Ghosts of restaurants past

Every city, if not every town, has a place to eat enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The more notorious ones are off the beaten track. Personalities like Guy Fieri have made a living out of discovering and promoting these. The notoriety is typically due to cuisine, decor and sometimes history.

And sometimes all three combine with locale to provide an extra punch. Such was the case of the Cadillac Bar and Grill, a Mexican restaurant that might have been worthy of Obi Wan’s description of the cantina at Mos Eisley spaceport. The Cadillac occupied the entire space of a former warehouse, with the only room divisions being the kitchen and food prep in what was probably the former managing and bookkeeping space. Podiums and kiosks made up the host table and wait stations. The bar was a massive arc of wood and brass rail, over which was suspended a ginormous chandelier made of inverted clear Corona and green Dos Equis bottles, held in place by massive chains probably once used to restrain the Kraken.

The place could get loud. Not just “hey I can’t hear you” loud but “my God the wall just collapsed between us and the Bessemer-process steel foundry next door” loud. Occasionally management brought in the only thing known to Man that was louder and not poised on Cape Canaveral: a five-piece mariachi band. They roamed from table to table moving on only after an ear ransom was paid. Sometimes patrons with a few margaritas inside their belt would get up and dance. This had the effect of making adjacent tables pay the ransom.

The Cadillac had the best escape routes in the City. The main and side entrances were both in alleys. A huge parking garage ran the length of one alley.  A parking lot and office building with a public lobby framed the other. The public lobby featured a stairway to a subterranean parking garage. The main entrance was in the foot of an L-shaped closed-end street with the innocuous name of Holland Court. A quarter block away was Moscone Center, the city’s main convention venue. What made out-of-towners wander up the alley is beyond me, but those that did returned again and again. The Cadillac was a favorite for the local lunch crowd and evening diners. Location was far from being the only draw; the menu was original, the dishes superb and the service outstanding. The bar offered every kind of tequila and mezcal known to magueys, and in generous portions. The Cadillac was a destination.

About ten years into its existence, the chain known as Chevy’s took over a ground level retail space in the adjacent office building. Situated on the corner, the restaurant featured floor to ceiling windows, outdoor seating and was clearly visible to conventioneers  at Moscone. Worse, they took over the stairway to the underground parking lot and validated parking for diners. On the week it opened, the Cadillac pulled an old Chevrolet into the alley, provided a couple of hefty sledgehammers and for a small fee allowed people to whack away at it. It was fairly unrecognizable by the end of the night.

Despite the competition the Cadillac continued to thrive and was in existence for 15 years. Its demise came about in the name of Progress. The City decided to expand the convention facilities by building Moscone West, and used eminent domain to take over the entire half block. The eight-story glass and steel office building, the 500-space parking lot, the underground garage, the Cadillac, Chevy’s and Holland Court itself all disappeared in 1999. In a very real sense, the Millennium Bug had wrought destructive havoc.

cadillacBut the Cadillac is coming back, ironically in the home of the Millennials: a retail space in the home of Twitter, on Ninth and Market in San Francisco. You must pay a visit, and keep money at hand for the ransom.


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