“Rebel” makes multiple Irish coffees at once at The Buena Vista in San Francisco. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sit at the bar. It’s the only way to fully appreciate the mass production of Irish coffees at The Buena Vista.

This classic hot alcoholic drink has been served at this San Francisco institution since 1952.

The café boasts of making the first Irish coffee in the United States.

While there is a full bar at Buena Vista, on a recent Sunday afternoon it didn’t appear anything but Irish coffees were being service. After all, about 2,000 Irish coffees are made there every day. Food is also served, though I don’t remember ever eating there.

Glasses are lined up and then filled with hot water so the final concoction is hot. Out goes the water and in goes two sugar cubes. This is followed by the coffee with little regard to spilling. Next up is Tullamore Dew—an Irish whiskey that is blended from column stilled and pot stilled whiskeys. The liquids are topped off with whipped cream—and not the stuff that is sprayed out of a can.

It’s a simple drink, but one that took a bit to refine.

This is the story The Buena Vista tells, “Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista, challenged international travel writer Stanton Delaplane to help re-create a highly touted ‘Irish coffee’ served at Shannon Airport in Ireland. Throughout the night the two of them stirred and sipped judiciously and eventually acknowledged two recurring problems. The taste was ‘not quite right,’ and the cream would not float. The restaurateur pursued the elusive elixir with religious fervor, even making a pilgrimage overseas to Shannon Airport.

“Upon Jack’s return, the experimentation continued. Finally, the perfect-tasting Irish whiskey was selected. Then the problem of the bottom-bent cream was taken to San Francisco’s mayor, a prominent dairy owner. It was discovered that when the cream was aged for 48 hours and frothed to a precise consistency, it would float as delicately as a swan on the surface of Jack’s and Stan’s special nectar. With the recipe now mastered, a sparkling clear, 6-ounce, heat-treated goblet was chosen as a suitable chalice.”

Once perfected, the recipe has not changed.



  • Address: 2765 Hyde St. (at the corner of Beach) in San Francisco
  • Phone: 415.474.5044
  • Open seven days a week.

Pin It on Pinterest