The Irish Coffee, an Irish legend, finds fresh ground in Sausalito

“Yep!” says Bob Freeman, the owner of the Trident restaurant in Sausalito, slapping the dark stained whorled wood table at the Trident hard enough to make one jump and laughing an infectious laugh. “That’s more or less the story!” Which when it comes to bar mythology, is about as close as one can hope to get to the truth.

That story of the Irish Coffee goes that in the winter of 1943 (the middle of World War II), a U.S. bound plane travelling through Foynes Port near Limerick Ireland, was forced to turn back. This was not an unusual occurrence, being in the middle of a world war, and coupled with the fact that Ireland was a neutral country during the conflict. It was such a common occurrence that Irish Chef Joe Sheridan had created a hotel/restaurant at the airport specifically to cater to people involved in just such circumstances.

But on this particular night, when Sheridan was confronted by a grumpy group of cold, tired, American travelers in the dead of an Irish winter night, he put on his chef hat and assembled what he had on hand. He later also assembled an Irish style limerick to immortalize his recipe.

Cream – Rich as an Irish Brogue
Coffee – Strong as a Friendly Hand
Sugar – Sweet as the tongue of a Rogue
Whiskey – Smooth as the Wit of the Land

As Irish luck would have it the Americans loved the drink and in a mistaken linguistic exchange it got its name. When asked what coffee he had used, Sheridan replied, “It’s Irish Coffee,” and a legend was born. The drink became popular amongst American travelers at the airport, eventually capturing the attention of American journalist Stanton Delaplane, who brought it back to his hometown of San Francisco and introduced it to Jack Koeppler, the owner of the Buena Vista Bar in San Francisco. They couldn’t quite get the recipe right. So eventually, in 1952, they brought Joe Sheridan himself over to work out the kinks at the Buena Vista. He stayed on and worked there until his death in 1962, by then the Irish Coffee was a San Francisco institution.

Freeman, a long time Sausalitan, has quite a few restaurant stories. He should, he not only owns the Trident, but also owns the same Buena Vista in San Francisco. But that is only part of his story, Freeman has been a restaurant pioneer since the late 1960’s when he started the Victoria Station restaurant chain (which once had a location in Larkspur Landing), and later created California Café, which opened its inaugural restaurant in Strawberry.

And Freeman knows a thing or two about the benefits of having a signature cocktail; the Buena Vista has its Irish coffee and the Trident is the birthplace of the Tequila Sunrise.

Freeman claims that when he found out the Buena Vista was for sale the negotiations lasted all of 30 seconds.

“It was a no-brainer,” he says.

In the midst of negotiating the deal, Freeman spoke to the bar manager prior to taking over the property, hoping to keep him on.

“How much is the Irish Coffee?” he remembers asking.

“$4,” replied the bar manager.”

“When was the last time you raised the price?” asked Freeman.

“The corporate office won’t let us,” replied the bar manager.

Freeman convinced that manager to raise the price $1 before he took over the property, essentially doing two things: 1) providing instant income for the restaurant, and 2) shielding Freeman from the blame.

“I did the numbers,” says Freeman. “It was 444,000 Irish coffees. Half a million bucks just like that!” Freeman slaps the table again.

“And we are now at $13 million,” he adds with a chuckle. “You do the math.”

I did. It works out to about 1,000,000 Irish Coffees a year.

Freeman took over the Buena Vista on January 10, 2001, and then added Horizons in Sausalito in 2002 (along with partner Ron Davis), eventually rebranding and reverting that restaraunt back to its original name: The Trident. He brought in former Victoria Station compadre Rick Enos as manager (Enos had formerly opened the Cantina in Mill Valley before owning the Compadres restaraunt chain on his own). At the Trident, the partners and Enos decided to focus their energies on the beautiful outdoor deck, fresh familiar cuisine, and the famous Tequila Sunrise. Adding the Buena Vista Irish Coffee to the menu was also a no brainer.

“Just look at that $15 million view,” says Enos his hand sweeping over the panorama that is the San Francisco Bay.

“Wouldn’t you rather have an Irish Coffee here?”

They just might be on to something at the Trident.

Buena Vista Irish Coffee (as also served at The Trident in Sausalito)

1 ½ ounces of Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey (specially Buena Vista labelled)

3 ounces fresh brewed coffee

2 white sugar cubes

Heavy cream blended but not whipped.

Fill tempered serving glass with hot water and let stand a minute or so before discarding water. Dissolve the two sugar cubes in half the needed coffee. Add whiskey and the remainder of the coffee filling to within 1/2 inch of the rim of glass. Float heavy cream on top.

Pro Tips from Lauren Enos, The Trident Bar manager:

  1. Make sure your coffee is piping hot, and that you prewarm the glass
  2. Do not blend the cream for more than 20 seconds, it needs to be thick and slightly bubbly, but not whipped cream.