Charlie’s Smoke Shop Reborn

“Charlie’s Smoke Shop Reborn”
by Kathleen Boergers

Long time residents of the Grand Lake area fondly remember the Grand Lake (a.k.a. Charlie’s) Smoke Shop with its iconic red awning. Located on the corner of Lake Park and Grand Avenues, adjacent to the Grand Lake Theatre, it was a community touchstone beginning in 1931. Over the course of many years, my dad reliably got his Wall Street Journal there when visiting me from out of town.

After Charlie’s passing, the shop was operated for several years by Peter Brady before eventually closing. At long last, thanks to shop owners and Grand Lake residents Chris Pankow and his wife, Sarah Wilde, the space has new life and a transformation that has to be seen to be believed.

Owner Sarah Wilde

So head on over to the newly opened Wilde Brothers coffee shop for coffee, tea, and pastries.  Where cigars, newspapers, and decades of memorabilia once lived, there is now a gorgeous shiny red espresso machine, marble counter, and high ceilings that make the small cafe feel much larger than it actually is. Who knew the ceilings were so high?

The space is bright with painted stencils that echo the lovely, green plants hanging in the window. The cream, black, and blue-gray color scheme reminded me of newsprint, a faint echo of the space’s former incarnation. Outside, the colorful café tables and chairs add a welcome bit of street seating.

Right by the transbay bus stop and not far from the casual carpool under the freeway, it’s the perfect location for a quick stop first thing in the morning. The same applies if you opt to pick up a cup of coffee before strolling over to the Saturday Farmer’s Market.

We are very glad to have this space in use again and are thrilled to welcome Chris and Sarah as business owners – not just neighbors.

Wilde Brothers Coffee
3206 Grand Avenue

Kathleen Boergers is a local attorney who has lived in the Grand Lake area for almost 20 years.



3 responses to “Charlie’s Smoke Shop Reborn”

  1. virginia Margaret brown Avatar
    virginia Margaret brown

    Born in 1948, I grew up on Valle Vista Ave., one block from Charlie’s. I spent my summers in the Grand Lake Theatre (children could see movies for three Seven-Up bottle caps, or 25 cents. I always bought my candy at Charlie’s and remember well his slightly reddish face and mop of curly brown hair. He also sold books, mainly (I hesitate to say exclusively) paperback novels by Pearl Buck. I read every one of them. They were a refuge from a tumultuous alcohol-soaked family life. I came to love China (which was always more real to me than Massachusetts for sure) from those books. I think of Charlie now and then, and of his rival Tobenkin, a gruff Holocaust survivor across the street who reeked of cigars and sold blue popsicles for 6 cents. I think of those days as Xi contemplates a visit to the governor of California. The Pacific Rim was as real then as it is now. I hope your business survives.

  2. Heather Holmes Avatar
    Heather Holmes

    WE wish a little something was left from Charlie’s. It is a shame to erase the past..We have such good memories of Charlie.

  3. Very nice piece on the new coffee shop, but you left out a most important item:THE COFEEE IS FANTASTIC AND MADE BY A FABULOUS BARISTA,, NED FROM AUSTRALIA.. So get a coffee made by him before he returns to Australia. I am certain Sarah & Chris will try to get somebody as good
    I had the good fortunate to have met Nef sometime ago in a place called Bawleiy Point on the south coast of Australia where he was making wonderful coffee in a small cafe.

    Thank you for your article.