•“Somehow, after 50 years, the spirit of Fred still endures,” longtime customer Dieter Rapp recalls laughingly. “But there are big differences — Fred’s never used to have checks.
Fred would come around and in his thick German accent ask, ‘ What did you had?’ after you were
done eating. You’d tell him and he’d tell you what to pay.”
Fred’s has never been that lonely coffee shop immortalized by Edward Hopper’s painting
“Nighthawks.” Fred’s widow Christine saw to that. As the building owner, she made sure new
leaseholders didn’t change things like pictures on the wall or the seating policy.
“When the current owner of Fred’s bought the building we were scared,” Dieter admits.
“Luckily he was smart enough not to change the character of the place. He made it better — new
windows, new chairs, more food options ... but the spirit is the same.”
regular named Rodger notes. “People are at their brightest
at the start of the day.”
Other than the sturdy metal sign that says “Stammtisch,”
you’ve seen tables like this before: round, heavy-worn oak,
surrounded by a cast of characters that could easily be
mistaken for poker tournament contestants. And like the
poker players, those around the stammtisch are in many
ways very much alike — all drawn to Sausalito via San
Francisco in the ’60s as part of the baby boomer genera-
tion that defined San Francisco and later Marin. Now, all
wiser, mellower and exuding a confident sense of having
been there before: you get the feeling in their faces that
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there is nothing they didn’t see when they were younger.
It was after all, the ’60s and ’70s. This crowd was Marin
before Marin was.
As far as I can tell, there’s never been, until now, a photo
of a meal taken at this table. That’s not to say the group is
tech-averse. Phones are used to Google facts or show pictures previously taken. John Libberton, at 92 years old, has
his complete sculpting portfolio on his iPhone, which he
shows off frequently. But no one is texting, emailing or post-ing to Instagram. Any news these folks are getting is likely
coming from one of the many newspapers littering the table,
not from a Facebook feed on a smartphone.
They go stretches without talking but it’s a comfortable
quiet, with their eyes down in their respective New York
Timeses, Wall Street Journals, Marin IJs and San Francisco
Chronicles, eating their eggs. Then someone will put his
paper down, his eyes will light up, and with a little introduction about what he just read, all the papers will be set aside
and a new conversation will begin.
So are they a group of burnt-out lonely hippies? Hardly.
Among the roster are a Ph.D., a medical doctor, a plastic
surgeon, a lawyer, an architect, a sailor, an interpreter, a
houseboat builder, an inventor, a realtor, a builder, a craftsman, a teacher and many other professionals.
There are no rules for the table. Anyone can talk about
anything. One day a stammtischer mentioned to me that he
records Rush Limbaugh daily and is a Trump supporter. This
proclamation didn’t cause a single head to lift. The liberal
side of the table kept reading and the conservative voice
kept pushing: “Rush has been the most consistently intelligent voice on the radio for years.” Again, no one responded.
They’ve heard it all before. One stammtischer confides that
Above: This collage was
made by Cynthia Lake and
shows the membership
from 1985 to ' 95. Below:
Fred Peters photographed
in the 1980s.
THE FREDDY ERA: