Lou Marcelli was an original who led a unique and remarkable life – if lives are art projects, his was a masterpiece. He passed away earlier this month at age 85. Last Sunday afternoon members of The Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club, his home for many years, held a tribute to Lou during which his ashes were scattered in front of the Club in San Francisco Bay’s Aquatic Park.
The tribute was attended by an estimated 400 of his family, friends, club mates, and other admirers who spanned all ages and walks of life. It featured seafood of course – oysters, prawns, and salmon, jambalaya, and his world famous pasta with calamari, all handmade or cooked by his club mates.
How did Lou come to have such a large portfolio of relationships? First, the obvious – he was a pretty constant presence as caretaker for 40 years at the 1100+ member Dolphin Club. But beyond that, what was made Lou special? I asked several club members and, after they each thought some, the distilled comments were that he was straightforward and his spoken word was unembellished and irrefutable. Plus Lou was non-judgmental and the opposite of petty. He was certainly a man of the sea, but, at least since I met him in 1991, only moderately salty.
He swam in San Francisco Bay 4 days/week year around into his 80’s.
Lou was a lifelong bachelor but had a lady-friend for his last 4 decades. He liked children and they befriended him. He had a varied working life spanning several industries. He was a very popular and generous cook, willing to pass on his expertise advice if asked. Of course, in his younger years especially, he liked a good time.
His nickname was “Lou the Glue.” Some said it was because he was often glued to a barstool. He said it was because he liked to stay in the same place. He was caretaker at the Dolphin Club from 1973-2013.
We at the Dolphin Club miss Lou but are thankful for knowing him.
Draft Resume of
Louis Joseph Marcelli
5/16/28 – 10/16/2013
Born in Collinsville, California to a father from Italy and an American mother of Italian heritage.
1943 – Started swimming in San Francisco’s Aquatic Park
1943-1973 – Worked as mail carrier, fisherman of herring in the SF Bay and salmon in Alaska, bartender.
1965-1968 – Proprietor and bartender at Dino and Carlo’s Bar, which hosted many premier or soon to be premier performers. Friend of many including author Richard Brautigan. Quite a party animal. The recent biography of Brautigan, Jubilee Hitchhiker, gives a flavor of those days. Promoter of rock bands including the Cleveland Wrecking Company.
1965 – Joined the Dolphin Club. Took on the role of unpaid caretaker of the club in 1973. Club opens at 5AM and closes at 11PM and that was one of his departments.
???? – Began acting career including becoming a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Seen in ads for ______.
1995 – Quoted in the obituary of the legendary Walt Stack.
“He was tough old goat,” said longtime club caretaker Lou Marcelli. “Rain, wind, fog, cold — nothing stopped him. He never took a break. Never.”
1996 – Quoted in San Francisco Chronicle on Rose Pistola, who licensed her name to the fine restaurant in North Beach.
“North Beach veteran Lou Marcelli, caretaker of the Dolphin Swim and Boat Club, recalled Pistola’s former hold on the neighborhood. The old bar site is currently home to the Washington Square Bar & Grill.
“In the late ’50s and early ’60s, when rock ‘n’ roll first came on, hers was the hottest spot in North Beach,” Marcelli said. “It was a bar, but if Rose said, ‘Go into the kitchen,’ you were set. There were old fishermen, old longshoremen, a whole menagerie.””
2000 – Quoted in the San Francisco Examiner a day after the New Year’s Day Alcatraz swim.
Marcelli scoffed at the idea.
“It’s a myth. We’ve been here since 1877 and no Dolphin Club swimmer has been hit by a shark. Once in a while a sick sea lion will come up and bump you in the butt, that’s all.””
2004 – Quoted in San Francisco Chronicle on George Kebbe, who In the winter swim season that just ended, Kebbe logged 356 miles — making him the Dolphin Club’s all-time Polar Bear champion.
“He’s crazy and he needs a life,” joked Lou Marcelli, the club’s commodore, who at 75 still swims four days a week, when he’s not tending to the club’s more than 900 members and four ducks, which eat grain out of a souffle dish on the dock. “But it’s one of the greatest feats of all time.”
2004 – Lou on National Public Radio as an “Old Stove” of San Francisco. The article contains sound clips and his calamari & pasta recipe is below.*
2010 – “Sunrise to Sunset on the Wharf” profile in the Sunday New York Times.
Life-long cook. 3 recipes noted by Mario Batali at the Food Network including “easy” sand dabs.
Recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Fond recollections by a friend, Pia Hinkle.
Heartfelt blog post by another Dolphin Club member, Susanne Friedrich.
Lou making his delicious fried calamari at the Opening Reception of the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, January 28, 2005
Lou Marcelli’s Calamari on Pasta, courtesy of Saveur magazine:
SERVES 4 – 6
Italian fisherman’s fare is, by necessity, simple and fast to prepare. We got this hearty concoction from a San Francisco “old stove”—Lou “the Glue” Marcelli—who learned it from his father.
1 1⁄2 lbs. squid, cleaned
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28-oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup white wine
1⁄2 cup chopped parsley
1 lb. linguini or spaghetti
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Cut squid bodies into 1⁄2″ “rings.” If the tentacles are large, cut them in half vertically. Set aside.
2. Heat olive oil and butter together in a large sauté pan. Add garlic and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, 1⁄4 cup water, and white wine. Cook sauce over high heat for 5 minutes, until it reduces and thickens.
3. Add all but 1 tbsp. of the parsley to the tomato sauce, lower heat, and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add linguini or spaghetti and cook until tender (time will vary according to freshness of pasta, but it should take at least 7 minutes). Drain well, shaking colander gently to remove excess moisture.
5. Add calamari to tomato sauce, then remove pan from heat and allow to stand, covered, for 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the drained pasta and toss well. To serve, garnish with remaining parsley.
This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #2 January 23, 2007