The 99-year history of San Francisco’s ultimate neighborhood bar

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The highly popular parklet of the Page as seen early on Saturday evening, Sept. 2, 2023.

The highly popular parklet of the Page as seen early on Saturday evening, Sept. 2, 2023.

Kevin Kelleher & Emily Trinh/Special to SFGATE

I am not a fan of carpet in a bar. You just don’t know what’s lurking in there, what’s been spilled and forgotten … or ignored. I don’t even like carpet in a home for the exact same reason. How often do people with carpet actually clean it? Vacuuming doesn’t count. There’s carpet in the Page, but even that can’t keep me from loving it.

“It was here when I bought the place,” Bob Wait tells me with a chuckle. I shudder as I look down aghast at the floor of the bar he’s owned since 2004.

To my relief, the current carpet isn’t the one that was there when Wait bought the place. He explains: “This is maybe 7 years old. It’s version No. 3 or 4.”

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A distinctive rug covers the entryway in front of the doors of the Page in San Francisco's Lower Haight neighborhood, as seen early on Saturday evening, Sept. 2, 2023.

A distinctive rug covers the entryway in front of the doors of the Page in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood, as seen early on Saturday evening, Sept. 2, 2023.

Kevin Kelleher & Emily Trinh/Special to SFGATE

In researching the history of this bar, and the many things that lived in the space at 298 Divisadero, I came across a beautiful irony, or at least coincidence — one that Wait won’t even know until he reads this article.

From 1919 until 1936, the edifice at 298 Divisadero on the corner of Page Street housed a carpet cleaning business. First as Henry Carpet Cleaning, owned by Henry Appiarius, and then W.M. Styles Carpet Cleaning, owned by William M. Styles.

So, despite my distaste for carpet, it seems that the Page was destined to have it. It’s like it was in the bar’s DNA.

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Partygoers kick it in the back room of the Page in San Francisco's Lower Haight District on Saturday night, Sept. 2, 2023.

Partygoers kick it in the back room of the Page in San Francisco’s Lower Haight District on Saturday night, Sept. 2, 2023.

Kevin Kelleher & Emily Trinh/Special to SFGATE

But there’s so much more to this place than what you walk on. Like any good public house, the Page acts as the neighborhood’s living room. Walking in, you will invariably see longtime regulars bellied up to the bar that almost runs the length of the right side of the room. Across from that, you’ll find little clusters of people camped out around tables, kibitzing and catching up with each other. Thrift store art abounds on the walls and the back bar, while in the downstairs backroom, you might find someone reading a book from the Page’s library, while other people sit around drinking and talking s—t. 

One of the joys of this spot is that you can rub elbows with old-timers who’ve been in the neighborhood for ages, and young newbies to San Francisco. Everyone is welcome at the Page, and there’s no pretension, just like Wait intended when he opened the bar 19 years ago. And that’s exactly why he named it the Page.

From 1994 to 2004 the bar at 298 Divisadero was called Chances. “I didn’t like the name,” Wait explains. “It sounds a little bit like an airport bar or something in a mall. And picking out a new bar name is not as easy as it may appear. This place was almost called the Matador.”

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We both acknowledge that it’s good he didn’t stick with the Matador considering that, since 2004, there’s been at least three spots in SF with that name, two of which have failed. But the name the Page actually came to Wait the night John Kerry lost the presidential election to George W. Bush in 2004.

The Page stands at the southeast corner of Divisadero Street in San Francisco's Lower Haight District.

The Page stands at the southeast corner of Divisadero Street in San Francisco’s Lower Haight District.

Kevin Kelleher & Emily Trinh/Special to SFGATE

Wait was in the bar with a bunch of neighborhood folks bemoaning the Electoral College tallies as they came in, and there was something about the camaraderie of it that struck him. Afterwards, walking home with his wife and discussing possible names, he realized he wanted a name that wasn’t too hip or trendy, something that was almost forgettable, in the sense that it was timeless — just like the bar. 

And so, in late 2004, the Page was born. And looking back to that era, it appears that me and Wait and I were on the same … page. When I first covered the bar in my 2007 book “Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply in San Francisco,” I literally wrote the following line: “The reason I like this spot is because the interior looks like it could be a bar in any town.”

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The birth of the Page

Back in 2004 when Wait bought the bar, it was called Chances. I was living in the neighborhood, at the legendary 1907 Golden Gate Ave. Burning Man house. This was before real estate agents started using the term NoPa, when everyone considered it part of the Western Addition.

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“I think Chances still had probably a 50% Black clientele,” Wait tells me as we discuss the history of the bar and the neighborhood. “This place was Black-owned for 20 or 30 years.”

When I published my very first zine, I included Chances in there because the drinks were super cheap, but one of the things I remember most about the Divisadero corridor back then is how different the demographics were. There was even a nod to this when my zine became a book. Besides the necessary map icons like “bar” or “restaurant,” we also had funny and satirical ones. So, for the NoPa map, we sprinkled in a few canes, which the legend explained stood for “Old Black man trying to figure out why all these funny looking white kids keep moving into his neighborhood.”

An interior view of the Page in San Francisco's Lower Haight District, Sept. 2, 2023.

An interior view of the Page in San Francisco’s Lower Haight District, Sept. 2, 2023.

Kevin Kelleher & Emily Trinh/Special to SFGATE

Back before urban renewal displaced a huge amount of San Francisco’s Black population, Divisadero had a thriving nightlife and music club scene. People like Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and Ike & Tina Turner would play shows at clubs like Club Morocco (now Club Waziema), The Half Note (now The Independent), The Playpen (now Green Earth Natural Foods), and Both/And, which is currently empty. The combination of urban renewal and the further disenfranchisement of the Black community brought hard times on Divis from the late ’70s until the dot-com boom at the end of the 20th century. By the time Wait bought the bar in 2004, gentrification had begun to alter the neighborhood in earnest.

