On the blackened walls might still be seen scarred pictures, fringed by a row of black cats along the ceiling. They turned their steps out toward the Presidio, hunted among the Italian refugees and there found Coppa--he of the wonderful black cats, and it took little persuasion to induce him to go back to his ruined restaurant and prepare a dinner, such as had made his place famous among artists, writers, and other Bohemians, in the days when San Francisco was care-free and held her arms wide open in welcome to all the world.
It was such a dinner as has been accorded to few. Few there are who have the heart to make merry amid crumbling ruins of all they held dear in the material world. The favored ones who assembled there will always hold that dinner in most affectionate memory, and to this day not one thinks of it without the choking that comes from over-full emotion. It was more than a tribute to the days of old--it marked the passing of the old San Francisco and the inauguration of the new.
It was Bohemia's Swan Song, sung by those to whom San Francisco held more than pleasure--more than sentimentality. It held for them close-knit ties that nothing less than a worldshaking cataclysm could sever--and the cataclysm had arrived.
The old Coppa restaurant in Montgomery street became a memory and on its ashes came the new one, located in Pine street between Montgomery and Kearny streets, and for a number of years this remained the idol of Bohemia until changed conditions drove the tide of patronage far up toward Powell, Ellis, Eddy and O'Farrell streets. At that time there grew up a mushroom crop of so-called restaurants in Columbus avenue close to Barbary Coast such as Caesar's, the Follies Cabaret, Jupiter and El Paradiso, where space was reserved in the middle of the floor for dancing. Coppa emulated the new idea by fitting out a gorgeous basement room at the corner of Kearny and Jackson, which he called the Neptune Palace. It represented a great grotto under the ocean, and here throngs gathered nightly to dance and eat until the police commissioners closed all of these resorts, as well as Barbary Coast.
Coppa became financially injured by this venture and was forced to take a partner in his old restaurant, and finally gave up his share and went beyond the city limits and opened the Pompeiian Garden, on the San Mateo road, and there with his heroic little wife tried to rebuild his shrunken fortunes, leaving the historic restaurant with its string of black cats and its memorable pictures on the walls to less skilled hands. He struggled against hard times and at the time of this writing he, with his wife, their son and his wife, are giving the old-time dinners and trying to make the venture a success.
In the old days it was considered a feat of gormandizing to go through one of Coppa's dinners and eat everything set before you for one dollar. Notwithstanding the delicious dishes he prepared and the wonderful recipes, the quantity served was so great that one would have to be possessed of enormous capacity, indeed, to be able to say at the end of the meal that he had eaten all that was given him.
In his Pompeiian Garden Coppa still maintains his old reputation for most tasty viands and liberal portions, and if one desire to find the true Bohemian restaurant of San Francisco today, one that approaches the old spirit of the days before the fire, he need but go out to Coppa's and while he will not have his eyes regaled by the quaint drawings with which the old-time artists decorated the walls, nor the hurrying footsteps along the ceiling to the famous center table where sat some of the world's most notable Bohemians on their visits to San Francisco, nor the frieze of black cats around the cornice, nor the Bohemian verse, written under inspiration of "Dago red," he will find the same old cooking, done by Coppa himself.
We asked Coppa what he considered his best dish and he gave us the Irishman's reply by asking another question:
"What do you think of it?"
There are so many to choose from that our answer was difficult but we finally stopped at "Chicken Portola." It was then that the old smile came back to Coppa's face.