Knock twice on the bar : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

In old SF bars, there is an old time tradition of the bartender knocking twice on the bar after taking your money. To be done properly, the bartender will kinda lean towards you, look you in the eye and rap the bar twice with his knuckles. Some (most?) don't even know why they do it or how/when they started it. Story goes that in Gold Rush times, patrons would come in with packets of gold dust as payment for a night of boozing. The barkeeper would "knock it" on the bar twice to make sure it was packed down and not fluffed up with air or other undesirable dust. Anyone ever notice this, and if so, what's YOUR take on it?

-- Don Beppino (, March 10, 2004


In my neck of the woods knocking is common, but my take and experience with it is a little different. The knocks came with a free drink and a wink that says "Remember, tip me well before you leave". It's a game that steady customers and professional bartenders knew well. New bartenders emulate the knocking but don't understand the significance of the knocks and the knowing wink associated with it that produce the big payoffs at the end of the night; they'll learn.

Gold dust is measured by weight, not volume. Fluff?

-- Mike Hunter (, March 11, 2004.

"Fluffed up" referred to filling the small gold dust vials in common use at the time. By putting undesirable material in them, one could supposedly cheat the bartender out of a few microns of dust.

-- Don Beppino (, March 15, 2004.

I think a poke was more common than a vial. I believe the vials appeared later with the arrival of Asian opium? (I find them when I dig around Chinese ruins) and eastern pills, and by then, coins were being minted in San Francisco and in general circulation. Any gold dust trade still going on at this time was in the gold fields and everyone knew the genuine thing. How can you fluff up something that is measured by weight, not volume? If you toss in enough sand or dirt to affect the weight significantly, the folly would be immediately detected. Lead won't work either unless you're colorblind. What's more, I don't think a poke would ever leave the hand of the owner; it would be like handing your wallet to the bartender. I don't know, but I'm thinking pinch or pour might have been the practice of the day and a savvy bartender would always lick his fingers before dipping in for a pinch.

Micron? A micrometer (micron) is a measurment of lenght equal to one millionth of a meter. Gold is measured in weight, not length.

-- Mike Hunter (, March 15, 2004.

That bit of lore about barkeeps licking their fingers before taking a pinch of dust also gave rise to the familiar expression "how much can you raise in a pinch?"

-- P.S. Perris (, March 15, 2004.

P.S. Perris, I like. I can't help but think that Bar owners might have had a propensity to hire barkeeps with the huge hands, too.

Mike, there was one famous glass vial (well, jar) of gold dust back in those days. In 1848 Sam Brannan ran through the streets of San Francisco with a jar of gold dust, screaming at the top of his lungs, "Gold! Gold in the American River!" Interesting, he had purchased every pick-axe, every shovel, every pan, every implement of mining and excavation in the area prior to his publicity stunt and made out like a bandit. Some accounts say he made 36,000 dollars in a nine weeks, a truly staggering amount of money in 1848.

-- strange (, March 16, 2004.

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