It’s often said the city is a place of constant change. Despite being a ways away from downtown, Ocean Avenue is no different.
Steadying the tide of new buildings and corporate shops, however, has been the presence of Randy’s Place, a bar Sue Castle acquired and made her own forty-five years ago in April.
“I can always remember my anniversary opening here because it was Good Friday,” Castle said.
Fifty years bartending—45 of which at one location—is a lifetime, and to hear Castle tell it, it’s the memories that make it worthwhile.
“There were 10 bars on Ocean Avenue when I opened,” Castle said.
Now there are only two. Three if Tropi-Gala, a night club on the other side of San Jose Avenue, is included.
So what is Castle’s secret? A love of people and the decades long relationships she has maintained over the years.
Named after Castle’s now deceased son, Randy, her neighborhood bar was completely remodeled at the end of 2010, just in time to greet the revitalized Ocean Avenue. Students from City College drop in because of its close proximity, but there are plenty of regulars that give Randy’s Place its unique atmosphere.
Every Wednesday around midday, Castle, 75 meets two of her pals, Jim Murphy and Geoffrey Bailey, both aged 81. Former bartenders themselves, all three used to frequent the many bars along Ocean Avenue, and both men ended up at Randy’s Place after The Avenue (now The Ave) closed up.
Female bartenders were not common in the 1960’s. In order to tend bar, a woman was required to be named on the permit.
Before it was Randy’s Place, 1101 Ocean Ave,, was known as Papa Prozac’s, Castle said. Women couldn’t even get served there without a male escort, she said.
On the same block was a bar called the Fallout that later became the Caribbean Rose.
Castle and her midday drinking buddies rattled off the other bars that had long since gone. There was the House of Nick’s, the Westwood Lounge, Red Roof (which was a restaurant that had a bar inside), Botts, Zanzibar, 100 Grand and the City Dump.
“I never really understood why, but as each one closed in turn, business for the rest got worse and worse,” Castle said. “It’s completely counter intuitive. You’d think if there were less bars there would be more business for each one.”
Many of the regulars would go from bar to bar, and that’s why when one closed, it hurt the rest, Murphy suggested.
Bars started shutting down in the 1980’s when they began getting sued with more regularity, Castle said. Insurance against such claims was astronomical, and coupled with rising rents, it may have helped cull the number of Ocean Avenue bars.
Another possible cause? Loss of some of the longtime businesses. There was a Safeway across from Randy’s Place, and workers from there and nearby Grand Auto, a repair shop, would come in regularly.
Employees from Anderson Roofing (now on San Jose Avenue near Sagamore Street) and some of the San Francisco Fire Department crew were also regular groups that would come in, Castle said.
Castle makes sure that Randy’s Place still keeps drink prices where working people can afford them, even if all around it San Francisco looks more and more like a city where those same workers can’t afford to live.
This article first appeared in The Light’s May 2014 print edition.