I was amused by a story in last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle about Local Edition, a new “speakeasy-style bar” that opened last week in the basement of San Francisco’s Hearst Building. That basement once housed the San Francisco Examiner’s printing presses; publisher William Randolph Hearst himself lived in the 12th-floor penthouse when he wasn’t entertaining movie stars at his mansion in San Simeon.
Hearst Building, 3rd and Market streets. The 1909 façade was redesigned in 1937 by Julia Morgan. Photo source.
There are ironies aplenty in the Local Edition story, starting with the fact that W.R.—The Chief—was no fan of Demon Rum. Here’s a snippet from a Snopes article:
Hearst was not a drinking man. He tolerated the activity in others, but even then—only so far. Weekend visitors to his fabled castle in San Simeon quickly learned that they were allowed maybe all of two pre-dinner drinks, and that one of the fastest ways to get dumped back at the train station was to be caught boozing in the mansion, on the grounds, or even in the privacy of the individual guest houses.
Nevertheless, Hearst’s great-grandson, Steve Hearst, is an enthusiastic participant in the new venture, according to the Chronicle account:
Captivated by a concept near and dear to his heart, Steve Hearst gladly loaned artifacts from his family archives, including a 1920s projector presented by Louis B. Mayer to W.R. Hearst, who developed the world's first newsreels.
But the real rolling-in-his-grave item concerns one of the $9 cocktails on the menu. According to Serious Eats, it’s made with “reposado tequila, fresh lemon, Cocchi Americano, vanilla syrup, black pepper, and sea salt tinctures, and is shaken with a basil leaf.”
It’s called the Rosebud.
Now, maybe you’ve never seen Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’s great 1941 film about a Hearst-like newspaper magnate. And maybe you don’t know that W.R. hated the movie so much that he tried to prevent theater owners from screening it; he did succeed in keeping reviews of the movie out of his newspapers. Many Hearst papers didn’t even accept ads for it. In fact, it wasn’t until March of this year that Citizen Kane was screened for the first time at Hearst Castle, as part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.
If you didn’t know any of that, this clip comes with a spoiler alert:
The inside joke was that “Rosebud” was W.R.’s nickname for his long-time inamorata, the actress Marion Davies. Actually, according to Gore Vidal, it was his nickname for an intimate portion of the inamorata’s anatomy. Here’s an excerpt from Vidal’s famous reply, in 1989, to a letter published in the New York Review of Books:
[T]the significance of Rosebud, if that indeed was Hearst’s private name for Marion’s tender button, goes a long way toward explaining Hearst’s fury at Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, whose co-author, the alcoholic wit, Herman Mankiewicz, was often in attendance at the Hearst court, whose Versailles was San Simeon, whose Marly was Santa Monica.
A personal digression: My first job out of journalism school was at the San Francisco Examiner, which was then still a Hearst paper whose masthead proudly proclaimed it “The Monarch of the Dailies.” I worked on the copy desk, reporting each morning at 5 a.m. to write headlines and captions and delete “in the wake of”s and “died instantly”s. The only time in my life I ever drank a martini—I actually drank three, to my immediate regret—was after one of those shifts, at a newspaper bar off Fifth Street called The Front Page. The Front Page was San Francisco’s classy newspaper bar, a place where you might occasionally see an ad salesman in a suit. The pressmen and the rewrite guys did their drinking at a dive around the corner called the M&M—named for the original owners, the McVeigh brothers—where, a reporter once wrote, there was “no jukebox, no brass rail, no wicker, no carpets” and “the cigarette smoke would kill a fern.” To celebrate my first day on the job, the copy chief, a laconic Texan, took me to the M&M. He drank six beers in quick succession and returned to the newsroom without a wobble or a slur.
The Front Page is long gone. The M&M has been replaced by an Irish pub that gives “royalty rewards” to frequent tipplers. In the years since I left the Ex, the paper has been sold to three different owners, most recently last December. It no longer calls itself “The Monarch of the Dailies.” I don’t know where San Francisco’s few remaining newspaper people do their drinking these days, but I kind of doubt you’ll see many of them at Local Edition. Twitter, on the other hand, has its headquarters just a few blocks away. Its employees have cash to burn and no shame about calling a bartender a “mixologist.” A round of Rosebuds for the Twitsters, if you please.