Denied the joy of celebrating a World Series victory since the team moved to San Francisco from New York in 1958, Giants fans also have suffered through a couple of culinary missteps outside the Giants’ gorgeous China Basin digs. But with the opening of Public House, coinciding with the start of the 2010 season, fans finally have a go-to player at 24 Willie Mays Plaza.
One reason the previous tenant, Acme Chophouse, didn’t make the cut was that its game plan was tilted toward “fine” (whatever that means) sit-down dining. That too-formal strategy was at odds with the casual atmosphere fans expect before a baseball game. Redesigned inside and out, Public House seems to have corrected the stodgy atmosphere and the restaurant/pub now feels more casual, airy and welcoming.
The entrance to the room is dominated by two large bars that face one another. The bar on the left is mostly for mixed drinks and wine while the bar on the right is primarily for beer (the empty beer kegs are a dead giveaway). You can order anything from either bar. However, the two bars form a sort of funnel as you proceed deeper into the room, creating a potential bottleneck for bartenders and wait staff scurrying back and forth (staff refers to it as the “kill zone”). It will be interesting to see what creative steps Public House takes to avoid congestion. Beyond the bar are some tables, a large, open kitchen and the turnstile entrance to AT&T Park. There are also tables in front of the bar in a patio that is designed to be warmed by heaters below the sidewalk rather than space heaters.
The menu features beer-friendly appetizers and pub food like fish and chips, a BLT, a variety of hotdogs and sausages, sliders, a burger and salads. Considering the location and the quality, prices are not outrageous. Unlike in Philly, you will not find Velveeta on Thom’s Cheesesteak Sandwich ($12). Instead, there’s a nice pile of tender, juicy beef, grilled onions and sweet peppers encased in a soft, fresh roll. Although the sandwich is not huge, it’s very tasty and big enough to share as an appetizer. The Mac-n-Cheese appetizer ($5), a holdover from Acme Chophouse, is not to be missed. It arrives piping hot, with melted yellow cheese atop soft, creamy elbow noodles. Matched with an Allagash White or an Ommegang Pale Ale, the cheesesteak and mac ‘n cheese combo is almost as satisfying as a Brian Wilson strikeout to close out a game. Just like with your beer or alcoholic beverage of choice, you can take the food inside the park with you.
Dave McLean, owner of the Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery and The Alembic in the Haight, was on hand to help inaugurate the new baseball season and the new pub with a special beer brewed just for Public House. McLean called his cask-conditioned English ale “Billy Sunday Bitter,” which combines the name of an 19th century baseball player turned evangelist with a Grateful Dead lyric from Ramble on Rose* (if you spend more than 10 minutes at Magnolia, you’re bound to hear some Dead). Billy Sunday the ale is the kind of beer you might have in a cask in England: naturally carbonated and served at cellar temperature (rather than refrigerator cold) so that you can appreciate all the nuances of the beer. It seemed somewhat hoppy for an English style bitter but was delicious nonetheless.
Having Dave McLean and Magnolia onboard, along with beer from several local breweries, helps establish Public House as part of the San Francisco beer scene and might even make China Basin a beer destination beyond the estimable 21st Amendment a couple of blocks away.
The Giants seem finally to have a lineup of decent hitters and one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, playing in one of the most beautiful parks in the country. And for the first time since the park opened in 2000, long-suffering Giants fans have a pub worthy of a pennant contender. Who knows? Maybe this really will be their year after all.
24 Willie Mays Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94107
*Ramble on Rose
(Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia)
Just like Jack the Ripper
Just like Mojo Hand
Just like Billy Sunday
In a shotgun ragtime band
Just like New York City,
Just like Jericho
Pace the halls and climb the walls
Get out when they blow