Yesterday’s Crimes: Pirates and Gamblers of the 7 Mile House

A new book on the 7 Mile House in Brisbane doesn't gloss over the bar's history of criminal activity.

7 Mile (Photo: Bob Calhoun)

Today, the 7 Mile House at the intersection of Brisbane, Daly City and San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley is known for its plates of sizzling pork adobo and towering Cow Palace Burger. However, If the old walls of this last-remaining Bay Area stagecoach stop could talk, they might tell you about … pirates.

Detective Charles Crockett pursued the pirates by land and bay on Nov. 8, 1901. The thieves had been stealing goods from a schooner docked at Third and Kentucky Streets, sailing them up to Mission Bay, and then loading them onto a wagon near the 7 Mile House. Crockett tailed the wagon to a Bayshore beach and telephoned for backup from the Potrero station.

When Crockett and another officer advanced on the pirates, the crooks took off in their wagon. The wagon quickly slammed into a fence. The pirates jumped off and hightailed it on foot. Crockett fired a shot at one of the men and possibly winged him. The detective chased another through “pig pens and sloughs.”

Crockett eventually slapped the cuffs on a pirate named John Reed, while the other two got away. The “booty” Reed had been caught with was a hot commodity of the time: a load of imported lead paint. 

This tale of piracy and so many others are told in See You at the 7: Stories from the Bay Area’s Last Original Mile House, a generously-illustrated book published by the roadhouse itself to mark its 160th anniversary. Written by the bar’s current owner, Vanessa Garcia, and meticulously researched by her cousin, Regina Abuyuan, See You at the 7 reveals the stories of past cooks, bartenders, and even regulars who found love within the tavern’s whisky-soaked walls.

“But then there was crime. Always crime,” Garcia writes as she details her bar’s seedy but rollicking past in the book’s early chapters.

Charles Browning won a whopping $50 gambling at the 7 Mile on Dec. 10, 1910, only to be robbed by masked holdup men while returning home to Glen Park. Gambling cost the tavern its liquor license in 1914, but the gambling and the booze continued even through prohibition and beyond.

Jesse Rodriguez of San Francisco punched his fist through the glass of “a pinball machine” at the 7 Mile when the owner refused to pay him his winnings in August 1960. Rodriguez was cut so bad he nearly went into shock, but I’m still wondering about these pinball machines that pay out.

A burglar was shot at while breaking into the place in 1946. An elderly night watchman surprised a pair of burglars cracking the 7 Mile House’s safe in 1954. The robbers beat the watchman and made off with $2,300 in cash. Armed robbers held up the owner of the Seven Mile for $5,000 in 1960.

And the crimes go on and on. But not all the 7 Mile House’s criminal activity is from decades or centuries past. A gambling ring with ties to Costa Rica was busted out of the 7 Mile as recently as 2000, but the illegal bookmaking is all in the past this historic venue.

Garcia, an immigrant from the Philippines, bought the dive from one of the bookies in 2004 and has since found success with hot food, strong drinks, and live music seven nights a week. But even when Garcia was struggling to run the 7 Mile back in the days when her mother worked the kitchen, she was always intrigued by her bar’s sometimes-shady past. This compelled her to craft See You at the 7.

“I admit, I’m drawn to the illicitness of it all,” Garcia writes. “How does one even attempt to get into something that might get you arrested? It was all such a contrast to my sunny, almost painfully naïve upbringing in the Philippines.”

See You at the 7 is available at the 7 Mile House (2800 Bayshore Blvd. Brisbane). Author Vanessa Garcia will be appearing and signing books at the San Francisco History Association on February 27, and at San Francisco History Days at the Old Mint on Fifth and Mission Streets on March 3 and 4. 

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