Sunday 27th May 2012
If I said the Magnolia is in the Haight-Ashbury district I wonder how much resonance that would have nowadays? This district was, of course, the epicentre of the Hippie movement that came on the scene during 1966 and especially 1967. The area continued in the same vein for a few years but there was a creeping commercialism that slowly eroded the ideals of the loosely-structured movement. Please see the photograph of one of the two famous street signs that must have been pictured a million times before me. Of course, the district became a tourist destination and still is, especially if judged by the number of shops that sell an amazing array of things you didn't even know you needed.
However, if there is anything genuine in the area it is the Magnolia, just one block from the famous junction, at the intersection of Haight and Masonic. By San Francisco standards it has quite a history. Constructed in 1903, it remarkably survived the great earthquake of 1906. It became a pharmacy in the 1920s when it is thought that was when the wood panelling that graces the pub's walls, was installed. It became the Drugstore Café in the sixties and it continued to the end of the seventies as a café with various different owners. After that there was real decline that was only relieved when it was purchased in the middle 1990s. Finally, on 11th November 1997 it opened in its present guise.
It looks really inviting from the outside, being shaded from trees on both streets. Inside it was very welcoming but oh so busy. I suppose it was because it was a holiday weekend but I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't like this every Sunday.
I found a perch on the end a long table with stools and looked at the menu. It was really extensive and I could have selected from any of these eleven beers. Kalifornia Kölsch (4.7%); Prescription Pale Ale (4.7%); New Speedway Bitter (no abv given); Weather Report Wheat (5.0%); Sara's Ruby Mild (3.8%); Blue Bell Bitter (4.5%); Bonnie Lee's Best Bitter (4.1%); Proving Ground IPA (7.0%); Weekapaug Gruit (?) (6.0%); Dark Star Mild (3.6%) and finally, Porter (4.8%). In addition to this there was a cider (?); Two Rivers Pomegranate Hard Cider (6.0%).
If that was a good selection, I have saved the best till last, as there were no less than five cask ales on offer! Two of them were duplicates of the main menu, but the other three were completely different. The two repeats were Dark Star Mild (3.6%) and Bonny Lee's Best Bitter (4.1%). The rest of the offerings were Billy Sunday's Best Bitter (4.6%); Possum Pale Ale (6.0%) and Spud Boy's IPA (6.0%).
I ordered a taster set of the five cask beers and one keg beer. The waitress advised me that there was another beer that had just become available and that was The New IPA. I don't suppose that was it's real name but it's what I've got to call it in the absence of any other title. I had it first and thought it was good. It was not of the West Coast style being more like a British IPA.
Then I got stuck in to the cask beers. In order of tasting, this is what I thought of them: Billy Sunday's Best Bitter, I thought was soft, smooth and a genuine Best Bitter. Bonny Lee's Best Bitter (4.1%), was very malty with no discernable bitterness. Possum Pale Ale was good with a nice bite of US hops. Dark Star Mild had the right balance with just a little bitterness in the finish. Spud Boy's IPA was very good, having more of an old world hop flavour.
Although these cask beers were all good I had one major reservation, they were all served too warm. That is not likely to attract a US clientele. Cask beers like these would be served at several degrees lower in the UK.
They propose to open a new brewery in the spring of 2013 along with a BBQ restaurant in Dogpatch?? San Franciscans will obviously know where this is, I just hope it doesn't mean the closure of their brewery in the basement of Magnolia, but it probably will.
What a great pub! I would love to revisit, preferably at 10.00 on Sunday morning, when they open and just go through the card of cask beers until fulfilment.
The Magnolia Pub and Brewery, 1398 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA. 94117
Tel: 415 864 7468
Open: Monday to Thursday 11.00-24.00; Friday 11.00-01.00;
Saturday 10.00-01.00; Sunday 10.00-24.00
Haight Ashbury is served by trolleybus 6 to and from downtown. Other bus routes are 33, 37 & 71. The pub is around five blocks away from the Carl and Cole stop of the Muni Metro.