New photos by Bonnee Waldstein. Old photos courtesy of Rene Lecour
Trendy bars and restaurants have come and gone in the dozen or so years since Glen Park has become a well known and highly desirable neighborhood in San Francisco. One stalwart constant in the Glen Park village since 1926 has been the Glen Park Station bar. That was the year the building was moved from some other unknown part of the City. In fact, its very authenticity might make it hip and trendy itself.
Tom Coulter and his business partner and best friend of almost thirty years, Rene Lecour,now 63, purchased the bar in 1990, and the building itself in 1997. They didn’t change anything except to clean it up a bit and paint the walls. Originally the floors were carpeted, but they’ve been replaced with wood, many times over.
Tom, whose last home was in San Carlos, passed away on March 30 of pneumonia and a blood infection at age 72. An obituary which detailed his life, family, and business career, appeared in the April 9 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle.
After a memorial celebration at the bar on April 15, co-owner — now owner — Rene Lecour sat down (on a barstool) to reminisce about her friend. With her was her daughter, Catherine, 26, who has been taking on increasing duties at the bar for the last two years.
Rene told of Tom’s love of conversation. Years ago, when he was in college, Glen Park resident Jeff Sparks would frequent the bar to study and drink — coffee. Tom was a staunch Republican and he would get Jeff started on politics. They were always on opposite sides and they would have at it. Tom would often counter their disagreements with, “Now if only you would have caught me when I was drinking, I would have made a much better argument!”
With the passage of time, Tom, an admitted alcoholic, stopped drinking. He also voted for Barack Obama. The older he got the more Democratic he became. He was very pro-choice and would say he didn’t know how people could tell others what to do with their bodies. He was very adamant and that would sway his vote.
The bar was, and continues to be, a happy place. When Tom was tending bar on weekends during his drinking years, two characters, Bill and Roland, used to come in. They’d “buy” Tom a drink (Scotch). As soon as Tom set the drink down to tend bar, Bill or Roland would drink it. So then they’d “buy” Tom another drink. Tom thought he’d outsmart this ruse and placed his drink on the back counter, out of reach, and get busy again.
When Tom could finally turn his attention back to that drink, he found that Bill and Roland had used a load of straws to build a bridge from the bar to the back counter, where the giant straw would terminate in Tom’s drink. This procedure was repeated over and over for years.
Kidding aside, Tom had his standards. All bartenders must wear shirts and ties. No one knows that better than Richard Underhill, a 20-year veteran bartender at the Glen Park Station. Other important rules: zero tolerance regarding drugs; also fighting — no matter who threw the first punch. Thus the customers are a self-regulating and de-escalating group.
The clientele covers every demographic, “from 21 to 99!,” says Rene. Blue collar, white collar and everything in between; lots of teachers and even a politician or two. Customers say things like, “I could go to any bar for a drink– I come here to see my friends, the other folks, and for the atmosphere.”
The Glen Park Station has a colorful history. Its first year, 1926, was at the height of Prohibition. Rumor has it that it operated as a speakeasy. There was a door dividing the front of the establishment from the rear. The front area was presumably a sort of coffee shop. A secret knock on the door would allow certain customers access to enjoy the true intention of the Glen Park Station.
The owner at that time, Joe Veloni, lived upstairs and raised nine kids in a three-bedroom apartment. (One of his sons was named Tony Veloni.) Joe hung out a lot with a couple of wannabe gangster buddies.
Today,whooping and hollering can be heard coming from the bar over a big game, and many photos of athletes hang on the walls. But the Glen Park Station was never billed as a sports bar. Tom and Rene dubbed it an upscale neighborhood bar.
There’s a generational divide in referring to the bar. The older ones call it The Station; the younger crowd just texts “I’m at GPS.”
If there’s a sad side to the Glen Park Station, it’s that with the passage of so much time, customers–and their relatives–are passing away. “Deaths are more frequent than weddings or baby showers. Yes, we’ve had baby showers here too,” said Rene. Daughter Catherine added that, even when sad things happen, it doesn’t leave a bad feeling in the air at the Glen Park Station.
Another sad thing was when Rene moved to North Carolina with her family in 2004, and that affected Tom deeply.
Since she’s been back temporarily in Glen Park, Rene has heard wonderful things about the cohesion and friendliness of the Glen Park community. She will continue as owner of the bar, alone, but with Catherine’s help.
As to what’s next for the bar itself, things will remain as they are, with one big exception — Tom won’t be there to share a laugh or two.