Thursday, April 19, 2012

100-Plus-Year-Old Chinatown Restaurant, Home of Famed Rude Waiter, to Close This Weekend

Sam Wo, which by some accounts opened in its current location at 813 Washington Street in 1907 but may have opened ten years prior, is closing after service on Friday. The owner, David Ho, tells the Scoop his reasons: "Too old. Everything’s too old. The building is too old. It’s very sad." Sam Wo was the legendary home of "the world's rudest waiter," Edsel Ford Fong, made famous in part because the restaurant was also a hangout of the Beats. Fong, who died in 1984, was immortalized as a recurring character in Armistead Maupin's series of Tales of the City novels, a character later featured in the BBC mini-series based on the novels.

Fong was said to be in on the joke, so to speak, but nonetheless he was known for calling patrons fat, criticizing their menu choices, seating people with strangers, groping female patrons, taking orders with a cigarette in his mouth, swearing, forgetting orders, reminding people to tip him, and busing tables before diners were finished. (Alas, the restaurant's reputation for nutty/aggressive waitstaff continued into recent times, as evidenced by this video of a brusque, screaming waitress from 2009, shot by some amused tourists.)

The three-story restaurant has run into trouble with the fire department lately, and apparently the owner feels the kitchen and the building itself are beyond repair. (We should also note that Jonathan Kauffman just this week wrote about Sam Wo as part of this Rice Plate Journal series, calling it "dirty and adorable" and "the most charming dive in Chinatown.")

Luckily we still have the city's oldest Chinese restaurant, the former Hang Far Low which renamed itself (wisely) Four Seas a few decades back. It was originally located, pre-quake, on Dupont street, between Clay and Sacramento and was called the "Delmonico's of Chinatown" according to an 1885 guide book. After the quake it moved to its current location at 731 Grant Avenue.

Update: SFist reminds us that Sam Wo was featured on the Late Show with Conan O'Brien in 2007 when Conan was doing a week of shows in S.F. Also, they're open until 3 a.m., for those looking to squeeze in a last visit.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Armistead,

    Thank you so much for this post and for your work (which we just discovered this week when my wife brought home "More Tales of the City" through her Netflix cue. We had never heard of this before but have fallen in love with the characters. We are originally from the Bay Area. I am Chinese-American and ate many meals at Sam Wo with my parents, with Edsel waiting on us. I was shocked and saddened to hear of Sam Wo's closing, and it brought back many memories for me. My dad and I would pick up "Yaow Jaow Gwai" (the deep fried long strips of dough) from Sam Wo to bring home and eat with my mom's "Jook," which was the same dish of rice porridige that Sam Wo served. My wife and I have lived in Chicago since 1979 and often think about retiring back in San Francisco. Thank you for bringing so much of the feeling and vitality of that great city into your work for all of us to enjoy ... and to remember. --G