Finnigan's Work

Longtime barkeep remembers when drinking was dignified

"In my day, nobody was that aware of products particularly. It was, 'Gimme a scotch. Gimme this. Gimme that.' Our day was volume. Quantity against quality. Now it's quality. Kids now are more aware of what they are drinking. Now they are calling, 'Give me that' about the top-shelf stuff and knowing it all. When somebody asks a question, you have to come up with a halfway legitimate answer. You can't say, 'I don't know, read the labels.'"

Durant's has, through the years, been a watering hole for political weasels, a fact on which Finnigan doesn't want to elaborate.

But with a galloping laugh, he offers, "Prior to AzScam, this used to be a helluva stop for the legislature."

Finnigan's career in booze took root at a blues show when he was a pup. And he remembers his first drink like one remembers his first woman.

"I faked an ID card to see Billy Eckstine. I was about 16. The bartender had to be blind, 'cause I got a baby face! Everybody drank in those days, city kids, country kids."

What did his old man think of him taking up barkeep work in San Francisco more than four decades ago?

"He was madder than hell when he found out I was gonna tend bar. The funny thing is, my father was a bartender."

Why tend bar?
"Well," he says, adding, in full self-mocking pitch, "I'm a real people person."

So how was the drinking in his day?
"Of course, I met my wife in a bar. It was called the Goldmine in San Francisco. I don't know if it is still there, but we have been married 39 years. So, it was great."

There is, in fact, no current listing for a Goldmine lounge in the City by the Bay.

Does he still drink?
"That was the dumbest question I have ever heard."
Lifelong bartenders have heard more tragic stories than the wife of Superman. And they have, over the years, fed booze to faces that reflect, more than anything, the moods and mores of a society consistently suffocating under its own weight. Maudlin sounding, perhaps, but the purpose is served. Just ask Richie Finnigan at Durant's.

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