Francis Joseph “Lefty” O’Doul was a home-grown San Franciscan who played for the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, as well as the New York Giants and went on to manage the local San Francisco Seals from 1937 to 1951. He is credited as being instrumental in spreading baseball’s popularity in Japan, serving as the sport’s goodwill ambassador before and after World War II. The Tokyo Giants, sometimes considered “Japan’s Baseball Team,” were named by him in 1935 in honor of his affiliation with his New York team.
Lefty opened his hometown restaurant and pub on Geary Street in 1958. The place is dark and woody, crowded with baseball memorabilia, and throngs of patrons who clearly feel at home and no doubt crowd the place on a regular basis.
The term “watering hole” may not have been invented for this place, but it certainly applies. Ask the guy next us at the bar who was about 3003 sheets to the wind (“I’m forty-fooour… of course next year I’m gonna be forty-threeeee…. I look pretty good for forty-nine, don’t IIIIIIIII?“) And of course, this was at about 11:30 in the morning. The lengthy bar and comfy stools stand directly across from a steam tray line where cooks serve up hand-carved roast beef, ham and pastrami, filling the stomachs of the business district at lunchtime.
I have read plenty of reviews that describe Lefty’s as a “tourist trap.” They seem to equate the term with any establishment that has been around long enough to have a “must visit when in the city of….” tag attached to it. Forget that. There’s a reason Lefty’s has been around for a long time, and a reason it deserves a visit – great transporting atmosphere, solid food and drinks, and bartenders that are friendly and well-versed in the history of the place. And like any good San Francisco establishment… a challenging set of stairs in a dangerously narrow hallway that must be overcome if one wants to use a bathroom. How anyone could manage it after a couple drinks is beyond me. Another reason to go!