Magnolia Pub Celebrates 10 Years in the Haight with a Magnificent Makeover

Located at the corner of Haight and Masonic in a turn-of-the-century Victorian, Magnolia Pub and Brewery opened in 1997 after extensive alterations to the building to enable the brewing equipment to fit in the basement.

Magnolia’s Dave McLean says he has “no plans in the near future to grow up.” Photo by Joel Williams

By Joel Williams
Published: August, 2008 

Now, after 10 successful years in the heart of the Haight, owner and Head Brewer Dave McLean said, It was clear that after 10 years of wear and tear something had to happen. So he decided it was time for a change.

McLean continued, I’ve been going through these doors every day for going on 11 years now, and my mind has never stopped turning about what I would have done differently. So he decided on some major changes to the overall atmosphere that used to prevail at Magnolia. Gone is the popular Grateful Dead-inspired psychedelic mural above the bar that wrapped around the interior; it has been covered with aged gold leaf. Also, the old spacey logo with a flaming keg on it has been replaced by a new, quite sophisticated and classy logo to compliment the existing early Deco wood trim and tile floor installed in the 1920s—both of which have also been cleaned up and repaired.

The booths have been made a little cozier, with dark wainscoting and soft padding along with custom metal sconces that match the new logo’s theme. There is also a new bar, a new communal bar table and new table tops—all built from reclaimed, old-growth Douglas Fir from the original Levi Strauss Building on Valencia. Antique mirrors, with graphic elements lifted from the new menus, complete the look, and the new color scheme allows the historic period details of the building to sparkle. The whole scene is topped off with a brand new Meyers Sound system; don’t worry, though, what you will be hearing at Magnolia—think hippie music—happily hasn’t changed.

My first question to McLean when I saw all of the changes was, Is this you finally growing up? After he stopped laughing, he responded a bit defensively, I have no plans in the near future to grow up. It wasn’t really about getting rid of our hippie or Deadhead roots or our sense of place here. That is all still evident in the music we play and the names we have for the beers, as well as some new places like our menus. I’m not walking away from the things that planted me here in the first place. In no way is it really that as much as it is fixing some things that I have always wanted to get to.

McLean went on to say, I loved the mural, but in some way in never quite spoke to me the way I wanted it to. I felt it was a distraction from the woodwork and the beautiful architectural details that we inherited with this space. But I know it worked really well for other people. McLean told me there was a small amount of hippie rebellion when the mural was covered up, but he claimed that he was able to hold some hands through the process, and all seems well now.

For those who sorely miss the famous murals, Magnolia has added the following statement on its website at We buried the murals in gold. Many of us have very fond memories of those murals, so we preserved them with resin and documented them inch by inch. Super-high resolution photos are available for those who want them.

There are also some more subtle changes. Keeping in step with the pub’s dedication to sustainability, McLean banned bottled water, replacing it with a new system that provides filtered still or sparkling Hetch Hetchy water. Magnolia’s purchasing decisions have always been organic, sustainable, seasonal and local. McLean simply said, That’s how we feel about it. Also along those lines, you won’t see any paper napkins or towels anymore either; they’ve been replaced by hand towels for the renovated bathrooms, and bar towels are now used as napkins. According to McLean, That felt really good. For such a small place, we were throwing out a lot of paper napkins and towels. When I asked about the choice of bar towels to replace the paper napkins, he replied, We didn’t think that starched linen napkins were the right choice for the pub, they felt a little too stiff ... literally.

And although I didn’t intend on talking about the beers in this article because I covered them in October 2006—the article is available online in the archives at—the Tweezer Tripel is an outstanding Belgian-style ale that deserves a quick thumbs up.

Joel Williams was a professional craft brewer for over seven years at several breweries. He earned a diploma in Brewing Sciences in 1996 from the world-renowned Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago.