Barnaby Conrad Jr., 1923-2013

Today I chatted on the phone with my old man, who remarked just as he was about to hang up that Barnaby Conrad died last week at the age of 90.

I mention it here because while I never met the man — who is described in the San Francisco Chronicle as a bullfighter, diplomat, man about town, author, painter, owner of a North Beach night spot in one of San Francisco’s golden ages, and a patron of the arts — I had drinks with his son, Barnaby Conrad III on my last night in San Francisco before moving to New York.

Appropriately it was in North Beach, and Barnaby, who’s bi-coastal, told me he was showing his own art at his wife’s New York gallery the following week, which turned out to be my first night out on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Like his father, Barnaby was a man about town who didn’t settle down until well in his forties. He’s also a painter and writer, though I’m not sure whether he ever fought bulls.

The late Barnaby (pictured above sharing a drink with Tyrone Power) attended the Taft School and went on to Yale, which his son also attended. He was a J. Press customer while a student, and remained so for many years until salesman loyalty sent him to a competitor. Richard Press remembers:

Back in the ’50s the J. Press West Coast road salesman, Sam Kroop, outfitted Conrad during his road trips to San Francisco. Conrad bought from J. Press while at Taft and Yale, and when Kroop left the Clift Hotel where he showed in San Francisco, he regularly held court for his customers on the J. Press tab at Conrad’s El Matador nightclub. Kroop took our mailing list when he sneaked out with another of our employees to take over Arthur M. Rosenberg, and unfortunately took Conrad along with him.

Though bullfighting brought him renown, his Renaissance Man talents and passions kept him well occupied. His Wikipedia entry has this great anecdote:

In 1958, Conrad was gored almost fatally in a bullfight that was part of a charity event. After learning of the incident, Eva Gabor is said to have run into Noël Coward at Sardi’s in New York and asked him, “Did you hear about poor Barnaby? He was terribly gored in Spain.” Coward replied, “Oh, thank heavens. I thought you said he was bored.”

Both father and son are a great inspiration to cultivate all of one’s talents and life to the fullest. Though if you’re going to tangle with bulls, at least take it down a notch and try bullriding. — CC

5 Comments on "Barnaby Conrad Jr., 1923-2013"

  1. I am sorry to hear of this. His daughter, Kendall Conrad, has a gorgeous line of leather goods for men and women. Very talented family.

  2. Loved the anecdote! A full life! He was a Bohemian Club member yes?

  3. I have to admit, I had no idea who Barnaby Conrad was, so I Googled him. Very interesting guy. Seems he financed the El Matador nightclub with proceeds from his first successful book “Matador”. Conrad’s original title for the book was “Day of Fear”, but his publisher talked him into renaming it “Matador”. Someone once joked that it was a bit of luck because “Day of Fear” would be a bad name for a nightclub.

    Something else, Tyrone Powers died in Madrid in 1958, the same year Conrad was gored. Assuming that photo was taken at the El Matador, it had to be taken between 1953 and 1958.

  4. David Wilder | February 23, 2013 at 6:28 pm |

    Had the pleasure of organizing a book signing at the Yale Club with Barnaby III over a decade ago on the occasion of his new martini book release. He was terrific and even went out of his way to have his dad sign and send some copies of his own best-seller. Deepest sympathies; hail and farewell to a very memorable Yalie. Cheers!

  5. Barnaby Conrad | May 6, 2015 at 9:48 am |

    Many thanks for the kind tribute to my father. He was a mutli-talented man who also took time out to teach writing and painting—not just to his children, but to anyone who had enthusiasm.

    I should point out that he was born in 1922, not 1923. He died just six weeks short of his 91st birthday (March 27). Vaya con Dios!

    Barnaby Conrad III

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