The history of The Van's is a colorful tale that dates back to around the turn of the century. Built in 1915, it originally was erected to house part of the Japanese Exhibition at the Panama Pacific International Exposition held in the San Francisco Marina District in commemoration of the opening of the Panama Canal. At the close of the exposition, all but two of the buildings were dismantled -- the Palace of Fine Arts, which remains standing in San Francisco, and the Japanese Tea house.
Land Baron E.D. Swift, purchased the Tea house in 1915 and barged the entire structure down the Bay to Belmont, California, where the house served for three years as a private residence for Swift's two daughters. In 1921, teams of horses and mules pulled the structure up a steep dirt trail to its present location nestled in the hills overlooking the Bay Area.
In 1933 during Prohibition, Elsie Smuck bought the house and under the name "Elsie's," offered bootlegged whiskey to a select group of friends and acquaintances. The speakeasy was also rumored to have slot machines and dice games operating on the first floor, and the use of the third floor was quite suspect as well.
A trolley that ran from San Francisco to Redwood City was the popular means of transportation to and from the secluded hideaway. With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Elsie's became a legalized saloon; however, stories of gambling and harlotry lingered.
Upon her death in 1945, Elsie left the establishment to a prominent Burlingame citizen, and the saloon was turned into an Italian restaurant. Business partners Gene Sowle and Ivan Sawyer bought the restaurant in 1947 and renamed it "Gevan's." Ten years later they dissolved their partnership and Sawyer, who retained ownership of the restaurant, shortened the name to "The Van's."
Present host, Loring De Martini, acquired The Van's in October 1973 and has since built a reputation for serving great food in a warm and friendly atmosphere. The unique menu and dedicated service combined with the spectacular view from San Jose to San Francisco has established The Van's as a popular meeting place for local Peninsulans, celebrities and visitors from all over.