Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
San Francisco's Beloved Beefeater Doorman to Retire
gvw_ap_news
By Associated Press
Published 4 years ago on
January 12, 2020

Share

SAN FRANCISCO — Another bit of old, quirky San Francisco will be no more when Tom Sweeney finally hangs up his white pressed collar and signature Beefeater jacket this weekend after more than four decades of opening doors at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel downtown.

“It’s one of the best jobs in San Francisco. Working outside a landmark hotel, cable cars come by every nine minutes, it doesn’t get much better than that.” — Tom Sweeney
Sweeney has taken the luggage of movie stars and shaken hands with every U.S. president from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama. Visitors from around the world have had their photos taken with him, often after he’s told them where to catch the cable car and how to get to Fisherman’s Wharf.
“It’s one of the best jobs in San Francisco,” says Sweeney, 62, as a cable car clanks by. “Working outside a landmark hotel, cable cars come by every nine minutes, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
The man known as a “San Francisco original” and “living landmark” retires Sunday after 43 years in a changed city. San Francisco continues to grapple with homelessness, aggressive panhandling and vehicle break-ins even as some residents have become wealthier amid a tech boom. The hospitality industry has also changed dramatically, making Sweeney a throwback to an era when doormen hailed cabs and wrangled wheel-less suitcases.
Today, most people hail rides via smartphone, and hardly anyone carries cash for tips.
Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, said Sweeney “has been not just an ambassador but the embodiment of San Francisco’s spirit — cheerful, helpful, upbeat, welcoming. He made visitors from around the world feel like instant friends.”

Every Now and Then, Sweeney Shoots His Signature Move

This week, Sweeney stood guard outside the Sir Francis Drake, near Union Square, in his elaborate British-style Beefeater jacket and knickers, red socks pulled to the knees and black hat decorated with red and white flowers.
The 1928 hotel, named for the Elizabethan-era English explorer, has the costumes for its doormen custom-made. Sweeney’s latest gold- and black-trimmed suit cost $3,000 and weighs about 40 pounds.
He tags luggage, waves to cable car passengers and grins for photos. Every now and then, Sweeney shoots his signature move: a finger snap accompanied by an “Oh, yeah.”
“I love your hat,” says a boy checking into the hotel with his family.
“I love the flowers around it,” says his sister, carrying a glittery pink backpack and a doll.
Jennifer Emperador, a 39-year-old hotel concierge at Fisherman’s Wharf, stopped by after her shift, determined to take a photo with Sweeney before he’s gone. She lamented the loss of another fixture in a city where beloved businesses have shut down because of rising rents and changing consumer tastes. Luxury retailer Gump’s, for example, closed its downtown doors in 2018, although new ownership may revive the store.
“It’s almost like, ‘What else is leaving in San Francisco?’ ” she said. “It’s just not the same.”
Sweeney is not the hotel’s only Beefeater doorman, although he is the best-known and the longest-lasting doorman in a city with about 100 of them. The San Francisco Chronicle toasted his 40th year on the job on its front page; he has his own plaque on the sidewalk in front of the hotel.

Photo of Tom Sweeney with his jackets and hats
(RochesterFirst)

He Fell in Love With the Job, and San Francisco Treated Him Like Royalty

The third-generation San Franciscan never dreamed he’d make such a mark impersonating a British guard when he took the job at 19 because his mother knew the hotel’s general manager and they needed a doorman for the summer.
He fell in love with the job, and San Francisco treated him like royalty.
Then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein honored him with a special award in 1982 after he tackled — in full costume — two robbers fleeing with stolen suitcases. The other “Nick of Time” award winners that year were San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and nimble-fingered receiver Dwight Clark for their role in “The Catch,” which led to the team’s first Super Bowl win.
Sweeney was frequently mentioned in the columns of Chronicle journalist and humorist Herb Caen, who memorialized San Francisco for decades. Getting a call from Caen, who died in 1997, was like getting a call from God, Sweeney said.
At his San Francisco home, Sweeney stores news clippings, Beefeater memorabilia from fans, and previous costumes — he’s had 46, one for every year plus some spares. The term “Beefeater” may refer to the guards who taste-tested food for French kings, or to the Beefeaters who still stand guard at the Tower of London, allegedly paid in beef chunks at one point.
Sweeney is an avid marathoner who regularly runs San Francisco’s annual “Bay to Breakers” race in costume. He has photos of himself with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, actress Sharon Stone and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Dolly Parton was “really cool,” he recalls, and Prince had purple suitcases.

He Marvels at How San Francisco Has Grown

And it’s not just the famous he remembers. Sweeney still cracks up over the guest from Texas who double-parked outside the hotel and waved at a cable car — which runs on fixed rails — “to go around” her.

