Behind the scenes at the SF Giants’ exclusive ballpark club

The synthetic rubber of the outfield warning track crumbles beneath your shoes and every 10 seconds or so, the crack of the bat goes off like clockwork. Heads tilt. The ball soars. Sometimes, it flies right over your head.

You can eavesdrop on the San Francisco Giants outfielders, chasing fly balls a few yards away. But on this warm summer day at Oracle Park, mostly what you hear is the excited chatter emanating from a handful of people sipping cocktails during batting practice.

This is the “Booze Cage,” surely the coolest place to be 2-½ hours before first pitch on any given night during the Giants’ season.

Visitors watch as the Los Angeles Dodgers take batting practice from a private viewing area at the Gotham Club at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

It’s a fenced off area of the warning track nestled against the right-field wall and it’s big enough for 15 or 20 people to stand against, watch pregame warmups and, for a minute or two, get lost in the fantasy of being a professional baseball player.

How do you get access to the “Booze Cage?” You probably can’t. Not unless you know a guy who knows a guy, who knows another guy who puts you on the waiting list, you wait six years and then maybe a spot opens up. Or better yet, a member you know uses a precious guest pass to make you a “pinch-hitter” for a night.

It’ll be one to remember.

“We didn’t know how cool this was going to be when we signed up,” said Shari DelCarlo, a LinkedIn director, a Giants season-ticket holder and one of the first members of the Gotham Club.

San Francisco Giants memorabilia adorns the walls of the Gotham Club at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

“We’re glad we signed up,” said Ron Johnson, a WorkDay exec and a fellow season-ticket holder and Gotham Club member. “It was a bit of faith up front. But the Giants don’t seem to half-ass things. They built it out.”

The Gotham Club opened in 2013, when the Giants formed the exclusive fan club in hopes to provide a luxurious experience.

It started with a few rooms behind the suites along the third base line. A secret door opens up, a host welcomes you and then you pick a direction.

To the left is the billiards room with a pool table and a TV, snacks and drinks, and a handful of original arcade games like Pac Man, Centipede, Donkey Kong and Galaga.

To the right is the bowling hall, with two professionally oiled lanes and automated pin resetters, a dart board, another TV and more snacks and drinks.

The Gotham Club logo adorns the wall above a two-lane bowling alley at the Gotham Club at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

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For the initial members of the Gotham Club, this is where they hung out.

“But we couldn’t see the field,” Johnson said.

Soon, the Giants opened the Booze Cage, named after the Booze Cage of the Mission’s Recreation Field in the early 1900s, and the adjacent bar, a full-service restaurant and several seating areas with full views of the field.

The members-only entrance behind right field opens early, 2½ hours before game time, a full hour before most fans can get in. Members must have tickets to the game to enter.

Walk in and they’re greeted by a server who operates a bar next to the Booze Cage. After they get a drink, many walk straight onto the warning track to watch batting practice, while others head to the right, walk up the stairs and get a bird’s eye view of the field and a path to the full-service bar and dining room.

There are vintage posters and original photographs on the wall. The bar serves drinks such as the Polo Grounds Manhattan, the Humm Baby, the Kayak on the Water and, the most popular drink, the No. 24.

Members take the stairs as they enter through the front entrance of the Gotham Club at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

An ode to Willie Mays, the No. 24 consists of Bulleit Rye Whiskey, gum syrup, angostura and orange butters served over ice shaped like a baseball. The bartender estimates they freeze 2,000 ice balls for each game. The entire Gotham Club only averages 300 guests per game – more for Opening Day and playoffs, of course. Still, do the math; the bar is busy.

Johnson and DelCarlo like to sit at a table near the bar. They get to most games about 90 minutes early and take a seat, say hello to their favorite server and then sit down with a drink.

“The regulars, we all love the Giants, so you can sit there and chat and it’s a nice feeling, a nice way to make friends,” DelCarlo said. “You can sit down and talk to almost anybody.”

She looked around. The Dodgers were in town that day. A few people wore Dodger blue.

“Sometimes you get Dodger fans in here,” she said. “People invite their friends.”

On days that are rainy or particularly cold, Johnson and DelCarlo might watch the entire game from the Gotham Club. On nice days, they’ll go to their seats in section 213 and watch from there.

In the dining room, two guests sit at a sunlit table overlooking the water behind the park. One of them is Lisa Pantages, the club’s chief financial officer and one of the founding members of the Gotham Club.

Baseball themed bowling balls wait to be used at a two-lane bowling alley at the Gotham Club at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

A fourth-generation San Franciscan and a season-ticket holder since 1987, Pantages once dreamed of working for the team one day. In 2003, it came true.

Now she gets to work around 9 a.m. and tries to finish by 5 p.m. so she can get down to the Gotham Club and meet her seatmates for dinner.

“I might as well be Norm (from “Cheers”),” Pantages said. “I have a drink named after me. I walk in the door and (the server) goes, ‘Lisa’s lemon drop?’ I start my evening with a lemon drop martini, no sugar.”

Everything in the Gotham Club, including the name, is in homage to Giants history. The team was originally named the New York Gothams when it was founded in 1885, then it changed to the Giants in 1885. The team moved to San Francisco in 1958.

In total, there are about 1,000 members of the Gotham Club, and a waiting list a mile long. They only admit about 25 new members each year, and they’re almost always referrals.

In 2023, the club did something unusual: it took in two people who weren’t referrals, a notable moment since those two people had been on the waiting list since 2016.

The initiation fee starts at $4,500 for individuals (access for a member plus one) and $15,000 for corporations (up to four rotating guests), plus annual dues between $2,500 and $7,000.

A plaque decorates the front entrance of the Gotham Club at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

On any given night, members might see someone who works for the team, or someone who once played for the team. There are six Giants front office members who are paying members of the club. Former players Dave Dravecky and Will Clark are seen there most often.

Standing in the Booze Cage, current Giants outfielders can seem like familiar friends.

“It’s a fun little party,” DelCarlo said. “We’re glad we signed up.”

 

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