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Tourist in My Own City: Irish Coffee at Buena Vista Cafe, San Francisco

Irish Coffee started in Ireland, right?

Well, sort of. As the story goes at the Buena Vista, the cafe’s owner Jack Koeppler in 1952, returned from Ireland and challenged travel writer Stanton Delaplane to re-create the “Irish Coffee” that he had fallen in love with at the Shannon Airport in Ireland. Even traveling back to Shannon to taste the specimin himself, Delaplane concocted the recipe that has now turned the Buena Vista into an essential stop for this iconic beverage. It’s so iconic that the six ounce goblets chosen by Delaplane for the Irish Coffee are now known as Irish Coffee goblets.

The concept is simple: Irish whiskey spiked sweetened coffee with unsweetened whipped cream. The Buena Vista doesn’t skimp on the whiskey, putting just enough into the coffee to be boozy without tasting like a straight shot. Only the whipped cream disappointed me a bit, being thin and flavorless, adding nothing to the drink.

The Buena Vista is smack in the middle of tourism central, along the bayfront, across the street from the cable car turn-around, and just feet away from Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. I had never been here before this week, though I once or twice have braved the crowds and ridden the cable car by the Buena Vista. O.K., I’ve had chicken tenders as a kid waiting for a delayed flight at the Buena Vista in San Francisco Airport’s Terminal Three. But, that doesn’t count.

It’s a touristy location for certain and the assembly line nature of the bar with dozens of goblets lining the bar ready for the next customer seems catered to tourists in awe of just being there. Locals love the fact that the place stays open until 2 am each night. You may fall immediately asleep or never fall asleep all night after one of the Irish Coffees.

Would I go again? It’s not a bad cocktail once you get past the cream. Is it truly San Francisco? It’s San Francisco like the cable cars are San Francisco. They are a part of the folk lore of the city, but not something locals actually use.

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