Though rents in the neighborhood have risen, not much has changed at the Broken Record. Over the years, pin-up girl murals by Mark Bode and Edison bulb light fixtures have appeared, and the backyard now includes heat lamps for chilly days and nights, but the bar retains its neighborhood dive status, albeit with a growing number of whiskey varieties.
“We’re outgrowing the wall,” bartender Liz Quigley said of the massive whiskey selection, a passion of owner Jason King, who also owns North Beach’s Church Key, a craft beer bar.
Rare and top-shelf brands from Scotland and Japan crowd the shelves. The Broken Record is one of a few bars with a liquor tap system. Local favorite Fernet along with Jameson, Four Roses bourbon and a few others flow straight from spouts mounted on the back counter. Tapped liquor doesn’t enhance the taste or preserve the alcohol—but it looks cool and helps bartenders sell a lot of whiskey, whether poured over ice or accompanied by a beer for a special.
The whiskey craze had yet to catch on when the bar opened in 2007, but today demand has driven up both price and availability.
“What was $100 a bottle is now $1,000,” said King, who tries to keep prices accessible, often charging little to no markup on pricey bottles. “Back in 2007, you could just go buy everything. It keeps getting more and more competitive.”
John Abinante, a regular for seven years, lives in the neighborhood. He loves whiskey, and occasionally partakes in the higher-end options—depending on how much attention he can give to his drink.
“If I’m watching football, then I don’t buy the expensive stuff,” he said as he hung out at the front bar with other regulars, where topics of conversation ranged from Tom Cruise in “Top Gun” to sports. During games, the bar can get crowded with Giants and 49ers fans, and a pool table and dart board give customers other ways to pass the time.
With its Crocker-Amazon location, longtime residents and natives make up a big part of the customer base, even as the bar began to receive a lot of positive press.
“When I started here, I heard it was on Mission and Geneva, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work there,” Quigley said. Despite living in the neighborhood, she went to look for the place and couldn’t even find it at first.
“It was slow the first year, until the Food Network came,” she said.
The Southern-themed “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” episode featured dishes from the dive bar’s then-kitchen, including mushroom polenta and a Tiger Prawn sandwich.
More raves followed. Their Texas toast sandwich made it onto noted San Francisco food critic Patricia Unterman’s top ten eats list of 2011, and the Broken Record was a pick on “Check, Please! Bay Area” on PBS. People still come in when the “Diners” episode re-airs.
The original chefs have moved on to open Rickybobby, a Southern-tinged restaurant in the Lower Haight offering up many of the same menu items that made them famous at Broken Record.
Margo Cristine, who also owns The Vine in Fremont, took over the kitchen two years ago after many years of hanging out and eating at the bar. She dubbed the new venue Hood Grub.
“I describe the food at The Vine as ‘upscale comfort food,’” she said. “Here, it’s drunk comfort food.”
Cristine was in the midst of planning a heartier winter menu, featuring a Moroccan-spiced vegetarian pot pie, homemade mushroom-lentil veggie burger and a meatloaf sandwich. She updates Hood Grub’s selection seasonally, but keeps favorites like the burger and pulled pork sandwich year-round.
During a slow moment, Quigley stepped out to run an errand, and Abinante stepped in to help a customer waiting for a beer.
Even despite national press, businesses in the Excelsior, Ingleside and Crocker-Amazon neighborhoods retain their local feel, and the Broken Record is no exception. King is a “Star Wars” fan, and rented out a theater in Daly City to screen the upcoming film.
The 200 tickets he offered up quickly sold out, and in the meantime, episodes II through V will be screening at the bar on Tuesday evenings (“Episode I is awful,” explained Abinante of its absence.)
“I offered tickets to friends, customers and regulars, so we could all go together,” King said. “We sold out in a day and a half. I was so surprised. I should have rented a bigger theater.”
The Broken Record is located at 1166 Geneva Ave.