San Francisco's iconic 'Lefty' O' Doul's announces move

A bitter landlord dispute is forcing a famous Union Square restaurant and bar to close its doors.

Lefty O'Doul's, a hofbrau founded by baseball player Lefty O'Doul, has been serving up its famous cocktails and corned beef dishes for decades.

Now the owner of the building and the owner of Lefty's are embroiled in a nasty battle over who owns the rights to the restaurant.

"Oohhh...I can't believe it!" exclaimed longtime customer Amy Kent of Sunnyvale when she heard the news Thursday afternoon. "I'm just so upset. I've been coming since I'd say the early 70s with my parents from Santa Cruz when we would come and see a play we'd come and get Lefty's! We'd have their macaroni and cheese, corned beef sandwich, and it's an institution!"

Patrons say the roomy vinyl booths, wood paneled walls and German influenced architecture evoke a sense of nostalgia that is irreplaceable.

Baseball memorabilia, historic photographs and even Marilyn Monroe's ID from when she was married to Joe DiMaggio plaster the walls. Hot plates piled high with pastrami, corned beef and macaroni and cheese are dished out by the minute, while Bloody Mary’s using Lefty's original recipe are still poured at the bar. For those wanting a twist on the Irish Coffee, Chuck Davis the bartender, will dazzle you with his fiery antics for the "Flaming Spanish coffee."

"You're losing part of the soul of the city when you lose places like this these are San Francisco treasures," sighed Stefano Cassolato of San Francisco, who has come to Lefty's four times a week for 15 years. "It's like an extended living room. It's a San Francisco thing."

Over the years, Lefty's, once the St. Francis Theatre, has attracted sports fans, cops, tourists and locals.

It found its home at 333 Geary Street in 1958. The owner Nick Bovis, whose family has run it since 1998, decided not to renew the lease because the 102 year old building is in dire need of repairs. He claims the owner, John Handlery was not willing to fix the problems. Although Bovis was not available for an interview today, a writer for the SF Chronicle, JK Dineen, who's written a book called "High Spirits: Legacy of Bars of San Francisco", concurred. "There's a lot of deferred maintenance you would say," said Dineen.

"It would cost several million dollars to make it up code and so they're hoping that they’re going to be able to bring the charm but not the backed up toilets and the leaks in the ceiling and all that kind of stuff."

The lease squabble comes as no surprise to those who know the rocky past between Bovis and Handlery. Five years ago, Handlery evicted Bovis' Gold Dust Lounge just around the corner from Lefty's and instead put in an Express clothing store.

The bar relocated to Fisherman's Wharf but Bovis said Handlery was destroying a historical landmark; Bovis filed a lawsuit but lost, so this time he said he wanted to go quietly.

Bovis said he plans to relocate Lefty's nearby later this year, but in a twist, Sam Singer, a spokesperson for the building's owner released this statement, "The decision not to renew the lease with Mr. Bovis was mutual... After its closure on February 3 Lefty's will be refurbished and will reopen in the near future at its current location on Union Square."

The statement clearly sets the stage for a nasty showdown over who will actually open the next Lefty's, both sides have legal and logistic challenges ahead.

"My concern is that they keep sort of the hodge podge, kind of improvised, kind of slightly rundown feeling that makes it so dark and cozy," said Dineen.

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