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Persian Aub Zam Zam Club
3 of 5 Stars

Persian Aub Zam Zam Club
1633 Haight Street
San Francisco
(415) 861-2545

The Persian Aub Zam Zam Club in San Francisco is in the most unlikely of places.  Located right in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury, this bar is as out of place as Mario Savio leading a Republican rally.  Among the shops and bars that defined counter-culture and hippie movement stands a place that has a gated entrance shaped like the outside of a Moroccan teahouse.  Inside, the bar is as pristine as any that one has ever entered.

It all comes back to Bruno.  Bruno Mooshei we would later learn.  For 50 years, Bruno ran the Zam Zam Club with an iron fist.  The bar opened when Bruno opened the bar.  The bar closed when Bruno felt like closing it.  If he did not like you at first sight, you were invited to go down the street to the Gold Cane where he would say, "I think you would like it a lot better down there."

You could eat off of the floors at Bruno's place…the bathroom floors.  A few tables surrounded the rounded-off bar, but if you came in and sat down at a table, that meant you didn't know the rules and would be advised that the Gold Cane was your type of spot.  It is doubtful that Bruno ever served a patron with flowers in their hair.

My first visit was like going into a church of a different denomination.  Despite a bar crowded with regulars – which apparently you had to be to get a drink from Bruno - I had never been to a place so quiet.  This was the antithesis of a western saloon.  It was more like a Middle Eastern mosque.

Bruno was always clad in a white shirt, black vest and tie.  Despite the back bar full of bottles and a cooler full of beer, Martinis were the drink of choice.  Bruno's choice.

If you were accepted to have a drink at his bar, if you were a man your money must be on the bar.  He would only place a napkin in front of a women.  Women were not expected to pay for a drink.  He would ask what you wanted with a glare that said it had better be a Martini.  He would then skillfully craft a Gin Martini as if he were building a ship in a bottle.  Prices were extremely fair – I never paid more that $2.50 for a Martini - and change would be made from a beautiful metal and wood cash register whose drawer was actually built into the back bar.

The jukebox contains classic tunes but you were afraid to play any for fear you would get kicked out.  Someone would say something funny, but you didn't dare laugh thinking Bruno might rap your knuckles.  

Despite the intimidation, the place is so appealing.  In 1991, legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen said of the Zam Zam "a place that time forgot…its curving bar filled with worshipers sitting in silent contemplation of the silver bullet in its graceful stemmed glass.  You expect perhaps Charles Boyer whispering to Hedy Lamarr, ‘Take me to zuh Cazbah.'"

And despite his professional but austere persona, eventually I broke Bruno down.  Maybe it was the holiday season.  After sitting on the only stool remaining at the bar – my brother went unnoticed and unserved because he had to stand at the other end of the bar  - I asked Bruno what he was doing for the holidays.  There was this kind of silence a reporter gets when he asks Bobby Knight a question.  After nervously taking a sip from my Martini in the perfectly frosted glass, he opened up and told me of his travels to Sacramento then on to his beloved Reno for the holidays.  

Our conversation was friendly, animated, and of course, respectful.  After my second Martini, I asked Bruno if I could buy him a drink.  He gladly accepted with a shot of Brandy.   "I'll be damned," I thought. "I can only get a Martini and Bruno has a belt of Brandy!"

Looking down at my empty glass, I was saddened because I knew that the conversation had to end.  I had reached Bruno's two Martini maximum and he was not about to buy me one.  It would have broken his rules.

I was saddened again to learn that just before the holidays in 2000, Bruno Mooshei left us at age 80.  Luckily, the Zam Zam Club is doing well with new ownership dedicated to preserving the memory of Bruno but with a much kinder and gentler approach.   They still make a fine Martini, but today you can have what ever you want.

Along with the Zam Zam, the rest of the Height-Ashbury is changing as well.  Head shops and record stores have been replaced by the Gap and Ben & Jerry's.  The folksingers on the corner still remain as do many of the people that dress like they think it's October 31 all year round.

But by and large, the Height still permeates with the spirit of San Francisco in the ‘60's.  And for those that knew him, the spirit of Bruno lives on as well. – D. M.    


Comments

mehrann   5 of 5 Stars
4/20/2014 9:41 am

2

louvee   5 of 5 Stars
4/20/2014 9:41 am

The first time I went there was 30 years ago with a friend who knew every good bar in SF. Bruno knew Rosie, so I wasn't shunned until I ordered a martini with a twist. He looked up and said that's not a martini it's a "I forget what he said", a martini has olives. So my intro to Persian Zam Zam. I had the olives.

Hotpuppy   5 of 5 Stars
4/20/2014 9:41 am

As a visitor, my plan today was to hit 3 great joints, first Buena Vista for the iconic Irish Coffee, then the Aub ZZ for a martini ( unfortunately, it was closed @2pm, so I went to the Alembic), and tonight, Tadich. My kinda day.

pmensch   5 of 5 Stars
4/20/2014 9:41 am

David, This is an excellent write up. I have never been to this bar unfortunately but I wish I had. This experience is similar to one I had when I went into a bar in the Haight-Ashbury area and it turned out to be a gay bar. However, they never forced you to have a Martini or make you feel that you at the mercy of the bar god. Definitely unique. Phil Mensch

Elisha Cook Jr.   5 of 5 Stars
4/20/2014 9:41 am

Persian Aub Zam Zam was my temple. Although I saw Bruno eject 13 people one night ("go to the fern bar down the street" or "ceiling inspectors" were a couple of his comments) he was a true gentleman. I would add that besides Reno, he also loved Shanghai very much. I will miss Bruno - the last of the great curmudgeon S.F. bartenders.

Duncan   5 of 5 Stars
4/20/2014 9:41 am

I went to the Persian Aub Zam Zam in the 1950's, when it was Bruno and his father Sammy. It was always the best place if San Francisco for matinis. You could safely play the jukebox then, but you'd better select "In A Persian Marketplace".

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