Inside Lefty O’Doul’s Forgotten Past

A behind-the-scenes tour of a classic San Francisco bar reveals an old-time theater and a secret Bloody Mary mix.

30 photos
Joe Rosato Jr
Restaurant owner Nick Bovis stands in the middle of the hidden theater. The wood he's standing on is the ceiling to the lower restaurant.
Lefty O'Doul was very particular about his Bloody Marys. He wanted the bartenders to make them to his exact specifications. With the discovery of his original recipe, they'll be able to.
A view inside Lefty O'Doul's. The building was built in 1907 but Lefty didn't open his restaurant until 1958. Above the ceiling is an old theater.
Joe Rosato Jr.
A worker behind the counter of the old-time Haufbrau-style restaurant. Corn-beef, turkey and pastrami are cut to order.
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Workers slicing meat for the lunctime crowd.
Joe Rosato Jr.
Montgomery County Police Reporter
Lefty O'Doul was a pitcher with the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League. He later coached a young ball player named Joe DiMaggio. Lefty opened his restaurant in 1958 and was known for his Bloody Mary recipe.
Joe Rosato Jr.
Lefty's Owner Nick Bovis walks up the old staircase behind a door in the restaurant. Bovis says he hasn't gone up there much since a flock of pigeons scared the heck out of him.
A drawing of Mickey Mouse is illuminated by flashlights in an abandoned room above Lefty O'Doul's restaurant.
Joe Rosato Jr.
Nick Bovis' is the owner of Lefty O'Doul's Restaurant. He is a former engineer who is fascinated with old-time San Francisco lore.
Joe Rosato Jr.
Publicist Lee Housekeeper pokes around the old upper rooms above Lefty O'Doul's Restaurant.
Joe Rosato Jr.
The bones of an old theater rises above Lefty O'Doul's restaurant. The wooden planked floor is the ceiling for the lower restaurant. The cavernous room takes up three-fourths of a city block.
The walls of the old theater are decorated with ornate molding.
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The walls of the old theater are decorated with plaster fish. The mouths of the fish once held lights.
Joe Rosato Jr.
A plaster clam shell decorates the inside of the theater. No one is sure exactly when the theater originally opened. Some stories say the building was originally a shopping mall.
Joe Rosato Jr.
The walls of the old theater are shed paint flakes the size of saucers.
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Plaster fish look over the room, which time and progress have forgotten.
Joe Rosato Jr.
A small patch of stained glass provides a hint of what the massive skylight might've looked like at one time.
Joe Rosato Jr.
Lefty's owner Nick Bovis stands in the middle of the old theater. The frame he is standing on is the ceiling of the lower restaurant built to fill in the space. Bovis says it's like they sealed in a time capsule.
Joe Rosato Jr.
NBC videographer Josh Keppel shoots the inside of the theater.
Joe Rosato Jr.
Chipping paint looks like fish scales on a beam inside the theater.
Lee Housekeeper wanders through the old upper rooms above Lefty's.
Joe Rosato Jr.
Lefty's owner Nick Bovis digs through some old artificats found in the upper rooms of the restaurant. He believes the items belonged to Lefty O'Doul himself.
Joe Rosato Jr.
A bunch of stuff left behind by the Late Lefty O'Doul. Among them a box of toothpaste, a carton of milk, a box of records and an empty golf bag.
Joe Rosato Jr.
A box of Lefty O'Doul's records sit in a corner. Lefty kept notes on all of his favorites which included Fox Trots and Guy Lombardo.
Dancin' On A Rooftop by Dave Brecker and his Orchestra was among a collection of Lefty's records discovered in an alcove above Lefty O'Doul's Restaurant.
Joe Rosato Jr.
A golf bag, minus the clubs, sits in a dingy alcove above Lefty O'Doul's Restaurant. Inside, Nick Bovis discovered Lefty's handwritten Bloody Mary mix.
Joe Rosato Jr.
The handwritten bloody mary recipe discovered in Lefty O'Doul's golf bag. The recipe is dated 1966. Restaurant owner Nick Bovis says it's only a couple ingredients different than the recipe handed down verbally from bartender to bartender during the last four decades.
Joe Rosato Jr.
Bartender Paul Stengel mixes up one of Lefty's famous Bloody Mary's. Stengel learned the recipe from bar's original bartender who learned it from Lefty himself. The recipe has never been written down.
Joe Rosato Jr.
Lefty's handwritten Bloody Mary recipe sits next to one of Lefty's drinks. The restaurant now bottles and sells the mix. The proceeds go fund youth baseball leagues in San Francisco, a cause that was dear to Lefty O'Doul.
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