The Old Ship Saloon – San Francisco, California - Gastro Obscura

The Old Ship Saloon

A Barbary Coast watering hole built into a Gold Rush shipwreck. 


In 1849, at the height of the Gold Rush, stormy seas drove the ship Arkansas aground on Alcatraz Island, and the wreckage was towed to shore along the city’s notorious Barbary Coast. In 1851, the ship started its second life as a bar.

A gangplank led to the entrance cut from the side of the ship, with a sign reading “Gud, bad and indif’rent spirits solds here! At 25 cents each.”

Between 1849-1852, a huge number of ships were wrecked or abandoned in the San Francisco Bay as ship after ship arrived following the announcement of the discovery of gold in the Sacramento foothills. In 1850, over 500 ships were recorded as being at anchor in the formerly sleepy bay, some undoubtedly slowly rotting in place after their crews had headed to the gold fields.

Like the nearby Niantic and other Gold Rush shipwrecks and abandoned vessels, the Arkansas quickly became part of the shoreside infrastructure.By 1855 the ship was landlocked by infilling at the bay (at least partially with rubble and ballast stones of other ships), and by 1859 all traces of the above-ground portion of the ship were removed. With the exception of the bad old days of prohibition, it’s been in the business of serving drinks for a century and a half. The current owner took over the property in 1992, and although today it may be tough to spot the bar’s shipwreck origins, they do serve a very nice version of Pisco Punch - the city’s Gold Rush drink of choice.

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