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“I’ve lived nearby since ’92,” Wait tells me, “And I can think of a number of neighbors that’ve moved away, and you know, they’re not usually replaced by more Black folks.”

Unique odds and ends pop off the walls in the back room of San Francisco's Page bar, as seen on Saturday night, Sept. 2, 2023.

Unique odds and ends pop off the walls in the back room of San Francisco’s Page bar, as seen on Saturday night, Sept. 2, 2023.

Kevin Kelleher & Emily Trinh/Special to SFGATE

But as Wait explains, change has always been part of the neighborhood. “There’s a guy who’s passed away named Bob Law who used to come in here and was a dock worker. His family came here in 1942 and lived just down Page Street. The people who had the house prior were Japanese and they were sent to an internment camp. He said his family was one of the first Black families to move into the area.”

Law told Wait a story of how when they first moved in, his father popped into Pal’s Rendezvous for a drink. At the time it was the bar at 298 Divisadero and was white owned. Apparently, Law’s dad sat down at the bar and he was completely ignored, despite there only being a few customers. He never got served and eventually walked out.

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The many lives of 298 Divisadero

Bars are places where people go to celebrate, but they’re also where people go to forget. And they’re also places where people get s—tfaced and tell stories that may not be 100% accurate. Finding out the true history of a place can be like playing telephone over many decades and drinks, so, to find the real history of 298 Divisadero (not the drunkard’s version), I enlisted the help of Pam Larson who is the Volunteer Coordinator at the Haas-Lilienthal House, one of SF Heritage’s crown jewels. 

San Francisco's Page Street runs east-west through the city, seen here marked at the southeast corner of Divisadero Street, Sept. 2, 2023.

San Francisco’s Page Street runs east-west through the city, seen here marked at the southeast corner of Divisadero Street, Sept. 2, 2023.

Kevin Kelleher & Emily Trinh/Special to SFGATE

Here’s a rundown of the past 120 years or so, according to Larson, with a little bit of hearsay added by Wait.

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1904-1905: If you look at this photo from Muni in 1904, you can zoom in and see that it that the sign reads “Crossley’s Fine Candies, Ice Cream and Soda,” as owned by George Crossley.

1907-1914: Crossley’s transitions into a variety and stationary store owned by John W. Eaton. It appears George Crossley may have moved and sold everything to Eaton. A catastrophic earthquake and fire will do that to you.

1915: Eaton moves the store to 345 Divisadero, which was listed as a bazaar. According to Larson’s research, 298 Divisadero remained empty until 1919, when Henry Appiarius opens up his carpet cleaning business.

1919: Just before Prohibition starts, it becomes a carpet cleaning business owned by Henry Appiarius — Henry Carpet Cleaning.

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1928-1936: Our old buddy William M. Styles takes over and changes the name to W.M. Styles Carpet Cleaning. We’ll call this foreshadowing.

1936: Shortly after Prohibition ends, it becomes a liquor retailer called Pal’s Rendezvous. It’s unclear whether this was a liquor store, a bar or both. It’s owned by Galen H. Harvey and his wife Bernice. They live across the street at 996 Page St.

1947: At this point it is a bar and restaurant. An old ad says Pal’s Rendezvous Cocktail and Fine Foods. It’s still owned by G.H. Harvey (Galen H. Harvey). Wait has a photo of the bar from 1945 that says “Leonard Harvey, Prop.” on the back of it, presumably a relative and partner of Galen.

1953: By now it is officially called Pal’s Rendezvous Tavern, owned by Frank A. Hansen and his wife Enid.

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1960s: Regulars told Wait that they believed the bar changed its name to Rambler House and was owned by a mixed race couple, but there’s no other documentation to support this.

The Page stands at the corner of Divisadero and Page Street in San Francisco's Lower Haight District.

The Page stands at the corner of Divisadero and Page Street in San Francisco’s Lower Haight District.

Kevin Kelleher & Emily Trinh/Special to SFGATE

1974: By 1974, it’s listed as Page One Tavern with Tommy Williams as the contact, most likely the proprietor. There’s no other info that we found.

1982: In the ’80s it was called Corn & Company Tavern and owned by Robbie and Nan Benton.

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1994-2004: Hank and Shawn run good-old Chances. It’s likely that they acquired the back downstairs room. According to Wait, it was a dentist office and then a flower shop in the ’70s and ’80s.

2004: Bob Wait buys the place and turns it into the hero of our story, the Page.

The best little parklet in town

There have been a lot of changes at 298 Divisadero in the past 120 or so years, and the most recent big one came about because of COVID-19.  

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The highly popular parklet of the Page as seen early on Saturday evening, Sept. 2, 2023.

The highly popular parklet of the Page as seen early on Saturday evening, Sept. 2, 2023.

Kevin Kelleher & Emily Trinh/Special to SFGATE

The Page has what is probably the coolest parklet in San Francisco. While its footprint has shrunk about 10 feet since the height of the pandemic, it’s still a resplendent reconstruction of the interior of the bar. Looking like a cross between a Swiss chalet and a townie bar in Anywhere, USA, the walls of the bar are covered with taxidermy and random paintings — like the giant one of King Henry VIII. When parklets became a thing in 2020, Wait and his team wanted to create the same vibe as the inside of the bar. So, they decorated the parklet as best they could, including a faux-brick wall and fireplace.

Unfortunately, or fortunately — depending how you look at it — they did not add any carpet to the parklet. Henry Appiarius and William M. Styles are looking down on this with disapproval from wherever carpet cleaners go after they die.

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