Secret Recipe: The Buena Vista Cafe’s OG Irish Coffee

As with many great classic cocktails, the debate is spirited as to how the Irish coffee came to be such a phenomenon in San Francisco—but locals serious about their history may know the gist of the tale.

Most people believe that a chef by the name of Joe Sheridan made the drink at Foynes (now called Shannon) Airport in Ireland for then-San Francisco Chronicle travel writer Stanton Delaplane. The scribe loved it so much that we went on and on about it to Jack Koeppler, then-owner of SF’s Buena Vista Cafe. R&D to recreate the drink ensued, going so far as to take Koeppler to Ireland to learn about whiskey. There was cream testing too, and obviously a lot of imbibing.


The recipe that was settled upon would be served in the iconic goblet, and is a slightly sweet and delightfully creamy coffee drink where the Irish whiskey never dominates, but the maltiness and alcohol provide a constant hum—the white noise of the drink, if you will, that ends up leading imbibers to make a lot of noise themselves.

While there are other excuses to head for the Buena Vista without the requisite out-of-towner in tow—like breakfast all day and Ghirardelli’s hot fudge sundaes—the Irish coffee, with its fun bit of history, is still the draw. (The drink is also, unsurprisingly, a regular on 7×7’s list of the 50 most iconic cocktails in SF.)

Want to make it at home?

​Buena Vista Cafe’s Irish Coffee Recipe

(Courtesy of @thebuenavistasf)

Ingredients (serves 1)

1.5 ounces Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey

Hot brewed coffee (Buena Vista uses Peerless, roasted in Oakland)

2 sugar cubes

Heavy whipped cream

Grab a glass mug and begin with a hot water rinse for warmth.

Add the hot coffee and stir in the sugar cubes until fully dissolved. Stir in the whiskey. Finally, gently pour a spoon-sized dollop of thick cream on top. (The Buena Vista ages its cream for 48 hours, making it hardy enough to float atop the hot coffee until all the obligatory photos have been snapped.)

// The Buena Vista Cafe, 2765 Hyde St. (Fisherman’s Wharf), thebuenavista.com