Tuesday, January 8, 2008

End of an era as Washbag, Trader Vic’s close doors

(01-08) 15:33 PST -- The New Year didn't exactly get off to a good start for two venerable San Francisco restaurants, both of which had been revived with much fanfare before closing for good last week.

The "out of business" sign that appeared on the doors of North Beach's Washington Square Bar & Grill (1707 Powell St.) Jan. 1 surprised even its longtime bartender, Michael McCourt.

"We didn't have a clue," McCourt says.

On New Year's Eve, revelers heard no hint that the doors would close for good the next day. On New Year's morning, owner Guy Ferri called his employees one by one to deliver the blow.

"It had been an uphill battle for a while," Ferri told Scoop. "We've had a tough year."

Ferri and his wife, Rose, took over the historic eating and drinking establishment in 2000 and decided to change its old-time San Francisco ambience.

The Washbag became Cobalt Tavern, but the concept never took off, and two years later, the Ferris brought back McCourt and the old look and cuisine.

But Ferri says he never recovered from the debts Cobalt ran up.

"And the cost of doing business does keep going up in town," he says. Nothing specific happened to spark the decision to shut, just the ongoing stress of trying to make ends meet. He's going to "take a little time off and regroup."

Meanwhile, the regulars, who have considered the Washbag their own club, for decades are "homeless," scattered hither and yon at North Beach watering holes like Gino & Carlo (548 Green St.) while they find a new home, McCourt says.

The venerable bartender, who goes back most of two decades on Washington Square, is looking for his next gig. If he has his way, he says, "I'd like to stay in North Beach, if possible."

And over in the Civic Center, closed doors, at Trader Vic's (555 Golden Gate Ave., near Van Ness), presumably just for the holidays prompted concerned e-mails and phone calls.

Indeed, the mai tais will flow no more - the tiki restaurant with a long and storied background is no longer operating, and the answering machine says it's closed for good.

The San Francisco institution ran for many years in the space that currently houses Le Colonial. After closing 12 years ago, it opened in 2004 in its current location, the previous Stars. But it seems the reopened spot was never quite able to get on its feet.

Repeated phone calls and messages to Trader Vic's offices went unreturned, so it's anyone's guess as to what ultimately was the final straw. Two other Bay Area locations - one in Emeryville and the other in Palo Alto - remain open.


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