SAN FRANCISCO (CBS) — With cable cars running past its door and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge out the windows, the Buena Vista Café is a San Francisco institution.
There’s been a lively saloon on this spot for 102 years and, for the past 40 years, barman Paul Nolan has been making the bar’s signature, Irish coffee — a drink that was first concocted in the U.S. here at the Buena Vista, back in 1952.
“The original recipe came from Ireland by the inventor, Joe Sheridan, and he gave the recipe to the beat writer of the Chronicle, Stan Delaplane,” Nolan explained.
“So, is it proper for me to say that maybe a news reporter is the originator of Irish coffee in America, rather than a bartender?” asked CBS correspondent John Blackstone.
“Well, let’s just say he conveyed the recipe to the right source!” Nolan replied.
Paul Nolan says it’s estimated he’s made four to five million Irish coffees in the past 41 years. “I just take their word for it. I didn’t count ’em!” he laughed.
“No wonder you’re good at it!” said Blackstone.
That recipe? Two sugars, hot coffee and — of course — the active ingredient: about an ounce and a third of Irish whiskey, specifically Tullamore Dew these days, although the BeeVee has used whiskey from other distillers over the years.
Then comes the finishing touch: a carefully-floated layer of heavy cream on top. It’s an irresistible combination.
Preparing to sample Nolan’s handiwork, Blackstone remarked, “It’s dangerous to do this with a mustache.”
“Usually we give an extra napkin with people’s mustaches,” Nolan said.
Buena Vista owner Bob Friedman admits he wasn’t really an Irish coffee fan when he bought the saloon back in 2001.
“At the time they were doing about quarter-million Irish coffees a year,” Friedman said.
“This was a sound business decision, not because of any romantic idea about Irish coffee?” asked Blackstone.
“No, no, no. I like it. It’s a wonderful drink. Matter of fact, now I love it!” Friedman laughed.
And it’s much loved by locals and tourists alike. According to Friedman, “You can’t leave town without one — and nobody drinks only one!”
One visitor said, “There’s no experience like being at this table or at that bar and drinking an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista.”
Every week a truckload of Irish whiskey arrives at the café, enough to go through a hundred bottles a day. They say the Buena Vista is the world”s largest single consumer of Irish whiskey — not surprising, given the way Paul Nolan pours the stuff.
“And, just in case I didn’t give everybody what they deserve, I always add a little bit more,” Nolan laughed.
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