Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lunch with Henderson

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was a highly-decorated World War One fighter ace who served with the American Expeditionary Forces on France's Western Front. Rickenbacker went on to a distinguished career as the head of Eastern Air Lines (USA), and was also a pioneer in automotive design and a one-time owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He died in 1973 at the age of 82.

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker's bar on the corner of 2nd and Minna in San Francisco's SOMA district has no connection with the distinguished American WW I war hero and businessman, other than the name. But whether or not the bar is a cheap trade on a prestigious name, it is memorable. One reviewer said this was because it was full of stuff that middle-aged men like. That's certainly true. Vintage motorcycles; US Cavalry guns in glass cases; a model train that circles the bar; young waitresses; antique Tiffany lamps... WTF?! The late owner of the bar was obviously a serious collector, but he also needed help...

Anyway, lunch wasn't memorable, and the coffee cups are still dirty (that for the benefit of some San Francisco foodie blogger who rightly questioned the joint's hygiene standards...). But it's a great place to have lunch with Henderson.

Henderson is a 1913 inline four cylinder motorcycle. It sat above and to the left of my table, its small alloy exhaust pipe pointing straight down into my coffee. Apparently, Henderson was originally the property of Captain Joachim Striker, skipper of the Star of India and one-time whaler out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Capt Striker knew the value of a good motorcycle – he kept Henderson in his cabin while at sea. According to a small card attached to the motorcycle, Henderson is worth US$75,000. And the rest, if we’re to believe the auction prices for less-distinguished vintage and veteran motorcycles that are regularly hauled before cashed-up buyers in North America and Europe.

Henderson is one of more than 40 motorcycles that are the most memorable feature of Eddie Rickenbacker’s bar. Hanging threateningly overhead from some apparently-flimsy cables is a 1930 Indian Super Chief, mounted (!) by a distinctly gay-looking Mountie (or maybe that’s just the combination of red jacket, gold braid and jodhpurs…).Before I further offend our Canadian Commonwealth cousins, this particular Indian belonged to the highly-decorated officer of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), Constable Hildebrand Africa. Hildebrand. He must have hated his parents…

Anyway, Hildebrand hangs from the ceiling of Eddie Rickenbacker’s bar, perpetually in pursuit of the bad guys. Alongside is another guy of gay-ish distinction (according to all the movie gossip sites), Clark Gable. Well, Mr Gable himself is not hanging by a cable, but his Indian is. Clark’s motorcycle is a 1941 Indian presented to him by Samuel Goldwyn to thank the leading man for his“outstanding performance” in Gone with the Wind. So Sam gave him a motorcycle? What’s wrong with a Duesenberg? Goldwyn must’ve been a cheap bastard, but this Indian would be cheaper if you could buy it for the price quoted on its card of US$65,000.

And so it goes on… Henderson is in the company of classic, indeed vintage and veteran motorcycling royalty. A few too many Hardly Ablesons perhaps, but the best of those are pretty impressive. There’s a Moto Guzzi, a 1902 Peugeot, a 1907 Indian board-track racer, a 1921 New Imperial “Light Tourist” (not recently seen in America… or anywhere else that Yanks travel), an Ariel Square Four, a 1951 Wizzer Sportsman (sorry, it’s starting to get gay again…), a 1952 Monark Super Twin (as I said – Royalty…). This bar is bursting with rare and valuable classics. That’s Eddie Rickenbacker’s. For tourists (light or heavy) who need a GPS to find their way, the precise address is 133 2ndStreet. Henderson awaits.

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