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Ed Moose obituary: St. Louisan became major restaurant figure in San Francisco

Ed and Mary Etta Moose and Sam Dietsch at Moose's restaurant, 1998, San Francisco.
Terry Lorant, Oakland, Calif.

Ed Moose, who for 32 years headed two of San Francisco's best-known restaurants, the Washington Square Bar & Grill and Moose's, died Aug. 12. Mr. Moose, a native of St. Louis, was 81.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "He had broken his ankle in a fall at home in June, had several operations and developed a staph infection.

"Mary Etta Moose, his only survivor, said there will be no memorial service: 'He said, 'I've seen memorial services, I've thrown memorial services, and I went to memorial services, and I don't want one.' "

"Instead, he said, he wanted gifts in his memory to St. Anthony Dining Room, 220 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco 94102."

Ed Moose honed the skills he would use to develop his nationally known restaurants in Gaslight Square. The following is from a profile written by Judith Robinson in 2002

Ed and Mary Etta Moose and Sam Dietsch at Moose's restaurant, 1998, San Francisco.

With partner Sam Deitsch, Ed and Mary Etta Moose created two of San Francisco's most popular restaurants, starting with Washington Square Bar and Grill and ending with Moose's. Their entertainment roots, though, were in St. Louis' Gaslight Square, which all three described in oral-history interviews.

At Gaslight Square in the 1950s, Mary Etta Presti worked as a Girl Friday for the Landesman brothers, Alfred (Fred), Jay and Eugene, the innovative entrepreneurs who built the area into a popular night club attraction whose centerpieces were the Crystal Palace theater and Golden Eagle bar.

Aspiring young performers and comedians like Woody Allen, Phyllis Diller, Alan Arkin, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, singers Barbra Streisand, Odetta and Josh White made early live appearances at the "Palace" on a national cabaret circuit. In her capacity as the Landesmans' assistant, Mary Etta managed the theater box office, was a production assistant, rented apartments and took care of visiting artists.

Sam Deitsch had been enticed to St. Louis from New York, where he had grown up on Central Park West, the son of a Seventh-Avenue "cloakie," a manufacturer of private-label clothing for department stores. His sister Frances had married Jay Landesman.

Deitsch soon went into ownership of the Golden Eagle bar with his brother-in-law, and there he met native St. Louisan Edward Moose IV.

Ed Moose found himself attracted to the area for the jazz and camaraderie. He had grown up in an Irish Catholic family although the origin of the name Moose remained a mystery (possibly Scandinavian). They lived at the end of a streetcar line in a neighborhood where "the only Protestants I knew where Lutherans whom I met when I worked in a bowling alley."

His father lost his bank job as a result of the Depression's "bank holiday" and turned to making "booze" for a living. Ed's mother also worked ("like a dog"), his paternal Irish grandmother ran a boarding house that catered to medical students, and Ed sold newspapers.

He took two degrees at Saint Louis University, including a master's in psychiatric social work in 1957. A stint in Germany with an Army Special Forces unit in 1955-56 introduced him to the gastronomical wonders of Italy and France, which he visited. After the Army, he worked at the St. Louis "insane asylum," at clinics for disturbed children, even as a marriage counselor. He also did re-write for the Post-Dispatch sports desk, which provided the impetus for a return to Italy as an Associated Press reporter in 1960, covering the Olympics. After that he took a job as alumni director for St. Louis University.

"On a kind of a lark," he rented playwright Tennessee Williams' former apartment near Boyle and Olive for $37.50 a month.

"I remember it real well -- it had three rooms and a balcony." But the fourth-floor walk-up "was a slum. I could tell who my friends were by who would come up to see me because most people would not go up the steps."

The Landesmans urged him to move into one of their apartments, which Mary Etta showed him. Fred had designed the one-room, windowless space which was painted black with Venetian flowers and exposed water pipes wrapped with pin lights. The six-foot-three-inch Moose could barely stand in it and was appalled not only that someone thought it livable but at a rent of more than $l00 -- three times what I was paying!"

"But he never forgot me, that I had the nerve to show it to him!" laughed Mary Etta.

Moving to California

In the winter of 1961, Ed found himself in San Francisco on his travels for the alumni association.

"It was a beautiful, warm, salubrious day. I got off the plane from St. Louis, where it was pure hell, and in San Francisco it was paradise -- flowers everywhere." Soon after, he piled his belongings and long frame into his Volkswagen and headed to California on Route 66.

"There's a place for you out here," he told Mary Etta. She decided to check it out.

"Ed picked me up at the airport -- we've been together ever since." They married in 1964 and bought a two-flat house on Telegraph Hill with a picturesque garden and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ed was working several "do-good" jobs, first for Catholic Charities, then with Mayor Joseph Alioto's children-and-youth program, the national Urban Coalition and several community organizations.

