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Haight Legacy Business Spotlight: Zam Zam

Opened in 1941 by Assyrian-born Samson Mooshei as the “Persian Aub Zam Zam” (now known as Zam Zam), the long-standing Haight Street cocktail lounge is known for its classic martinis and distinctive 1940s-era Persian Art Deco interior. When first arriving in San Francisco, Mooshei and his family settled in a flat on the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets and opened a greasy spoon called the Pall Mall. By the time Samson opened Persian Aub Zam Zam (first at 1933 Haight Street), he was well established in the city.

The name “Persian Aub Zam Zam,” is a reference to a holy well or oasis of the same name in Saudi Arabia. Mooshei’s brother-in-law, Malek, co-founded the business and together they hired Assyrian architect and designer, Jon Oshanna, to design an exotic and otherworldly Persian-inspired interior for their new cocktail lounge.

Exterior of Aub Zam Zam at 1633 Haight Street. For the exterior, Jon Oshanna designed Moorish-inspired archways and twin minarets. SF Heritage photo.

The result was an exquisitely designed interior featuring Assyrian Art Deco influences with wood and plaster making up the detailing in framing, and a prominent curved bar set in front of a mural. Painted by Oshanna, the oil painted mural depicts a famous Persian love story, the encounter of Khosru and Shireen.

Inside Aub Zam Zam in January, 1942. The newscopy accompanying the photo reads: “Looking through the archway from the main lounge in Aub Zam Zam, brand new cocktail lounge, one gets a glimpse of old Persia. The name means ‘Blessed Water’ in Persian, and rightly so, for here exotic drinks entice the patron to enjoy life to the full.”  San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, SF Public Library, AAB-1779.
[Haight Street, looking west from Ashbury], 1944 Nov. 11, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, SF Public Library, AAB-3954
Detail of the same photo, with Zam Zam’s original neon sign visible in the background. It features the words “Persian Aub Zam Zam,” the bar’s original name. This sign was the inspiration for SF Heritage’s new lapel pin celebrating the bar and its history.

Samson’s son Bruno, who used to sweep the floor at the Pall Mall and attended nearby Polytechnic High School, took over his father’s business in 1951. Until his death half-a-century later, Bruno presided over the bar as its slightly gruff contrarian, maintaining Zam Zam as a classy cocktail lounge through the Haight-Ashbury’s transformation into the center of San Francisco’s Counterculture. To him, the forties and fifties were the city’s golden era, and he was appalled by the influx of hippies to the neighborhood. He became known for tossing people out of the bar and objecting openly to customer behavior, whether it was for deliberating too long to order or for not ordering a “proper” drink (beer).

Before Bruno passed away in 2000, he sold the bar to Robert Clarke, a regular who lived upstairs. To this day, Clarke has maintained the bar’s unique character, all the way down to the 1940s air raid blinds. He hired a art-restoration specialist, Ann Rosenthal, to clean up the bar’s mural, which had accumulated on its surface decades-worth of nicotine. Today, Zam Zam remains a special remnant of the Haight’s pre-hippie era, so stop by for a martini when you are next in the neighborhood!

You could win our new legacy business pin set, which includes Piedmont Boutique’s famous legs. Thank you to SF Neon for recreating this design for our new lapel pins!

For our Heritage in the Neighborhoods: Haight-Ashbury month, we produced a set of three new legacy business pins featuring Aub Zam Zam, FTC Skateboarding, and Piedmont Boutique. Our partners at San Francisco Neon helped to recreate Zam Zam’s original neon sign to represent the business in pin-form, and we are thrilled this will keep a chapter of the business’s history alive.

Each week in the month of August 2022, cast your vote for the Haight’s next legacy business for a chance to win a pin set! Public voting ends on August 31 at 5:00 PM PST.

Legacy BusinessesHaight-Ashbury

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August 16, 2022

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