‘Squadron Bottle’ military tradition lives on at historic San Francisco hotel

A San Francisco military drinking tradition dating back to World War II was revived with active military members and veterans flocking to a popular rooftop bar during Fleet Week.

The Top of the Mark on the 19th floor of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel is the birthplace of "The Squadron Bottle." It invites service members to leave a bottle of whiskey with the bartender so the next member from their squadron can have a little nip.

"If they have the last shot, they buy another bottle and pay it forward," said hotel general manager Michael Pace. "That’s actually how it started back in the 40s."

The popular bar was often the last spot servicemen would have a drink before deploying. It is also the place where wives, mothers and daughters would watch from "Weepers’ Corner" as their loved ones headed out to sea.

But after the war, the bottles disappeared until Navy Veteran Lt. Mike Hall brought it back in 2009.

"He basically said I’d like to restart the tradition and he got a bottle of bourbon and we had one bottle," said Pace. "We just had it on display and it really then just took off from there."

There are currently 100 Squadron Bottles displayed in cases or on carts at the Top of the Mark. Each one is wrapped in paper with a personalized note from the military member or family who bought it.

"To see it is a visual reminder of what’s in your heart," said Veteran Navy Seal Jim Lindell. "I really appreciate that tradition."

Now, any military member or Veteran can take a shot from one of the bottles. They’re asked to also write an entry into a journal with a personal message or memory to comrades.

"Looking at those and reading those you remember back and reflect when you were a young person in the military," said Lindell. "I see that and I value that with every bit of my soul."

Several journals have been filled over the past decade with powerful notes, pictures, drawings and military mementos.

"I am an American airman, wingman, leader, warrior," one of the journal entries read. "I will never leave a brother behind. I will never falter, and I will not fail."

For the first time, Navy Veteran Glenn Elmore visited San Francisco during Fleet Week and learned of the tradition at the rooftop bar.

Elmore was given the choice of what whiskey bottle he would like to drink from, and then asked to write in a journal. Then, he took his shot.

"We appreciate your service," a hotel employee said. "Cheers to you!"

"It’s just amazing to sip from a bottle that has all this meaning behind it," Elmore said. "As sailors we do like to partake from time to time."

Dozens of active and retired service members are expected to visit The Top of the Mark this weekend as the Blue Angels take to the skies. Many of them are expected to enjoy a drink from The Squadron Bottle, reflect on history, and in the end, help to write it.

"That tradition is just not for one person," said Lindell. "It’s for collectively, everybody."

Brooks Jarosz is a reporter for KTVU. Email him at  brooks.jarosz@fox.com and follow him on Facebook and X @BrooksKTVU