how Jim Smith helped reunite a number of historical documents with the descendents of The
Poodle Dog Restaurant.
The restaurant moved to its Bush Street location in 1868, now officially taking the
Old Poodle Dog name. The dog, Ami died two days after moving from the original
location. Whether caused by old age or a broken heart, the Poodle Dog lost its
namesake. The new restaurant made of fireproof pressed brick towered six stories
with a basement below.
The lavish first floor dining room of the new facility offered public accommodations
where a man could safely take his wife and daughter to dine in elegance; a decor in a
style torn between the Rococo and Louis XIV styles. Priced at around a dollar, they
offered the highest quality cuisine in the city. The second floor hosted private dining
rooms suitable for a meeting and dinner with a member or two of the opposite sex; said
to be risque not particularly terrible. Accessed via a side door leading to an elevator, the
third, fourth and fifth floors, one found cozy rooms for private assignations only
whispered about. Each suite included an elegant bed, rich Axminster carpets from Europe, a
bathroom attached and its own telephone. The elevator operator became a very wealthy man on
the tips provided "for service." Propriety, and later bribes, kept the upstairs
activities from developing into public scandals touching many of the city's elite. The
sixth floor main banquet room hosted opulent parties of up to 250 guests with a hidden
alcove for the orchestra. A smaller banquet room was available for "presentations, college
fraternities, lodges, anniversary dinners, etc."
By the 1890 s, the Poodle Dog acquired Chef Calixte Lalanne as their chef de quisine. Lalanne's
artistry elevated the restaurant to the height of French haute cuisine. Throughout the Nineteenth
century and through changes in ownership and management plus multiple incarnations, the Poodle
Dog maintained its position as the foremost French restaurant in town.
French restaurants and most likely the Poodle Dog participated in the graft of Mayor Schmitz
and Boss Abe Reef as mentioned previously. Bribes formed the basis for the businesses' ability
to keep their upper rooms in operation and scandal free. All part of doing business in San
Francisco, people knew but people looked away. A lady might dine with her husband downstairs
on Sunday knowing full well he may have been upstairs on Saturday night. Private dining rooms
remained a San Francisco fixture through its history.
The earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed the original Poodle Dog and the Old Poodle Dog. The
Old Poodle Dog reopened on Eddy Street in Mid-1906 under J.B. Pon and Calixte Lalanne. As the
city's reconstruction continued, the demand for upscale restaurants grew with it.
In 1908, the owners of the Poodle Dog, the Old Poodle Dog, John Bergez Restaurant and Frank's
Rotisserie merged their businesses, opening Bush Street and Claude Lane under Lalanne with
partners Jean B. Pon, Jean Bergez, Louis Coutard and Camille Mailhebeau. The restaurant now
boasted five floors; the top floor offered a ballroom. A side door mimicked the earlier
establishment with a birdcage elevator that took the men and their "companions"
upstairs. They brought the elegance of the Nineties back to San Francisco as the Bergez-Franks
Old Poodle Dog. The cuisine reflected the skills of some of the finest French chefs in the
city but also included innovations unique to San Francisco. The original Louis Dressing
originated in the Bergez-Franks Old Poodle Dog circa 1908; a product of the skills of Louis
It should be noted that Mr. Lalanne, Mr. Coutard and Mr. Pon were brothers in law. They married
three sisters who were born in France, their maiden name also Lalanne, a common name in
Surviving the great earthquake, the Old Poodle Dog unfortunately failed to hold up under
prohibition. The restaurant closed it doors the night of April 15, 1922. Lalanne stated
that, "great cuisine cannot be served without wine." He did, however open a new
establishment opposite the Palace Hotel on New Montgomery though little is written of
it. The menu included sparkling apple and grape juices from Motts and the old Cresta
Blanca Winery (now Wente) in Livermore among others.
Lalanne opened the Ritz French Restaurant at 65 Post Street in San Francisco in 1933. Prohibition
had ended and the wine flowed anew. Calixte Lalanne died in 1942 and his son Louis promptly
renamed his restaurant the Ritz Old Poodle Dog to honor his father s first love. Eight
years later, the San Francisco News recognized the senior Lalanne as a "chef without
The restaurant continued the traditions of old San Francisco, a lively business
not without its conflicts. Lalanne s son Cal related an incident his father, Louis
told him, about a time the second cook picked up the fry cook who was small and sat
him on the stove. Another time his mother got between them (one of them had a
cleaver in his hand). She said, "If you re going to hit anyone, hit me." The
two just couldn't get along. Louis died in 1968 and his wife took over management of
the restaurant. It quietly closed following her death in 1980. For the couple, the Old
Poodle Dog was a labor of love.
Cal Lalanne fondly related, "My favorite remembrance was that on every Sunday
night, after the guests were gone and the restaurant closed, they would have a perfect
Manhattan and the two of them would sit down and have dinner and the closing waiter and
the maitre 'd would wait on them. The staff loved them."
In June 1984, Cal Lalanne and his wife, Wendy reopened the Old Poodle Dog in the Glass-roofed
Crocker Galleria at 1 Montgomery Street at Post. It rated the maximum number of stars by the
food writers of the Chronicle and was written up in Gourmet Magazine. Maintaining a successful
CPA practice with staff and admittedly not being in the restaurant business, Lalanne hired
a successful chef, recommended by Mondavi. His new chef decided to also assume the role
They remained open for a year and a half. The lunch business was fine, but the night business
began falling off. The overhead created by the chef proved overwhelming. The type of food
served was labor intensive; strictly nouvelle cuisine, right out the Chefs of France at
the Mondavi Winery where the chef previously taught. Lalanne recommended changes but the
chef/manager couldn't agree on implementation. Determining he couldn't go on with the
overwhelming overhead, Lalanne decided to close it. San Francisco s finest restaurant