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.
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.)