The seventh and current owner of 7 Mile House in Brisbane, California, is Vanessa Garcia, a Filipina who emigrated to the Bay Area 22 years ago and bought the property in 2004. Despite having no prior restaurant experience, she has transformed what was a dingy dive, established in 1858, into one of the Bay Area’s must-visit spots for food, drinks and live entertainment. It’s a feat that has had people going, “Wow, really?”
I got my share of “wow, reallys” recently, but they were uttered in doubt rather than marvel when, despite being based in the Philippines, I was commissioned by Vanessa to write a book about the establishment. I couldn’t blame the naysayers. I am an outsider – a geographical ignoramus who thought South San Francisco was in the southern part of San Francisco (it’s actually its own city), and a bar culture newbie who had no clue what Liar’s Dice was (a game of dice played with leather cups).
I spent six weeks doing research in the Bay Area. With no one to talk to except my interviewees, I clung to the attentions of the archive chiefs at the San Francisco Library History Section, San Mateo County Museum and County Assessor’s Office of San Mateo. My crash course on union culture, the Indochina wars and Bay Area immigrants in the 1950s continued when I got back to Manila. But writing brought out the worst insecurities in me. Even if I succeed in writing the book, would people not detect the voice of an alien?