Known by locals as the “Cheers” of Chinatown, Red’s Place opened its doors in the early 1960s in a spot that has long been home to family businesses. Historic photos reveal that the building housed a barber shop in the late 1800s, followed by a cigar store and saloon. Though neither the current owners nor patrons can shed light on the bar’s namesake, Red’s has maintained the building’s century-long role as a community gathering spot, billing itself as the oldest bar in Chinatown.
When the bar first opened, it was located just around the corner from the Chinese New Year parade route, which once travelled down Grant Street to Broadway. Following the parade, community members set off firecrackers in celebration on Jackson Street in front of Red’s, lighting 300,000 crackers at the parade’s peak. Red’s continues to take part in the annual festivities, including the firecracker show on Jackson.
In 1990, Herman and Lisa Chan purchased the bar, having previously owned a nearby bar on Broadway. They maintained the family spirit of the bar, with most of their customers living in the neighborhood and stopping by each day after work to swap stories and gossip. While certain aspects of the bar’s physical fabric have changed, the exterior remains unchanged, bearing close resemblance to a 1927 shot of the cigar store. The basement, though inaccessible to patrons, still houses teller booths, alluding to the building’s ties to underground gambling in generations past.
Courtesy of SF Heritage
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