Friday, September 23, 2011

Bimbo's 365 Club, 365 Market St., 901 (1025?) Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA

The building was designed by well-known San Francisco architect Timothy Pfleuger, who also designed the Top of the Mark and the Castro Theater).
Prior to becoming Bimbo's 365, this building was known as Bel Tabarin in 1931. Bal Tabarin was a pricey place for the times, with $3 sirloin steaks, 40-cent martinis and "Asti rouge Champagne" (I shudder to think of what this might have been) for $3 per quart. The restaurant was owned by jazz violinist Tom Gerun (Gerunovich), whose claim to fame was his Roof Garden Orchestra. After NBC opened a San Francisco outlet, musicians from Bal Tabarin were frequently heard on the nationwide radio hookup, performing live.(1) A number of famous acts were booked at the Bal Tabarin, including Sophie Tucker, Tony Martin, the Duncan Sisters, and Spanish puppeteer and ventriloquist, Senor Wences, who, during my childhood, was a frequent guest on the Ed Sullivan Show. Tap dancer Ann Miller, at thirteen, lied about her age and began her career at the club, spotted by Hollywood talent scouts, and Bal Tabarin patron Lucille Ball, she was signed to a studio contract. Bal Tabarin was very successful through the war years As the club lost business, after the war, it was sold, in 1950, and was renamed Bimbo's 365, becoming a major jazz venue.

Agostino Giuntoli left Tuscany, Italy in 1922 at the age of 19 and sailed to America. He became a cook at a nearby establishment where his boss, Monk Young, was unable to pronounce his name and dubbed him "Bimbo", the Italian word for boy. The name stuck for good.

In 1931, he and Young, now his partner, opened the 365 Club at 365 Market Street.
365 Market

San Francisco was weary of the Depression, needed some fun, and the 365 Club was there to provide it.
365 Market

The club was crowded with celebrities and stars from across America who were there to see and be seen. On stage, lines of long-stemmed chorus girls kicked high to the music; one of whom was Rita Cansino. Later, we would all know her as Rita Hayworth. Gin was served in coffee cups while everybody puzzled over the optical illusion provided by Dolfina, The Girl in the Fishbowl: She appeared to swim nude in the fish tank behind the bar... you can still find her there today.

Bal Tabarin
In 1931, in anticipation of the repeal of Prohibition in the United States, architect Timothy L. Pflueger was contracted to create for the nightclub a stage for live music and dance shows, and a comfortable and sophisticated cocktail bar atmosphere—unusual for the day, as most bars were not decorated to appeal to women. The bar itself was implemented in the Moderne style later called Art Deco.[8]

The stage design used Pflueger's patented indirect lighting hidden behind curved strips of decorative metal.[5] The color coming from behind the facade could be changed smoothly from one hue to another. Two years later, with alcohol bans officially lifted nationwide, the Bal Tabarin was issued California's first new liquor license,[8] and in 1934 Pflueger gave the nightclub a quick renovation.[8] The popularity of the club netted for Pflueger a series of contracts to design cocktail lounges for prominent hotels in San Francisco.[9]
Bimbo's 1935
Bimbo's moved to Columbus Avenue in 1951.
Herb Caen caught it all and recalled, "Jugglers, dance teams, stand-up comics, crooners chantootsies, Stage Door Johns, a proper band in proper uniforms... Multi-course dinners, Red Sparkling Burgundy in the silver bucket, and a nice-bucketed lady in a silver fox stole topped by a gardenia bought by a ‘pro’ in the men’s room.”
What year would this be?

Giuntoli's new location was soon a success, with engagements by musical artists such as accordionist Dick Contino, Latin bandleader Xavier Cugat with Charo, singer and trumpeter Louis Prima, bandleader and trumpeter Ray Anthony, entertainer Joey Bishop, lounge music composer Esquivel and many more.[3] Comedians such as Sid Caesar, Rodney Dangerfield and Totie Fields performed.[3] Popular columnist Herb Caen commented favorably on the array of acts, writing "Bimbo's [has] jugglers, dance teams, stand-up comics, crooners, chantootsies, Stage Door Johns, a proper band in proper uniforms ... multi-course dinners, red sparkling burgundy in the silver bucket..."[19]

Jo Ann Worley performs "Wedding Anniversary" and "Have Fun"

In the late 1960s, the club expanded from its lounge atmosphere to put artists such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Neil Diamond, Glen Campbell and The Fifth Dimension on the bill.[3]

In 1970, Giuntoli retired. For the next 18 years, the building was mostly closed, available only on a rental basis for private parties.
In 1988, Giuntoli's grandson Michael Cerchiai reopened the property for a run as a live entertainment venue.[3]

Jerry performed here on 5/25/73.

3.) ^ a b c Poletti, Therese; Tom Paiva (2008). Art deco San Francisco: the architecture of Timothy Pflueger. Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 176–183, 235. ISBN 1568987560.
5.) ^ a b c Crowe, Michael (2007). San Francisco Art Deco. Arcadia Publishing. p. 41. ISBN 0738547344.
8.) ^ a b c Poletti, Therese; Tom Paiva (2008). Art deco San Francisco: the architecture of Timothy Pflueger. Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 176–183, 235. ISBN 1568987560.
9.) ^ Westin St. Francis. Our History
19.) ^ a b c d Poste, Flora (January 2001). "A San Fran Original". Club Systems International 2 (1): 48–51. Retrieved March 1, 2010.


  1. Just going through some random stuff. 1968 listing in the Datebook says Bimbo's ("Home of the 'Live Girl in the Fishbowl'") is at Columbus and Chestnut.

    Google Maps of Columbus and Chestnut in SF puts it right near 1025 Columbus, which must be the correct address (as of April 1968).

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. BTW, Smokey Robinson was listed as opening on 5/1/68, don't know how long his engagement was.

    SF Examiner and Chron Datebook 4/28/68 p. 24.