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Politics & Policy

Willie Brown’s boozy election day party is back

Former mayors Willie Brown, left, and Gavin Newsom flank PR guru Lee Houskeeper at a past election day luncheon at John’s Grill. I Photo by Mike Koozmin, courtesy of Lee Houskeeper

Willie Brown’s annual Election Day party is for everyone: mods, progs, democratic socialists, YIMBYs and NIMBYs, political wags and the people who love them and can’t stand them.

The festivities at John’s Grill will kick off at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, and free food and beverages, including wine, will be served until 2 p.m. The event is expected to bring out a sizable crowd, as the guest list will likely include numerous San Francisco electeds, from Mayor London Breed, a collection of supervisors and District Attorney Brooke Jenkins to even some state figures. 

But the former San Francisco mayor and speaker of the state Legislature has a particular soft spot for a certain group of attendees.

“Those who are eating—the losers—need to celebrate before it’s confirmed they lost,” Brown said with a laugh.

The luncheon’s history goes back to the ’80s, with Angelo Quaranta—a restaurateur and commissioner for various city bodies—and lobbyist and attorney Bob McCarthy overseeing the first iterations. McCarthy died in 2008 and Quaranta returned to his native Italy, leaving the event without a home until John Konstin and John Jr., the owners of John’s Grill, brought it back to life in 2015. Tuesday’s event will be the first to take place since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s something that was started not by me, by the way. I just inherited it because everybody who had been sponsoring it in the past had died,” Brown said. “So, I’ve been very careful not to be highly associated with it, because death might be the penalty.”

The menu wasn’t always so appetizing, Brown said, as the pasta sauce in the early years could have been confused with “ketchup.” Seeing a gap in the market, the Konstins recruited Brown to resurrect the luncheon into San Francisco’s biggest pasta and day-drinking political party.

Lee Houskeeper, Brown’s PR guru and an organizer of Tuesday’s event, said Tuesday’s luncheon “will be the most secure Ellis Street has ever been,” suggesting some heavy hitters could be making an appearance. 

Among the highlights from past events at John’s Grill, Brown recalled the time Breed showed up on a motorized cable car while running for mayor. 

“She was out campaigning and her people—being the squares that they usually are—were explaining to her why she couldn’t go to the party,” Brown said.

“And so she apparently decided, ‘Here, let me tell you, I’m going to do this. I’m going to be out working the cable cars, getting out the votes.’ So, she got a cable car—one of those motorized cable cars, not stuck on a particular track—and clearly timed it,” Brown added. “It was perfect for her start, and she had lunch at John’s Grill, and everyone loved it.”