By Don Ford

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Patrons of the Cliff House were lamenting the upcoming closure of the famed restaurant at the end of 2020.

Overlooking Ocean Beach and known for its sweeping views, the Cliff House has a rich history. Once a bar and brothel in the late 1800s, it survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire but a year later, burned to the ground. In 1973, Dan and Mary Hountalas took over the restaurant with a long term lease from the National Park Service.

Master Chef Ralph Burgin was on the call when the word came down, no more leases. “We were informed by the decision that the Park Service designates the Cliff House as a ‘Discontinued Operation,'” Burgin said.

The Cliff House was already struggling due to COVID shutdown and chef says this was the final straw.

Cliff House

Cliff House. (CBS)

“As a result, we have to close down and move out all our personal property. Put it in storage right now. Depending on how long it takes, it might have to be auctioned off.”

Decades of memories. San Francisco legends dined here including Danny Glover, Clint Eastwood, Grace Slick and Herb Caen. Now the stemware is stacked and the kitchen is cold and dark.

Folks came by the restaurant Monday in disbelief. Taylor Stilwell, who recalled a first date at the restaurant, is outraged by the closure.

“This is horrible! This is a staple to San Francisco,” Stilwell told KPIX 5. “I’ve been here since ’97. When I flew here the first time, I was meeting my husband at the time, who wasn’t my husband then, this was our first date.”

John Stebel came up from Half Moon Bay, “I remember how this was before it was renovated and the new renovation is beautiful,” he said.

Late Monday afternoon, via an email to KPIX 5, the Park Service claimed the lease was ended at the request of the restaurant. Fingers are pointing. It’s unclear just where all this is going. Chef Bergin says 180 people have lost their jobs. “It’s sad, I mean that’s where it’s at.”

The current lease is only for the next two weeks, then the Cliff House will be boarded up and fenced until a new operator is vetted.