McTeague’s Saloon, located at 1237 Polk Street on the block running between Bush and Pine Streets, is a literary landmark of sorts, situated perpendicular to Frank Norris Street, a block-long alleyway running between the next block of Polk and Larkin Street and named for the author of the novel from which the business takes its name. The book also served as the inspiration for the classic Erich Von Stroheim film Greed, starring Zasu Pitts. The novel was first published in 1899, the film released in 1924, the easternmost block of Austin Street renamed in honor of Mr. Norris in 1988, and the saloon established in 2008.
The saloon is most easily identified—like a murder victim—by its teeth, in this case a giant gold one hanging alongside the sign out front. There’s another one hanging from the ceiling in the bar’s interior, which is elaborately decorated in similarly questionable taste. The theme, in keeping with the story by Frank Norris, is 19th century San Francisco. Allowing for some modern day conventions like the ubiquitous flat-screen televisions showing non-stop sports programming, the attempt seems sincere, if the result a little camp. Along with the decapitated animal heads mounted on the wall and football pennants festooning the ceiling, the place is stuffed with historical photographs and faux vintage bric-a-brac: wagon wheels, wooden barrels, and stained glass mingling with modern light fixtures and the pool table in the wood-paneled rooms.
Popular with the pub and club crowd thanks to the absence of a cover charge, McTeague’s stocks an extensive selection of premium spirits as well as numerous imported and domestic draft beers. The weekday Happy Hour begins at noon and lasts until 7 PM, giving serious drinkers the chance to get an early start and enough time to accomplish a substantial day’s drinking at a reduced cost. The unlit neon on the sign out front advertising lunch and dinner is obsolete; there is no kitchen, but customers are welcome to bring their own food.
Like the subject of this article, J. Eric Miller is reminiscent of a bygone era of San Francisco. Follow his adventures at: theupsanddownsofsanfrancisco.tumblr.com