Local artist’s painting of San Francisco’s “last great newspaper bar” stirs memories

“M&M Tavern” by Betsy Lombard

I first met local artist Betsy Lombard at The San Francisco Chronicle in the late ’80s and ’90s: I was a reporter, and Betsy was a copy clerk. We reunited in Nevada City over a decade later, when it became home to both of us.

Betsy’s artwork has been on display at The Alexander Gallery in Nevada City and Artist Studio in the Foothills (ASiF) in Grass Valley. We have published her artwork in our full-color, glossy magazine — where it shines — promoting one of her exhibits at ASiF.

“Betsy Lombard works plein air as well as in her Nevada City studio,” as her website states. “She has exhibited and painted in Massachusetts and Colorado, as well as her native California. She counts among her influences the Society of Six, John Singer Sargent and Franz Marc.”

This  month Betsy posted her painting of “San Francisco’s last great newspaper bar,” the M&M Tavern, in a Facebook group for Chronicle alumni. “The M & M on a rainy night — pastel, circa 1983,” she wrote. “I have been getting some orders for prints, and I am going to print this on metal. It should be stunning!”

The M&M — one of the last great newspaper bars west of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago — was located at the corner of 5th and Howard Streets, down the street from the Chronicle and Examiner buildings. It since has been renamed and converted to an Irish pub.

“The M&M opened at Fifth and Howard in 1960 and maintained a vigorous clientele by keeping ‘a saloon, a working man’s bar. Basically this means it is a little looser. The drinks are cheaper. We pour heavier. We run bar tabs,'” as  The Chronicle observed.

Betsy’s Facebook post generated 90 “likes” and dozens of comments as Chronicle alumni reminisced about the M&M and her artwork. “I’ve always loved that work of yours and would love a print,” wrote longtime sports editor John Curley.

“Lots of memories at the M&M. Plus I always loved Betsy’s take on my photograph,” wrote photographer Roger Wyan, whose black-and-white photo helped inspire her painting.

I’ve written about the M&M here, here and here. Longtime Nevada City resident, mayor and historian Steve Cottrell was a bartender at the iconic newspaper bar. More background on the M&M is here.

We are looking forward to receiving Betsy’s painting printed on metal, which we will display along with artwork from other locals. One of the “Frida” paintings by Roseanne Burke is looking over me now.


Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

2 thoughts on “Local artist’s painting of San Francisco’s “last great newspaper bar” stirs memories”

  1. Brings back some great memories.

    When Al McVeigh hired me, he said it might only be for 2-3 months while one of his regular guys healed from an accident, but no promises beyond that. A month or so later, he sold the bar and the new owner asked if I would like to be the manager. From a temporary bartending gig to a five-year run as manager of the amazing M&M Tavern was unexpected, but one of the most interesting periods of my life.

    When I was in Chicago during those years and introduced myself to Sam Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, he cleared a spot for me at the bar and didn’t let me spend a dime that night or the next. There was (maybe still is?) a spirit of fraternity amongst notable newspaper bars, and Sam made sure I was taken care of like a visiting celebrity.

    Love Betsy’s painting –– it transports me back to the 1980s and brings a smile to my face.

    Thanks for the posting.

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