Sam began to visit and make the rounds with Ed. "All the good joints were still open -- 'Shanty Malone's,' the 'Black Cat,' everything was in its hey-day." Sam was fascinated by the bar life. "I had always dilettantishly fantasied that someday we'd own a great joint of our own."

"One day I arrived from St. Louis, where it was cold and nasty with snide green skies and ice all over, 11 degrees, and it was one of those bright January days in San Francisco - sky-blue, gorgeous, warm, balmy, between-rain-storm days," Sam remembers. That day he told himself "This is it. Why was I wintering in St. Louis when I could have been here?"

He sold his interest in the Golden Eagle and joined the Mooses in 1966, "in retirement." Or so he thought, until he found Pistola's.

The small bar had gotten its name from the pistol that the previous owner wore during Prohibition speak-easy days. It was a dark "dive" with a small triangular opening in the door and blackened windows so no one could see inside. "That was the old style of North-Beach bars," Sam pointed out, "so people going by couldn't see who was sitting at the bar, swigging 'em, at eight o'clock in the morning."

Bar owners

Whiskey-voiced Rose kept saying that she and her husband, who was ill, were tired of running the place. One day in 1973 Sam uttered the fateful words, "Why not sell it?" He quickly called Ed and suggested that they offer $25,000 for the place (its existing liquor license could be passed on to new owners at a time when there was a moratorium on new licenses).

A few days later, Ed and Sam plunked a check for $25,000 on Rose's bar, "probably more money than they had seen in one lump," said Sam. "Oh, what the hell," Rose said, and Moose and Deitsch were the owners.

Next came the question of a name. In the end, they combined Sam's fondness for old-time New York establishments - "every corner saloon is called something like Kelly's Bar and Grill" -- and Ed's wish to incorporate the name of the park: Washington Square Bar & Grill.

Food was not intended to be "fancy." Sam wanted "the best hamburger, best chili and creamy cole slaw you could get" but capitulated to "a good bar, good saloon food, plus, if you wanted to celebrate, something like caviar," as Ed described the fare. Mary Etta wrote the menus out every day, then started doing the bookkeeping while continuing to work at her other job. "We were open seven days a week and had 50 seats."

But building business was slow.

They started engaging musicians of note like Burt Bales and Norma Teagarden, sister of Jack and Charlie. Soon nationally known musicians began to make appearances like Woody Herman, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Shelley Mann.

A "bar fly" with public-relations connections wandered in one day, then brought some like-minded chums including popular gossip columnist (and future Pulitzer Prize winner) Herb Caen, who began to plug the Square.

"All of a sudden, we weren't empty any more!" Mary Etta exclaimed of their change in fortunes.

Within two years the Mooses had quit their other jobs and, with Sam, worked full-time in the restaurant, Mary Etta managing the kitchen, Ed and Sam sharing duties as welcoming proprietors.

The Square became the favored destination of visiting celebrities from the news, political and sports worlds. Ed hired Frank McCourt (author of Angela's Ashes) "to tell stories at lunch when he was broke. It was different -- he was a good story teller. We did stuff like that."

He also conceived two projects that would become legendary. One was a fund-raising penny-pitch to benefit a local Catholic soup-kitchen (St. Anthony's Dining Room). The other was a boyhood fantasy of Ed's: his own baseball team dubbed Les Lapins Sauvages (the wild rabbits).

Ed was the self-appointed coach-pitcher (likened to his hero, Cardinals shortstop Leo Durocher for his feisty determination to win). The team played in Paris' Bois de Boulogne, in London, Dublin, even Hong Kong where California Sen. Dianne Feinstein scored a run on her first time out on a diamond. "We won something like 16 straight games," Ed boasted. Bob Costas was an umpire at one. "He'll never do it again," Ed laughed.

For all its success, however, the Square "never made any money," according to Sam. "We used to gross large amounts, but making a profit just escaped us." They were unwilling to cut corners on food and drink and things like mayonnaise - "only the best" was served.

In 1989, they sold the restaurant.

Sam happily retired, for real this time. But retirement was not to the liking of Ed and Mary Etta. "We didn't expect to start another restaurant but we got bored," Mary Etta admitted. "We discovered that that was what we DO."

The terms of the sale required that Ed not open a competing business within two years. But one day he saw a "for-sale" sign on a building directly across the park. And on Columbus Day, 1992, suddenly in the dusk a brilliant blue light ignited - a neon moose-head with six-foot ears! "Moose's" was open for business.

The new enterprise included Sam as a partner but not active in the day-to-day operation. "We do everything together," the trio acknowledged of a friendship that endured. Sam Dietsch died in 2002.

Ed, the consummate publican, greeted his guests effusively, peripatetic, in constant motion, eyes darting around the room, nattily dressed in galluses, colorful ties and tailored suits until 2005 when the Mooses sold the restaurant.

Copyright Judith Robinson

Judith Robinson is a former journalist and author of biographies that include the Hearst family and the late San Francisco Congressman Phil Burton (whose seat is held by Speaker Nancy Pelosi).

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.