A San Francisco restaurant, Tommy's Joynt opened on the corner of Van Ness and Geary in 1947. The low building, slightly north and uphill of the civic center, is painted mostly blue and bears a large neon sign. A pair of narrow, heavy doors opens on the main room, the hofbrau counter immediately on the right, the bar on the left. The large room connects to an increasingly smaller group of dining cabinets that feel almost underground. The whole of the place is covered in memorabilia and other kitsch; the walls behind the bar and hofbrau are plastered with signs.
Around 6:30 on any night, a line begins to form at the counter, quickly continuing out the door. The patrons are ordering from the straightforward list of meats, either sandwiches (huge) or dinner plates (gargantuan) of beef brisket, corned beef, pastrami, ham, turkey, or sausages. An array of sides are also offered: mashed potatoes, macaroni salad, potato salad, three bean salad, tomatoes & onions, marinated mushrooms, pickled beets. A shelf of desserts stand by: chocolate cake, apple strudel, carrot cake, cheesecake. The house special buffalo stew is explicated by a large sign surmounted by a picture of buffalo grazing. A staff of two or three stand behind the counter, putting together orders from the pile of roasted meats on the steam table and dishing out scoops of sides.
Finding a table sometimes means wandering ever deeper into the back of the restaurant. Somewhere it must become the basement of the Goodman Building, next door on Geary. A waitress quickly comes around to take drink orders. The bar has the standards on tap, and perhaps 100 different bottled beers, but I never order one of those, this is San Francisco, and the local beer is Anchor Steam. For some reason, I haven't availed myself of their Irish coffee or martinis, but prices at the bar are cheap.
My family used to drive to San Francisco for a weekend every other month. We would spend most of our time in Chinatown, buying groceries and things that were not available in Monterey. The few times we did not dine in Chinatown, I recall vividly. Father parked the car somewhere near downtown and he led us through the cold wind that blasts up Van Ness to the garishly painted, misspelled Tommy's Joynt. A line of people stood waiting out the door. While Mother had some words to say about standing in the wind; I wandered around the corner as to see what else was painted on the walls, and got yanked back in line by Mother. A few minutes later we entered the bar, and stood in front of the hofbrau counter. The proliferation of signs announcing the specials, the sandwiches, the dinner plates, the salads, assaulted my 10 year old's powers of observation. After prompting from Mother, I ordered a corned beef sandwich and a three bean salad, and upon receiving it, was impressed at the immensity of the plate of meat, and the roll it was on.
These days, I gravitate towards Tommy's Joynt at the slightest excuse. I generally get a sandwich on the sourdough roll, so it can stand up to the bbq sauce, au jus, or gravy that comes with. The servings are not as big as I remember, but I'm more than twice the size I was then. Still, I can skip lunch and leave satiated, having paid less than $10, even with a pint.
As the cocktail napkins proclaim:
THERE'S NO PLACE
QUITE LIKE THIS PLACE
SO THIS MUST BE
VAN NESS AT GEARY
Open Daily until 1:30am (closed Christmas day)