Last week I had driven past that SF waterfront institution, Red's Java House located just south of the Bay Bridge along the Embarcadero Freeway on pier 30-32, having taken notice of a banner advertising a Happy Hour and a Patio Garden -- signs of new times at this venerable dive.
Fearing the worst, I ventured there over the weekend and am relieved and happy to report that the place is as authentic as ever. About the only thing different from my last visit was a fresh coat of beige paint out back on the patio/beer garden, which is separate from the cozy confines of the front room.
Red's Java House is somewhat of a relic -- a white shack serving the most basic of foods -- burgers, hot dogs, beer -- situated right on the water about 3-4 furlongs south from the Ferry Building. It's been around seemingly forever, and typically attracts a mixed crowd of longshoremen, carpenters, painters, and an assortment of ne'er-do-wells -- alongside financial district and former dot.commer-types who are searching for a piece of nostalgia amidst the modern South Beach appartment backdrop and the spruced-up nature of the Embarcadero Freeway area in general.
Although long since removed from it's glory days of the past when it was primarily a longshoremen's haunt, you still have to walk past an SFFD fireboat (the very one that was used to help extinguish the Marina District fires during the 1989 earthquake) at a nearby pier to access the place, there are several tug and barge employees in the area, and the USS Jeremiah O'Brien (the last of the Liberty Ships) is still docked nearby.
As for the atmosphere, food, and service, nothing has changed -- despite the addition of the rear patio tables with Budweiser parasols. The view is still spectacular of the passing ferry boats and tanker ships. The front entrance still features rickety, narrow doors, complete with a wood-burning stove and several pictures of SF's past, including the Bay Bridge being built in the background with Red's in the foreground, and lots of Panamanian Exhibition photos.
The hand-written menu cards still adorn the walls, but the one that said "Espresso -- No Way!" was missing. There are seemingly endless combinations of burgers, hot dogs, fries and beer available. The standard is a burger and beer (Budweiser) for $5.25 -- or $6.25 for an Anchor Steam upgrade. We opted for the $7.25 double burger with fries and an Anchor.
The burgers are not angus, nor kobe beef, and definitely do not come served with goat cheese on an organic seed bun. Instead, they come on rectangular sourdough rolls that are toasted. The standard condiments available are mustard, mayo, and onions. Don't like the onions? Just scrape 'em off.
If you're still hungry, there's also a board with 7 or 8 faded and wrinkled old candy bar wrappers posted above the cash register -- but we were so satisfied with our burger, fries and beer that we opted to skip those dessert menu options.
Oh yeah, the place does actually sell Java -- their very own version of beans for $6.00 a pound -- not a bad price for those seeking to re-live the authentic Red's experience at home.
Red's Java House
SF, CA (415) 777-5626