On a sunny Saturday morning, I rubbed a dollop of sunscreen onto my cheeks and prepared to trek to the number one spot on my Chomp List: Swan Oyster Depot. This journey was 4 years in the making, and I was mentally prepared to spend the next 1.5 hours waiting outside to get in. We hustled up Polk and got in line around 10:30 am. I sipped on my morning coffee as we settled in for a long, long wait, but, apparently, we had some left over karma from something because we got in the first seating, snagging the last two bar stools. I looked across the space at a long, fourteen person bar and a giant collection of 49ers and Giants gear. The space is real in every sense of the word and proud to be San Franciscan. The second a check is paid, the counter is cleared and the next eager group is ushered in. This place is the definition of a well-oiled machine. You get the feeling that the group of guys working the bar are family, whether by blood or association. Many of these guys have worked at Swan Oyster for decades and are genuinely happy to be there, proudly assembling and serving the dishes that have become San Francisco staples. A tiny, older lady walked out of the back kitchen and every guy turned to give her a kiss on the cheek, wishing her a good morning. Settling in at the bar, we felt that for that hour, we were part of the family.
A friendly, gentleman with short grey hair and a big smile greeted us immediately. He seemed to be high on the totem pole, causally looking over the shoulders of the younger guys and giving them tips when needed. We ordered everything he suggested: beer, half loaf of bread served with square pads of butter, clam chowder, half a dozen oysters, mixed seafood salad, and the special, Sicilian Ceviche. The Sicilian Ceviche is a collection of thinly sliced salmon, scallop, herring, and tuna sashimi drizzled in olive oil and topped with red onions and capers. Add a bit of rock salt and cracked pepper and you’re golden.
Fame and accolades are nothing more than a feather in the cap at Swan Oyster Depot. Besides the massive, permanent line in front of the place there are no other indications of its hype. It’s a genuine spot and when the servers ask you about your weekend, they really want to know. Go hungry, leave happy.