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Storied: San Francisco

Jul 11, 2023

Welcome to the final episode of Season 5! We saved a special one for last for a good reason.

Mini Bar is, of course, where we're having our first art show (Hungry Ghosts) in more than three years. But it's also a neighborhood bar, and neighborhood bars are such a great symbol of the beating heart of San Francisco. Our whole dang thing, Storied: SF, was founded in a neighborhood bar, in fact.

In Part 1, we meet Mini Bar co-owner John Ordoña. (Nerius Mercado is Mini's other co-owner.) John was born in the very maternity ward at Kaiser on Geary where his mom, a Filipina immigrant, worked. He was the third of three sons to his mom and dad, both from the Philippines. Born into a Catholic family, John attended school at Star of the Sea and then Sacred Heart, where he was part of the last boys-only class at that school.

He grew up in 1970s and 1980s San Francisco. John shares a funny story about being young and seeing TV ads for the Planet of the Apes show and news stories about the SLA's kidnapping of Patty Hearst. He'd hear the SLA described as "urban gorillas [sp]" and his parents would exploit this misunderstanding to get John to behave. Then John goes on a sidebar rattling off many of the notable incidents in San Francisco in the late-'70s.

John says he went to the "hat trick" of Catholic education in San Francisco, as he later attended USF for college. In grade school, he played some sports, and especially took to basketball and boxing. He shares stories of his dad taking him to Newman's Gym in the Tenderloin at Leavenworth and Turk. He loved it and eventually needed to get there without parental accompaniment. This meant riding the bus to, not through, the TL.

He spent some time at City College before getting into USF, working jobs including one at a fledgling company called Esprit, run by Susie and Doug Tompkins. He answered phones at Esprit's 900 Minnesota Street office in Potrero Hill and loved it. John said he still runs into Susie Tompkins Buell from time to time.

From right after high school until the end of college, John partied and went clubbing a lot. Over the years, he also worked at Dryer's and Levi's to help put himself through college. He got offers to move to New York City and thought about it, but never took the leap.

For a while, the idea of opening a bar was in the back of his head. John shares a story about his dad showing him and talking about drinking spots around The City when he was a kid. "Bars are a great business to open," the elder Ordoña told his son.

Check back Thursday for Part 2 and the story of opening a tiny neighborhood drinking hole and art bar on Divisadero.

We recorded this episode at Mini Bar on Divisadero in June 2023.

Photography by Jeff Hunt