from Reporter’s Note Book by Duffy Jennings

In those days, drinking at lunch was customary throughout the business world, and the so-called “three-martini lunch” was a common practice. Even President Gerald Ford, in a 1978 speech to the American Restaurant Association, said the three-martini lunch “is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snootful at the same time?”

Each city newspaper had its own saloon, and for the Chronicle it was Hanno’s in the Alley, conveniently located at Minna and Mary Streets behind the newspaper building. Hanno’s was “part social club and part psychologist’s office,” as Carl Nolte put it in a 2000 obituary on Mel Albert, who co-owned Hanno’s with Mel Tate. “It was our place,” said the late Ron Fimrite, a magazine writer and author who spent many years as a Chronicle sports columnist. “It was a place where reporters could commiserate over the atrocities committed on their prose, laugh and talk and play liar’s dice by the hour. A wonderful place.”

It always amazed me how much some reporters could drink in the middle of the day and return to their typewriters to churn out impeccable, coherent copy on deadline. Often reporters would sneak out for a few pops in the early afternoon. At the Chronicle, this phenomenon had its own nickname.

Reporters would meander toward the restroom at the front of the office, leaving their jackets hanging in the coat room or on their chair to appear as if they’d be right back. Once past the city desk they would duck out to Hanno’s for mid-day cocktails in their shirt-sleeves. Newsroom lore has it that reporter Monte Waite coined the term “shirt-sleever” for these surreptitious outings. Early on, Waite recommended carrying a piece of paper or a notebook with you, so it appeared you were working on a story that required looking up something in another part of the building. When day editor Carl Latham couldn’t find a certain reporter, he would inevitably call Hanno’s—there was a direct line from the city desk—and tell the bartender to send the wayward reporter back to the city room. “I know he’s there,” Latham would say. “Just tell him to get his butt back upstairs.”

Jerry Carroll says reporter George Murphy could often be seen seated on a stool at Hanno’s, reading a pulp novel, change from a ten-dollar bill on the bar. When his martini was finished, the bartender, without prompting, delivered a fresh one in a shaker and poured. “George was red-faced and loud after lunch,” says Carroll. “He liked jokes and puns and had an inordinate store of them. ‘I spill more than he drinks,’ was one of his favorite terms of dismissal.” When the money was gone, George returned to work.

Eventually reporters dropped the cover story altogether. “Going for a shirt-sleever,” they announced simply on the way out the door.

© 2019 by Duffy Jennings. All Rights Reserved.