Zam Zam Classic Bars Upper Haight | Tasting Table San Francisco

The Haight Street martini bar that time forgot

Legend has it that Bruno Mooshei, who owned the Upper Haight's Zam Zam until 1999, would throw you out for ordering a vodka martini. No wonder drinking dilettantes (and us, too) have avoided the place for a couple of decades.

Having just realized it has been 14 years since Mooshei passed away, we thought it might be time for an exploratory drink. Now we're wondering why we stayed away for so long.

The bar, opened by Mooshei's father at the start of World War II, is a deco fantasy with Arabian Nights accents: walls the pale burgundy of a worn Turkish carpet, Persian-esque hunting scene above the half-moon bar. And is that vodka on the shelves?

"Oh, Bruno would let you drink vodka," Jen, the bartender on duty, laughed when we asked her about it. "Just not a vodka martini."

Zam Zam bartender Andrea pours a house martini.

The bartenders still shake a house martini ($9) with Boord's gin according to Mooshei's recipe. Clear and bracing, it's extremely dry with a few ice chips floating on the surface.

Now owned by former regular Bob Clarke, Zam Zam has evolved into a neighborhood gathering point. By eight the regulars around the bar are packed elbow to elbow.

And these aren't the kind of drinkers who stare sullenly into their iPhones. "If you stay here long enough," Jen tells us, "You'll meet everyone."

We won't wait another 15 years for a return visit.