When America went dry during Prohibition, San Francisco simply went underground, digging secret tunnels. The House of Shields was established in 1908 and is presently located at 39 New Montgomery St. As you enter under an alluring neon sign right out of a Bogie movie, you saunter across a mosaic tiled floor to a grand bar. Textured panels and columns that adorn it provide a reassuring sturdiness that fits the bar’s authenticity. A thick bar rail, flat stools, paneled walls, and dark booths confirm the fact that yes, this is a real, historic tavern. To gain access to bootleg whiskey (as well as women) during Prohibition, a tunnel was built connecting the laundry room of the Palace Hotel to the above establishment, which was across the street. The House of Shields was a former gentlemen’s club where women were not allowed until 1976.
Some say that the tunnel was used long after Prohibition ended to arrange trysts for the posh clientele of the Palace. Though the official story is that President Harding died on August 2, 1923 of a heart attack at the ritzy hostelry, others will whisper confidently that he passed away in the presence of a woman at the House of Shields who was not his wife. Don’t ask to see the tunnel in the basement of the saloon unless you are a VIP. But perhaps you can get “lost” on your way to the restroom. Old ghosts await. Happy adventure.