In San Francisco, aficionados of the ancient and bloody art of bullfighting who find themselves hankering for the sights and sounds of the bull ring can find satisfaction of a sort no farther away than Broadway, in the picturesque El Matador bar, which is owned and operated by sometime matador and eminently prolific writer on bullfighting lore Barnaby Conrad. The rendezvous was established, he explains, after a representative of his publishers, on a trip west from New York, asked to be taken to a "nice little bar" where one could talk. "Such a thing didn't exist, so I opened one," says Conrad, "and, like Laoco�n with the serpents, I have been wrestling with my hobby ever since."
Laoco�n today has to contend with nothing more formidable than a pet macaw, as shown on the opposite page; after five years Conrad's El Matador is solidly established, like the Giants, as part of the San Francisco scene. And justifiably so, since the place is really quite extraordinary. To begin with, it is as dark as the inside of your sombrero; but what the eye distinguishes after a few minutes is worth seeing. Besides innumerable bullfight photographs and a full-length portrait of the late Manolete, there are on display all the traditional and beautiful regalia of the bull ring. Hung against the white walls among Spanish wineskins are swords, brilliant capes, the odd-shaped black hats and the glistening trajes de luces, or "suits of lights," in which matadors fight. Finally, there are two stuffed bulls' heads which rivet attention. One of these is real; it belonged to a bull that died for the Tyrone Power film The Sun Also Rises. The other is a straw monstrosity with lolling tongue, the only creature in this rather awesome bar that dares look slightly squiffed. Spanish guitar music contributes to the general atmosphere of the place, and on Sunday evenings, when patrons are treated to movies of famous bullfighters in action, the whole show comes near to rivaling the Plaza Mexico.
The man responsible for it all, 37-year-old Barnaby Conrad, is among other things a pianist and guitar player and something of a painter; the mural behind him in the photograph is his own composition. He has had six books published, including the sensationally successful novel Matador, which has sold more than 2� million copies. The work which is Conrad's own favorite is his requiem for his friend and idol entitled The Death of Manolete. Barnaby narrowly missed death himself last spring in Spain when he was badly gored in his continuing effort to personally master the sport which is the love of his life. A perennial absorption with the business of danger and death in the bull ring marks this uncommon man. And yet his life today centers very largely about home and family—his lagoon-side house on Belvedere Island in the Bay, his beautiful wife Dale, an ex-newspaper columnist who looks like a Dresden china figurine, and their three handsome children.
An uncommonly delicious specialty of Mr. Conrad's bar is the hot appetizers cooked Japanese-style over charcoal-burning table stoves, which have been a feature of El Matador ever since San Francisco Restaurant Man Vic Bergeron (Trader Vic) presented his friend Barnaby with several of these miniature hibachis. Delicacies which are threaded on slender bamboo skewers for grilling include raw top sirloin of beef cut in squares that have been soaked in red wine with a dash of brandy, small cubes of spicy smoked sausage, taquitos (small Mexican cornmeal tortillas filled with hot chili sauce"), and shrimp previously simmered in white wine and mixed spices.
There are endless combinations of other good things that might be tried at home. And the possibilities of this do-it-yourself table cookery certainly go beyond appetizers. Think of a terrace luncheon, for example, with an individual hibachi for each guest, and perhaps a big dish of ripe fruit for a dessert.