Restaurateur and longtime Marin resident, Perry Butler is celebrating an important anniversary this month: His venerable bar and restaurant on Union Street in San Francisco turns 50. To commemorate the half-century achievement—a month of festivities include throwback menu offerings, a block party and even celebrity and guest bartenders including Mayor London Breed and Willie Brown.
“We have done it—with an endless procession of people who do the heavy lifting,” says Butler who offers generous praise to the many employees he has hired over the years.
After moving from Manhattan to San Francisco in 1967, Butler spent a year in advertising, which, in his words, “wasn’t floating my boat.” He decided to get out of the ad business and open a restaurant instead. He would fashion his place after one of his favorite spots on the Upper East Side—Martell’s.
“Nothing like it existed in San Francisco—it was comfortable, had a limited menu and was unprepossessing,” says Butler who designed Perry’s in keeping with his favorite Manhattan spot, right down to the blue and white checkered tablecloths, black and white tile floors and dark mahogany wood walls. On Aug. 20, 1969 he opened Perry’s at 1944 Union Street in Cow Hollow, and it became an instant success. “In many subtle ways we were innovative and didn’t realize it at the time,” says Butler who described how simply turning the lights up was in sharp contrast to the dark, moody dining rooms of the time.
Butler moved to Marin in 1970 and in 1982 opened a second Perry’s in Strawberry. He would add Butler’s in the same location and hire Heidi Krahling (chef/owner of Insalatas) to expand the food offerings beyond American bar and grill fare. Along with losing San Francisco customers with the Marin opening, the restaurant never really caught on and he closed its doors in 1989.
Fast forward to today; along with another Perry’s in downtown San Francisco, Butler took over the longtime Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur and opened Perry’s on Magnolia almost five years ago. He offers a similar menu in the large 175-seat space that has maintained its old world Victorian charm, but now boasts a large bar in the main dining room. There is also plenty of outside seating beneath the redwoods and on the patio.
Butler expresses much gratitude for the successes he has had over the years, but none more than having his children all involved in his restaurants. “It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me—it’s as special as special gets.”