“Let it be known that Pop’s has been around since 1947, and I like old things,” says Michael “Spike” Krouse, the new owner of Pop’s, “Pop’s is not going away.”
Krouse is a longtime San Franciscan and a longtime SF bartender and bar owner, having worked at several bars all over town before taking over ownership of Madrone Lounge (and reinventing it as the now very acclaimed Madrone Art Bar) about 5 years back. It came to our attention today that he is the new owner of Pop’s right here in the Mission! So, we asked for a Q&A, and he was into it:
Mission Mission: In general, and specifically in San Francisco, what makes a bar a good one?
Spike: A good bar to me is all about AUTHENTICITY. I came to San Francisco because I wanted to be in a place that was unique to everywhere else. I expect the same things from the places I eat and drink at. That’s what makes them special. It can be divey or fancy as long as it’s authentic. And when it’s done right it becomes alive with energy, and you feel that energy the moment you walk in the room. Great bars can and will stand the test of time, they are not trendy, they move beyond what is artificial and become a fabric of the place and time that they exist in.
You’ve had Madrone for around 5 years now? How’s it been, owning your first bar and all?
It’s been an adventure, and one that I can’t wait to do again at Pop’s. Madrone is as much about me as it is the neighborhood and the location. The location dictates what the bar becomes. The customers define the bar. I just listen to them — and my staff. It’s kind of like throwing darts: sometimes you hit a bullseye and sometimes you miss the board. At Madrone I’ve done both, but I keep trying new things.
What do you like about Pop’s?
Besides the neon sign? The history: it was started in 1947 by World War II gunner Jack O’Connor returning home from the South Pacific. His dad helped him open the bar, hence the name Pop’s. (See the attached picture.) It became an instant SF institution that allowed him to foster both his innate man-of-the-hour persona, and his enduring affinity for fun. He was also a bartender at the Hungry I and 12 Adler (now Specs). He also opened up the New Hearth, known for “High Balls and High Times.” He was married five times and liked to gamble. (See attachment #2.) Over the years the Bar has had a few different owners (Bradley Fitzgerald, Francis Prieto, and currently Malia and Harmony). In the early ’80s Pop’s moved to the current location for whatever reason. Probably a rent hike. Nonetheless, the history of the bar has character and I love that aspect.
What do you like about 24th Street?
24th Street is still the heart of the Mission, it’s still Mom and Pop, it’s still authentic. I remember my first visit 20+ years ago, when I was a student at the art institute and I was turned on to Precita Eyes and Galeria de la Raza. I take my kids to St. Francis Fountain, and play in the mini park while we wait. I like La Victoria Bakery, and Roosevelt Tamale Parlor. I like all the murals, and I especially like that it still feels like the San Francisco I fell in love with.
Divisadero [where Madrone is located] and 24th are undergoing some similar changes, as many SF streets tend to do. As a business owner and longtime San Franciscan, what’s your take on watching these changes happen?
Change is inevitable. And these two streets are comparable. Over here, for the most part we have people who care about the neighborhood and how their business fit into the fabric of the community. I think that’s super important. You can’t be just a taker. Especially in areas like 24th and Divisadero. They are both small tight-knit communities. My take on the overall changes I see in the city is this: I came here 22 years ago, because I fell in love with San Francisco, I fell in love with the idea that no matter who you were or what you were into, this city would welcome you. I came here with a very little bit of $ in my pocket and found place to live, and a way to grow and experience the life I wanted. I may have grown up in Las Vegas, but I came home the moment I moved here. And now I’m raising my children in San Francisco. What concerns me now, and I hope the politicians can figure it out, but if I was 20 years old now, I don’t know how I would be able to move here and make a life. I think we need to maintain a place for the young dreamers; otherwise our great city will become less unique. We need different people.
Do you have any special plans for Pop’s?
Yes I do. It’s going to be a place where everyone is welcome and everyone feels at home. I’m so happy to have a bar with such a strong history in San Francisco. Any bar that has lasted 67 years has earned the right to continue and thrive. I can’t wait to push it forward with integrity.
[Photos by the San Francisco Public Library]