“As a doorman, you’re a greeter, a porter, a guide, a ringmaster, a constable, a valet and a concierge all in one gig. I’ll miss it, the people. You’re dealing with positive people all day.” — Tom Sweeney
“As a doorman, you’re a greeter, a porter, a guide, a ringmaster, a constable, a valet and a concierge all in one gig,” he said. “I’ll miss it, the people. You’re dealing with positive people all day.”
He marvels at how San Francisco has grown, from 11,000 hotel rooms when he started to more than three times that today. He’s not as enchanted, however, with the panhandlers who trail after tourists.
“The homeless problem is out of control, car break-ins, we never saw that growing up here,” he said. “It’s just so sad to see this happening.”
Sweeney has been working since he was 14, selling soda alongside Tom Hanks at the Oakland Coliseum. He’s up for spending more time with his wife, Cindy, a hospitality executive whom he chatted up at a cable car stop about a quarter-century ago, and their four grandchildren.
Outside the hotel, cable car training instructor Tsombe Wolfe hopped off for his own photo with Sweeney.
“Tom’s the guy. Man, he’s the staple,” he says. “He’s an ambassador to the city, just like the cable cars.”

DON'T MISS

See the Fully Equipped House Homeless People Built on LA Freeway Strip

DON'T MISS

Juror Dismissed From Trump Hush Money Trial. Prosecutors Seek to Hold Former President in Contempt

DON'T MISS

Keaton Winn Throws Six Solid Innings as Giants Take Series From Marlins

DON'T MISS

Attorney Suing Fresno Grizzlies for $5 Million Is No Stranger to ‘Ladies Night’ Cases

DON'T MISS

Hagrid Has a Bit of a Playful Side, but the Heart of a Giant. And He’s Ready for Adoption

DON'T MISS

Biden Backs House’s Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel While Speaker Johnson Battles to Retain Position

DON'T MISS

Hot Rod Willys: Driven to Bake the Perfect Chicago-Style Pizza

DON'T MISS

Local Leaders Must Put Their Shoulders Into Making Fresno ‘Education City USA’

DON'T MISS

EdSource Welcomes Fresno News Veteran Jim Boren to Its Board

DON'T MISS

Senate Dismissed Two Articles of Impeachment, Ending Trial on Mayorkas

UP NEXT

Juror Dismissed From Trump Hush Money Trial. Prosecutors Seek to Hold Former President in Contempt

UP NEXT

Biden Backs House’s Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel While Speaker Johnson Battles to Retain Position

UP NEXT

Myanmar’s Ousted Leader Suu Kyi Moved From Prison to House Arrest Due to Heat, Military Says

UP NEXT

Vital Climate Tool or License to Pollute? The Battle Over CA’s First Carbon Capture Project

UP NEXT

NPR Editor Suspended Over Claims of Network’s ‘Progressive Worldview’

UP NEXT

Coalition: CA Lawmakers Need to Roll Back Proposed ‘Utility Tax’

UP NEXT

Wall Street’s Mixed Trading Day

UP NEXT

New Recruiting Programs Put Army, Air Force on Track to Meet Enlistment Goals. Navy Will Fall Short

UP NEXT

Paris Hilton Backs California Bill to Bring More Transparency to Youth Treatment Facilities

UP NEXT

Ex-Marine Gets 9 Years in Prison for Firebombing California Planned Parenthood Clinic

Attorney Suing Fresno Grizzlies for $5 Million Is No Stranger to ‘Ladies Night’ Cases

57 mins ago

Hagrid Has a Bit of a Playful Side, but the Heart of a Giant. And He’s Ready for Adoption

Animals /

5 hours ago

Biden Backs House’s Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel While Speaker Johnson Battles to Retain Position

17 hours ago

Hot Rod Willys: Driven to Bake the Perfect Chicago-Style Pizza

18 hours ago

Local Leaders Must Put Their Shoulders Into Making Fresno ‘Education City USA’

19 hours ago

EdSource Welcomes Fresno News Veteran Jim Boren to Its Board

19 hours ago

Senate Dismissed Two Articles of Impeachment, Ending Trial on Mayorkas

20 hours ago

Netanyahu Dismisses Calls for Restraint, Says Israel Will Decide Iran Attack Response

20 hours ago

New Study Calculates Climate Change’s Economic Bite Will Hit About $38 Trillion a Year by 2049

20 hours ago

Biden Pledges to Block Japanese Takeover of US Steel and Promises Tariffs on Chinese Steel

21 hours ago

See the Fully Equipped House Homeless People Built on LA Freeway Strip

In a unique display of resourcefulness, homeless individuals in California have constructed a fully-equipped dwelling, complete with rock wa...

3 mins ago

3 mins ago

See the Fully Equipped House Homeless People Built on LA Freeway Strip

25 mins ago

Juror Dismissed From Trump Hush Money Trial. Prosecutors Seek to Hold Former President in Contempt

37 mins ago

Keaton Winn Throws Six Solid Innings as Giants Take Series From Marlins

57 mins ago

Attorney Suing Fresno Grizzlies for $5 Million Is No Stranger to ‘Ladies Night’ Cases

Animals /
5 hours ago

Hagrid Has a Bit of a Playful Side, but the Heart of a Giant. And He’s Ready for Adoption

17 hours ago

Biden Backs House’s Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel While Speaker Johnson Battles to Retain Position

18 hours ago

Hot Rod Willys: Driven to Bake the Perfect Chicago-Style Pizza

19 hours ago

Local Leaders Must Put Their Shoulders Into Making Fresno ‘Education City USA’

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend