Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bal Tabarin, San Francisco

Yet another in my collection of night club souvenir photos, though this one is a bit more interesting, historically. The Bal Tabarin was opened in 1931 at 1025 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco, CA by three men; experienced restaurateur, Bob Grison, big band leader, Tom Gerun, and manager, Frank Martinelli. With the end of prohibition nearing, the partners built a club with a performance space, and a sophisticated cocktail lounge atmosphere that was meant to appeal to women as well as men. In addition to Gruen's band, a number of famous acts were booked at the Bal Tabarin, including Sophie Tucker, Tony Martin, the Duncan Sisters, and Spanish puppeteer and ventriloquist, Senor Wences, who, during my childhood, was a frequent guest on the Ed Sullivan Show. Tap dancer Ann Miller, at thirteen, lied about her age and began her career at the club, spotted by Hollywood talent scouts, and Bal Tabarin patron Lucille Ball, she was signed to a studio contract. (Anyone wishing to see Miller dance, should watch On The Town.) Bal Tabarin was very successful through the war years As the club lost business, after the war, it was sold, in 1950, and was renamed Bimbo's 365, becoming a major jazz venue. Where I need some help on this post is info about the photograph. Labeled, "Our ASA dinner, at Bal Tabarin, July 6, 1944." I've done a number of Internet searches trying to identify ASA, and while I've come up with a number of possibilities, (The military does love it's acronyms.) I believe the most likely candidate is ASA radar, a long range search radar, used by the navy in it's patrol planes and ships. The women all have anchors on the lapels of their uniforms, identifying them as WAVES. But, what would these women have to do with ASA radar? Women were not allowed in combat during the war. It's possible that they could have operated land based radar stations. It's also possible that they could be repair technicians or analysts of some kind. In any case, I can't be sure, and if anyone out there can set me straight, please do so. Please notice that the rest of the club seems to be empty, so this might have been a private dinner party. And finally, the gentleman is a puppeteer, just like Senor Wences. All the photos I've been able to find of him are from the Ed Sullivan Show era, but it''s the same facial structure. Printed on the inside front cover of the photo folder, "We sincerely hope you have enjoyed your evening at the Bal Tabarin...Your Hosts TOM GERUN, FRANK MARTINELLI." On the back cover, "For additional prints write to Hollywood Nite Club Photos. PICTURES ARE $1.25 EACH. PRICE INCLUDES TAX AND MAILING CHARGES. Be certain to mention BAL TABARIN, this number, 23, and date, JUL 6, 1944. 6304 Riley Way, Carthay Circle Theatre Bldg., Los Angeles, Calif. WAlnut 9880."


  1. look for the book cooking for sex, written by the son of frank martinelli, lots of photos and recipes a treasure to read

  2. I have an menue that says regulation prices are good from April 4, 1943 to April 10, 1943. Any comments?

  3. This was my father's favorite watering hole. In fact it was the first date he took my mother on -- to the Bal.

  4. My Dad was there on March 23, 1946 and I have a similar photo taken that night. He was in San Fransisco on business. He was the General Sales manager of Hobbs Trailers. Contact me if you want a copy for your collection

    1. Thanks for the offer but I always encourage people to post there own images. While a copy is tempting I try and stay with original images, and wouldn't want to take a family memory away from the owner.