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Gordon's Sea Food Grotto, San Francisco, 1938
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Gordon's Sea Food Grotto, San Francisco, 1938 Gordon's Sea Food Grotto, San Francisco, 1938 Gordon's Sea Food Grotto, San Francisco, 1938

Gordon's Sea Food Grotto, San Francisco, 1938


San Francisco’s Ferry Building and its famous Clock Tower opened in 1898 and became the focal point for travelers and commuters arriving to the city by ferry. Passengers disembarking from boats walked through the building’s elegant two-storey, arched public space which was filled with vendors and places to eat.

Gordon’s Sea Food Grotto was located in the nave of the Ferry Building upstairs and this 1938 souvenir menu was published by its owner Leo Gordon in the run up to San Francisco’s World Fair a year later.

The fabulous front cover with its anthropomorphized clock tower touts the establishment as the perfect place for commuters to meet while waiting for transport home.

Suitably, for a restaurant owned by a Mr Gordon, it promoted Gordon’s gin as the base ingredient for many of its cocktails. Prices averaged 15 cents for a glass of wine and 25 cents for a cocktail. The house speciality – a Gordon’s Plug Hat which was named after the black hat like a bowler or top hat that, presumably, Mr Gordon wore - was 35 cents.

Mr Gordon called himself a pioneer in the operation of seafood restaurants. He had, the menu says, “spent a lifetime in the culinary art of dispensing sea and shell fish sea food to the public’ and chose every ingredient himself.

In the parlance of the time, customers who had this souvenir menu were urged to “mail one to your Eastern or Foreign friends.”

 The menu also included an advert for the San Francisco Oakland Bay bridge which had opened in 1936. Along with the Golden Gate Bridge which opened in 1937, these bridges soon began to render the daily commute by ferry obsolete and this may be the reason why Mr Gordon was trying to attract new customers with this souvenir menu.

We do not know when this establishment closed but by the 1950s, the Ferry Building was largely obsolete. It re-opened in 2003 after a four-year renovation as a foodie destination and marketplace and is visited by millions of people every year. Next time you visit, remember the pioneering Gordon’s Sea Food Grotto!

Courtesy Private Collection.

Each print is accompanied by a copy of the menu interior.

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