in 2008, when the two worked together at EPIC.
Potrero Hill residents who have visited Tempest and Louie’s can expect to see some familiar faces. The Guys plan to “intermingle” staff from their different restaurants, especially to cover the Yankee’s late-night dinner shift, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., and keep the doors open til 2 a.m.
Cooney said the Guys have known one another for seven years. They stay successful by hiring responsible, reliable staff. “It’s just a big family. We’re not micromanaging,” said Cooney.
“We have a great mix of people who are staff. All we really work with are our friends and family. We rely on those people to make responsible decisions,” said Christiansen.
Frisbie is excited that he found new owners who will maintain the Yankee’s atmosphere. “If someone came in here and turned the Yankee into a tapas bourbon emporium, it would kill me,” said Frisbie. “These guys have a tradition of keeping the old school bars as they are.”
The Yankee first opened as “Hilda’s Saloon,” in 1907. Hilda and her husband, Giovanni Salvotti, built the business by hand using wood from a post-earthquake Red Cross recovery shack. The saloon was also a boarding house that offered a four-course meal with wine for 25 cents. Hilda made the wine in the basement.
Hilda later divorced Giovanni and managed the business herself. During Prohibition, she leased it to Terry and Johnny Murnane. The Murnanes ran a bootlegging operation in the saloon’s basement and a speakeasy in the upstairs apartment next door. In 1924. the federal government padlocked the saloon for six months.
In 1926, Hilda passed away, leaving the business to her sons, Jules and Emil. The brothers renamed the bar “Salvotti’s” and ran it as a lunch room for 47 years. In 1975, Jules sold the business to local artist and former art director of Rolling Stone magazine, Robert David Kingsbury, and Kingsbury’s partner, Charles Michaels. The business was changed into a restaurant and named “Connecticut Central.”
The saloon changed hands and names a few more times in the mid-1980s. Its pre-Yankee incarnation was as a bar, “Jackdaw,” named after a sign shaped like a crow hung by then-owner Vida Daw.
In 1988, Frisbie and a partner sold their baseball cards to buy the saloon. They renamed it The Connecticut Yankee and ran it together until 1997. Frisbie stayed on after his prior partner left, seeing the saloon through three Red Sox World Series victories, three Giants World Series victories, two Patriots’ Super Bowl championships, and one 49ers Super Bowl championship.
Frisbie and the Guys confirmed there won’t be a going-away party or a grand re-opening.
Christiansen said the Guys welcome feedback and look forward to hearing from regulars and new customers. “I think it’s more of you go in and you work the place for a while. Then the place speaks to you. It lets you know what needs to be done to it. If you go in with a set game plan, I don’t think it will work. You learn what makes a bar a better place, a more functional place, by listening to the regulars and the employees. That’s really all it’s going to take. We’re looking forward to it,” said Christiansen.