Thursday, February 2

SF Irish bar owner sets record straight on St. Paddy’s Day

In 1966, Patrick Joseph Nolan, endearingly known as “Paddy,” opened the Dovre Club on 18th Street and Valencia in the heart of the Mission, in what is now known as the Women’s Building. Back then, the Dovre became a boon for the likes of provocateurs and rogue writers. It’s a true neighborhood Irish pub with a profound sense of history, timeworn with its fair share of hardships. But it’s also bound by a strong fabric of thirsty regulars looking for a good pour of Harp among common folks.

It was a frequent watering hole for famous writers such as Hunter S. Thompson, who once penned San Francisco as a city on the edge of the Western world, where one can drink all night and sober up against the brisk morning air.

After Nolan died in 1996, the Dovre was evicted from the Women’s Building to make way for a nonprofit focused on providing women with social services, workshops and wellness classes. But two years later, the Dovre caught its second wind with longtime bartender Brian McElhatton at the helm.

Brian McElhatton, a previous owner of the Dovre Club, who died in 2008. His brother Brendan “Elvis” McElhatton now runs the bar.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

The Dovre then reopened in 1998, retaining its reputation as a favored dingy dive known for its proper pints of Guinness. Just a few blocks from its original home, McElhatton continued Nolan’s legacy and co-managed the corner bar alongside his brother, Brendan “Elvis” McElhatton, who moved to the US from Ireland in 1999. But in 2008, Brian McElhatton died of cancer at 38 years old, leaving the Dovre to Elvis.

“It’s been tough. But I see this as my brother’s legacy, and I want to keep that going,” McElhatton told SFGATE. “I definitely felt like I should carry on his legacy of him, and at that stage, I’d been working here for nine years. I felt like a part of the Dovre myself.”

Since then, McElhatton and crew have endured a pandemic, fought off an eviction scare and settled into a new lease securing the Dovre’s home at 1498 Valencia St. as a storied public house in San Francisco’s history. On the cusp of St. Patrick’s Day, McElhatton said he anticipates the return of the Dovre’s annual celebration, which has been off the books for the past two years.

As the Dovre ramps up for this year’s festivities, which include a live DJ and extended hours, McElhatton gives his no-frills take on a few St. Paddy’s Day traditions and misconceptions and even reveals why Irish car bombs aren’t as offensive as they are a pain in his ass to clean at the end of a raucous night.

The Dovre Club's newest T-shirt and slogan.

The Dovre Club’s newest T-shirt and slogan.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

The mantle above the bar at the Dovre Club in San Francisco.

The mantle above the bar at the Dovre Club in San Francisco.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

From left: The Dovre Club’s new T-shirt (and slogan); the mantle above the back bar at the Dovre Club. (Photos by Charles Russo/SFGATE)

Never a one-pour Guinness

For those pulling up a stool at the Dovre — don’t expect a one-pour Guinness. Here, a pint of Guinness is an act of patience as the dark stout takes time to settle in the glass. McElhatton recalls one of his American-born bartenders once made the mistake of pouring his deaf and mute father from him, who was visiting from Ireland, a quick Guinness straight from the tap.

“My American bartender tried to pour it in one. My dad, through sign language, talking to someone who doesn’t know any sign language, was able to communicate that’s not how you do it,” McElhatton said. “So he’s like get another glass, come over here, you pour two-thirds of it and then you let it settle so the black and the white separate. Then, you go halfway to the top, let it settle and then you fill it to the top. That was just a beautiful moment. My dad was like, ‘I’m not taking any of that s—tty one-pour Guinness.’”

‘We’re already green’

Some bars that claim to be Irish for a day will serve many pints of green-dyed ale to get into the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day. But not the Dovre. McElhatton said that gimmick is tacky, and why ruin a perfectly fine Irish beer with green food coloring anyway?

“We don’t do that. It’s a real Irish bar. It’s not a bar trying to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “There’s a lot of bars in this country who claim to be Irish bars, but just because that’s a good business model and people want to get in on that. So green beer, we don’t do that. We don’t do that because we’re already green.”


Brendan “Elvis” McElhatton, owner of the Dovre Club in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

McElhatton added that although the Dovre is Irish-owned and Irish-run, it’s also a frequent stop for all walks of life. If you belong to the Dovre, he said, they take care of their own.

“I’m very proud of our Irish heritage and all that, but we’re multiracial, multinational. Everyone feels comfortable here. We’re very little aggro. It happens from time to time at every bar, but very rarely here,” he said. “It’s just a nice neighborhood bar to hang out. Our regulars love it, and everyone feels cool and at peace and happy here.”

It’s just an Irish drink

While some bartenders may refuse to serve Irish car bombs because the name refers to the deadly explosions involving the Real Irish Republican Army against British soldiers and Northern Irish police officers in the late ’90s, McElhatton said he doesn’t flinch if someone orders the popular cocktail that relies on dropping a shot of Irish cream and whiskey into a glass of stout.

He does, however, think the drink is hard to clean up, as the Baileys curdles in the glass if not chugged accordingly, forcing McElhatton to put a bit more elbow grease into scrubbing those pint glasses for the next round.

“It’s just an Irish drink. It’s not like people are saying, ‘Oh, we would like to blow up some cars.’ My main issue with Irish car bombs is it’s a pain in the ass to wash the glasses,” McElhatton said. “About 10 years ago, Irish car bombs were a very popular feature here. But, I’ve never come across someone who came in and ordered one of those in an offensive way. It’s just a drink that [customers] like, and it will get you f—ked up real quick, as you probably know.”

The neon sign for the Dovre Club glows at night above the entrance to the bar, at the intersection of Valencia and 26th Street in San Francisco on March 15.

The neon sign for the Dovre Club glows at night above the entrance to the bar, at the intersection of Valencia and 26th Street in San Francisco on March 15.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Hands off at the Dovre

While children in elementary schools across the country are familiar with wearing everything shamrock green on St. Paddy’s Day or facing stinging pinches from fellow classmates, McElhatton was puzzled by this American-born tradition.

“Pinching people? I wear green, and about 95% of people who will be here on St. Patrick’s Day will be wearing green. But I’ve never heard about pinching people,” he said. “So if you didn’t wear green, you’re pinched? OKAY. That’s the first I’ve ever heard about.”

Needless to say, keep your hands to yourself at the Dovre.

The Dovre Club is located at 1498 Valencia St. Its annual St. Patrick’s Day party is back this year from noon to 2 am

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