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An Earthquake Surviving Watering Hole: Shotwell's

Nestled in the Mission at the corner of Shotwell St and 20th street is one of the oldest bars in San Francisco, Shotwell’s. Shotwell’s was founded as a grocery saloon in 1891 by two German immigrants. During the earthquake and fire of 1906, it narrowly escaped being burned down.

“This building is made completely of redwood. If you look across the street, you’ll see the start of SoMa’s metal warehouses and right next to us and behind us are wood Victorian houses. This is exactly where the fire stopped and that’s why Shotwell’s didn’t burn down at the time and neither did all those Victorian houses.” explains now co-owner Tom Madonna.

Tom Madonna and David Hall bought the bar back in 2006 and have kept it in incredible condition. Tom took me on a tour of the bar showing me the back bar that’s still the same as it was in 1891, original glass panes and windows and a beautiful portrait of a naked woman hanging above the bar. “It’s a print by Francisco Goya. Having a resting nude on the top of the bar used to be a sign of a good ol’ bar back in the day.” Tom explains.

When I asked how Shotwell’s was holding up during this year considering the hurdles bars have had to jump, I got an unexpected answer. It seems like although bar goers are few and far in between recently, Shotwell’s have had a different type of customers during the pandemic: neighbors.

“We don’t get the people traveling from around the city or on a night out anymore, we get regulars from next door and from all around the neighborhood that just come for drink and a chat. Now we actually know our neighbors! It’s almost like Shotwell’s returned to the purpose it had at the turn of the 19th century. People used to just come to a bar for neighborhood gossip, chat, the news and get a drink on the side.” explains Tom.

By chance and with work, It seems like him and David have come full circle in restoring Shotwell’s historical significance. Get a drink at the legendary Shotwell’s anytime on Monday through Sunday from 4:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m!

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