See How a Proper Irish Coffee is Made, Buena Vista Style

San Francisco's Buena Vista Café has been making the classic Irish whiskey drink since 1952. Watch how the pros build a line of perfect Irish Coffees.

Day drinking begins early at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. A white-jacketed bartender steps up to the long wooden bar at the Buena Vista Café and lines up a dozen tulip-shaped glasses. Into each go two white sugar cubes pulled from a bulk box. Then comes hot black coffee in a continuous steaming stream from a diner-style pot.

 Next: Irish whiskey, delivered in a dramatic long pour all along the line of waiting glassware. Last comes the cream—aged for half a week and then lightly whipped in a milkshake blender—ladled gently from a metal pint glass like a fluffy floe.

The pattern will continue all day long—filling anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 glasses—until the bartender’s white jacket sleeves are spattered with coffee and the century-old tavern shutters at 2 a.m. The Nolan brothers hold court at the Buena Vista’s bar. Paul Nolan is a vet of 37 years, while Larry has been lining up glasses for 40, building an estimated three million Irish Coffees throughout his tenure. The white-haired, small talk-making pair is an embodiment of another era, and of a tradition transferred from the shores of Ireland remade into a wholly American ritual. (For more and the photo essay, head this way.)

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Eric Wolfinger is a San Francisco based photographer who shoots the feeling, not just the stuff. He spent six years cooking and baking professionally before working behind the lens. His work includes cookbooks with Flour + Water, Manresa, Prune (NYC), and La Huella (Uruguay). Eric also concepts, photographs and writes a monthly column “From Scratch” for 7×7 Magazine. Expect to eat well on his set.

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