The most charming magical bar that has ever been

The other day, I got in my car and discovered a few fine strands of silk between the steering wheel and the dashboard. Just a few; some spider had been making a few exploratory leaps inside the car, leaving traces behind, and then probably left because there isn’t much spider food in there. It made me just a little bit happy, though. It’s good to see the little ones out and about.

I can only dream of someday owning a Cobweb Palace.

That’s the interior of a San Francisco saloon that existed between 1856 and 1893, established by a wise gentleman and kindred spirit named Abe Warner.

Cobweb Palace was unlike any other saloon in that it had dense spider webs fixed on the bar’s ceiling. More threads draped over the shelves that stored the liquor bottles. The spiders cast a veil over nude portraits on the walls, and some of the webs reportedly grew 6 feet wide at times. But Warner refused to destroy them.

“The spiders just took advantage of me and my good nature,” Warner told the San Francisco Chronicle. “When I first opened up here, I didn’t have time to bother with ‘em and they grew on me. It’s a great neighborhood for spiders, anyway, and the news got around among ‘em that I was easy and they founded an orphan asylum and put all the orphans to work spinning webs.”

All good things must come to an end, though, and the enchanted saloon eventually failed after a prosperous 40 year run.

Cobweb Palace would continue showcasing its curios, wild animals, and web-covered ceiling for nearly four decades, until the crowd outgrew their taste for the peculiar fortress Warner created. The saloon began to lose its luster in the 1870s, when the area became mostly industrial. Years later, the Sausalito ferries moved away from Meiggs’ Wharf, causing a bigger blow to Warner’s business.

Customers stopped coming to Cobweb Palace and Warner couldn’t make enough cash to pay the rent. The property owner had no choice but to evict Warner by 1893 to tear down the saloon and make way for new housing.

The end of Abe Warner was especially poignant. Is this me in a few years time? If it is, it’s not that terrible a way to go.

Warner is remembered in historic articles as a man whose only friends were the spiders, and in a way, they were. Warner’s best days were among the spiders that coexisted inside his bar as they kept him company long after the crowd abandoned him. Some webs had been undisturbed since the saloon’s inception until the auctioneers finally cleared them out.

Warner refused his daughter’s call to return to New York after the failure of Cobweb Palace. It would be too painful of a move after the decades spent in San Francisco. Even when local relatives wanted to take him in, Warner declined their offer, preferring his own solitude. Then, three years after the saloon’s permanent closure, Warner passed away in 1896 without a dime to his name. He was 82 years old and died alone, save for the spiders that watched over him until the very end.

What’s especially sad about that is that I haven’t accomplished anything as glorious as the Cobweb Palace. I’m going to have to get to work fast in my remaining years.

Also, anyone else read his story and think he sounds like a great character for an urban fantasy novel?


  1. cartomancer says

    It’s probably easier to maintain than the equivalent squid-themed hostelry would have been.

  2. Joe Beck says

    Warner and the Cobweb Palace did make an appearance in The Sandman #31, along with a couple of other San Francisco eccentrics of the period.

  3. robro says

    Seems others have found Abe and his palace of literary value (Wikipedia): “Both Abe and his Palace are mentioned throughout the book The Doctor’s Newfound Family by Valerie Hansen. It is also included in six issues of Sandman comic book by Neil Gaiman. The Cobweb Palace and its characters is also in Sunset Specters by Gary Jonas.”

  4. robro says

    According to the Wikipedia article, the Cobweb Palace was “a few steps below the sidewalk,” so sort of in the basement in the first place. Given the location of Meiggs Wharf…on the beach on the north side of SF at the foot of Powell and Mason Streets…the basement, if there was one, was probably very damp. Perhaps that would be perfect for the squid.

  5. stroppy says

    Heh. This brought to mind McSorly’s (aka Mig Surly’s). Back in the mid 20th century there were layers of dust on the fixtures that must have been there since it first opened in the 1800s. Apparently something happened in the early 21st century that caused all that interesting stratigraphy to vanish.

  6. Artor says

    Warner would have been a contemporary of Emperor Norton, who likely patronized the Cobweb Palace from time to time. It was a very interesting time in San Francisco.

  7. hillaryrettig1 says

    Shades of Patricia Highsmith:

    ” She loved animals, particularly snails, which she kept by the hundred as pets and took to parties clinging to a leaf of lettuce in her handbag. Writer and critic Terry Castle describes how she once “smuggled her cherished pet snails through French customs by hiding six or eight of them under each bosom”. She was famous for her wit and wicked sense of humour, and she wrote compellingly of loneliness and empathetically about disempowered housewives and children.”

  8. blf says

    I haven’t been able to work out if Emperor Norton is known to have visited the place, but whilst looking, did run across this (from 2009), Abe Warner, the Cobweb King. A snippet:

    Light struggled through the grime-encrusted windows and dimly revealed the vague shapes of objects on the walls and amid the shadows of the backbar. Upon close examination, they turned out to be sharks’ teeth and walrus tusks and other exotic souvenirs left with Warner by far-wandering sailors.

    There was also a menagerie of sorts. From various cages near the door, a morose bear or two, a sleepy kangaroo and a family of sad-eyed monkeys blinked at the Sunday crowds. On a ring that hung from the ceiling perched Warner’s pet parrot, which glared angrily at the patrons and cackled the nonsensical line that made it almost as famous as its owner: “I’ll have a rum and gum. What’ll you have?”

    In spite of (or perhaps, the city being San Francisco, because of) the pioneer’s eccentricities, he was warmly regarded by the San Franciscans who in those days spent their holidays in North Beach. He was friendly, dryly humorous at times and fond of children. The quality of his chowders was unequivocal, and the same held true of his imported French brandies and Spanish wines; he did not sell the plebeian whisky. “Let ’em buy that in some low saloon,” he would say grumpily.

    Not too happy to read about that menagerie, but perhaps otherwise, a, ah, charming, place… with chowder!

    Some searching indicates “rum and gum” was drinkers slang of the time, and possibly meant “Place before the customer a whiskey-glass containing one teaspoonful gum syrup, and a small bar-spoon, then hand out the desired kind of rum and allow him to help himself.” Gum syrup (gomme) is apparently “a sugar and water mixture, but has an added ingredient of gum arabic which acts as an emulsifier. Gomme syrup is made with the highest percentage of sugar to water possible […]”, so attacks the teeth as well as the liver and sense.

  9. Robbie Taylor says

    Also, anyone else read his story and think he sounds like a great character for an urban fantasy novel?

    I was thinking that the whole time!

  10. davidc1 says

    Miss Havisham would have been in pig heaven .
    I myself follow the Quinten Crisp style of home decor .