The Mannequin for America’s Trendy Craft Beer Growth? Contained in the Small-Brewer Scene in Nineteen Fifties San Francisco ‹ Literary Hub

As the 1950s wound down, the proliferation of mass-produced, heavily marketed light lagers took an increasing toll on America’s—and San Francisco’s—small brewers. But a number of local establishments still proudly featured Anchor’s signature product, in particular the Crystal Palace Market between Market and Mission at 8th Street. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it was a “sprawling, pungent, cheap and exotic carnival of delicatessen and delicacy.”

During the 1940s and 50s, Austrian Joseph Erdelatz served Anchor Steam and hot dogs at his bar in the southeast corner of this vast, colorful marketplace. Locals called it the “Steam Beer Parlor,” scarcely imagining its pivotal role in Anchor’s or its beer’s survival. For had it not been for the Crystal Palace, there might never have been an Old Spaghetti Factory, and without the Old Spaghetti Factory and its charismatic owner, Fred Kuh, there might be no Anchor Steam Beer today. Fritz Maytag, who tells the story better than anyone, shared it with me a few years ago:

Ah, Fred. A man of good taste. He had lived in Chicago and been to the Sieben’s Brewery, where I later bought our bottling line. They were the last brewery in America to have a restaurant in the brewery, a little Bier stube. And when he came to San Francisco for a visit, on the way into town from the airport, the very first thing his friend did was take him for a visit to the crystal Palace Market, sort of the equivalent of today’s farmers’ market. He recognized it immediately as similar to the great traditions of good food in Europe. Then his friend took him to the taproom at the crystal Palace Market, where they served Anchor steam on draught. Fred told me that he vowed that day, in the bar, drinking Anchor steam, that he would move to San Francisco, open a restaurant, and serve only Anchor steam Beer on draught.

And Fred Kuh served, on draught, Anchor Steam Beer only, all the years he was open. He had bottled beers, but no other beer on draught ever. And it was a booming place with young people. It was a target for the brewers. Imagine all the salespeople from Budweiser, Coors, and Miller, who would call on Fred at the Old Spaghetti Factory and tell him that he couldn’t possibly survive as a business if he didn’t have their beer on draught. And he told them all to go jump in the lake.

Fred Kuh had made good on his vow.


Reprinted with permission from The Anchor Brewing Story: America’s First Craft Brewery & San Francisco’s Original Anchor Steam Beer by David Burkhart, foreword by Fritz Maytag, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button