Empty Nest

Ever since the owner of the Owl Tree bar died, things just haven't been the same

Of all the old-school, kitschy "theme" bars in San Francisco, few hold the same place in people's hearts as the Owl Tree at the corner of Post and Taylor. Robert "Bobby" Cook ran the establishment for more than 30 years, filling it from stem to stern with all manner of owl paraphernalia: carved owls, porcelain owls, stained glass owls, stuffed owls, and even owl chandeliers.

After Bobby passed away last September, many people wondered what would happen to his place. The management of the Owl Tree passed to one of his sons, Christopher Cook, and dive bar aficionados kept their fingers crossed that things wouldn't change much.

However, almost immediately things began to change. The Owl Tree's great jukebox, which was full of Sinatra standards and show tunes, changed to classic rock and heavy metal overnight. Things went downhill from there.

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If you walk past the Owl Tree now, you will see broken windows, a barricaded door with the wood ripped open, and the PG&E turned off. All of the owls are gone and the room is bare. Word is that Christopher has been living in the bar and acting strangely for a while.

"He began to talk of "mind control,'" says a neighbor, an acquaintance of Cook's who asked to remain anonymous. "He said that the CIA was after him." She says that he began to liquidate all of his father's owls, giving them away to whoever wanted them and selling some others. He also gave her all the booze she could carry. "He was emptying out the entire bar, for no apparent reason."

As it turns out, Christopher and his brother, Timothy, have been fighting in court over control of the bar, one of the most valuable assets their dad left behind. According to probate records, Christopher hasn't paid the rent for months and the landlord has threatened to evict the dormant business. At press time, it appears as if Timothy has been able to wrest control of the bar from his allegedly paranoid brother. Last week, a judge suspended Christopher as the bar's caretaker or "special administrator."

So what will become of the Owl Tree? Timothy's lawyer, Bill Klein, suggests there's hope for all you Owl Tree lovers: "We're trying to sell it to people who want to preserve the [bar's] character." Let's just hope there's still something left to preserve.

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