Monday, January 4, 2010

True Dive Bars

Twenty-somethings and hipsters in the Bay Area seem to have a fetish for dive bars. Reasons vary. Maybe its a reaction to the pretension of a lot of the more pricey bars in the city. Think of any number of wine bars in the city. Could also be a desire to make lemons out of lemonade -- if you can't afford anything better than draft PBR, then make a bar that serves you draft PBR into something cool.

The catch of course is that some of the more popular dive bars among young people here in SF aren't that divey. Case in point -- ZEITGEIST...

Years back a 50-something Latina described sharing a drink there with one of her sons. Way before raising a family she had been a wild youth, hanging out at places that even now, decades later, would still be considered pretty rough. Seeing all these young kids with money drinking cheap beer on park benches, using the porto potties instead of a proper flush toilet, she complained to me,

"What is it with young kids these days that they pay big money for crap in order to feel cool? We didn't think about these things when we were young, we just hung out."

She had a point.

Which brings me (in a roundabout way) to what I call Two True Dive Bars.

Hyde Out

Ti Piacera

The Hyde Out, if you read the Yelp postings, gets a 4 star rating in Yelp. But so does Zeitgeist. The real reason for Hyde Out standing out among the SF dive bars is client based. The average age of the clientele is in the early 40's. You also have situations like what happened when I went in to kill time before picking up dinner from the Chinese takeout joint next door.

Me: Is this seat taken?

Anonymous Man: Yeah sure, have a seat.

A few minutes pass, I sip my beer quietly while watching the TV.

Anonymous Man: So whats your name?

Me: [Not wanting to reveal to much to a stranger.] Oh, uh John.

Anonymous Man: Pleased to meet you John, you from San Francisco.

Me: No, from the East Coast. What about you?

Anonymous Man: [Leaps from barstool.} MY EX-WIFE SENT YOU!!! YOU'RE A SPY SENT BY MY EX-WIFE!!!

Me: Hey man, its cool, I'm just in here grabbing a beer, I don't know who you are.

Anonymous Man: Oh. [Calming down] OK. You come here a lot?

Me: Not really, just killing time before I grab some dinner...

Anonymous Man: YOU'RE A SPY, MY EX-WIFE SENT YOU....

I caught the eye of the barmaid, who waves her hand away as a sign I should just ignore him.

Me: (Stupidly trying to calm him down) Hey, I just came in here for a beer, this is the first time I've ever met you.

Anonymous Man: Oh, alright. Hey, I'm sorry about that. [Grabs his wallet, starts looking for cash.] Can I buy you a drink, make it up to you.

Me: Its OK, I'm on my way out anyway....


I get, walk out the door to grab my dinner.

Onto Tia Piacera...

If you read the Yelp review and walk past the restaurant, it just looks like a nice Italian restaurant, one of many along Polk Street.

Look inside more closely. There's a bar area. Compare the clientele at the bar area with the dining room. There's a big difference in the clientele between the two areas.

- The dining room patrons seem to have more money.
- The bar customers are older, and a lot frumpier.
- The bar customers stay at the bar -- they don't go grab dinner in the dining room.
- The dining room customers don't go anywhere near the bar -- making a beeline from the door to their table, and from their table to the door.

If it wasn't for the common entrance, you'd think these were two different business, a bar and a restaurant as opposed to a restaurant with a bar.

I've stopped to grab a drink at the bar sometimes to kill time between engagements. When I go into a place like Zeitgeist I drive up the average age of the customers. At the Tia Piacera bar -- I drive the average age down by a couple of decades.

My last visit there, I pull up to the bar during their 3 pm to 7 pm happy hour. All of the seats are taken up by 50-somethings. I take a seat at the end of the bar. The TV is on -- but instead of football or the evening news they are showing children's cartoons. A 50-something man & woman are sitting next to me. They are not a couple, but do seem to be friends. Its only 6 pm, but he's completely annihilated already, and blabbering. She's still got some wind in her. After chatting me up for a few seconds, the couple moved on to their next watering hole for the evening.

In the end, the test of a true dive bar isn't decor or the label that is pinned on it on Yelp. Its who is drinking there. If you want a real dive bar -- avoid the twenty somethings. Look for place with a strange man accusing you of being a spy for their ex-wife. Or the place where the 50-somethings have commandeered the bar, and the respectable diners cower in fear while eating their bruschetta.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Woodstock On Wheels

Friday night I got caught up in Critical Mass.

It was unavoidable. I had to pick up my bike from the Embarcadero bike station. The Critical Mass riders effectively shut down the bus service all along downtown. So I couldn't load my bike on a bus to get home. My legs were blasted to hell from an earlier ride that morning, so I was NOT going to ride up California Street.

So I bit the bullet, and rode through downtown with several hundred bicycle hippies.

Ahead of me was a bare bass bare naked man. How he could ride a narrow bike seat without chaffing his ass crack or breaking his balls is beyond me.

To my side was a South Asian man who wired up a sound system to his mountain bike and blasted Bhangra Hip Hop.

And to my back, that was the best part.

A Frenchman who said;

"Eeet eez like Woodstock all ovair agaeen...."

You said it brother....

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Mellow Scary Ride

M and I were in a rush on Sunday night to get to a food event in the Richmond. So we took a cab.

I was able to hail down a cab, but the warning signs began as soon as he gestured for us to cross the street.

First, he put out WHAT I THOUGHT was a cigarette bud.

But then very quickly, he squirted some air freshener out of a can into the backseat.

Just as we sat down, I picked up the fading aroma of a marijuana, immediately followed by the cloying scent of industrial pine spray.

I gave the driver our destination and turned to M. She hadn't noticed anything, I whispered to her to buckle in. As I was doing that, the driver put on a pair of Nike leather gloves.

I had a bad feeling this was going to turn into a cross between Fast & the Furious and Harold and Kumar.

Then he pulled away into the traffic -- at 20 mph. The crown victoria rocked to the musice of -- the classice music station.

After close to a half an hour trudging very slowly on Geary Street, we finally made it to our restaurant.

Illegal -- yes! Dangerous -- I'm still trying to figure this one out. I could ride my bike quicker than this stoned cabe driver could drive!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Explaining the Manther

Back in December I had to explain to a friend what a Manther was. For more details, reference below;

The problem of course is that text isn't as good as visuals for showing people what you mean.

Thankfully, Mel Gibson has made my task much easier.

Thanks Mel!

There were these two Marina Girls on the subway one evening....

For those unfamiliar with the term Marina Girls, reference this;


Two Marina Girls sat ahead of me one night on the BART. One was kvetching about her ex-boyfriend.

Marina Girl One: Ughhh! I'm so glad I broke up with him.

Marina Girl Two: Why?

Marina Girl One: Cuz he was never into me or into a relationship, all he wanted to do was f#@k!!

Marina Girl Two: (Opens mouth slightly aghast).

Marina Girl One: I found out after we broke up, he met up with his best friend from high school His best friend brought along his new girlfriend. You know what he did?

Marina Girl Two: What did he do?

Marina Girl One: His buddy drank too much, passed out, so he hit on his best friends girlfriend right in front of him! I swear to God, all he wants to do is f#@k!


If the Marina Girl One's ex-boyfriend made a lot more money, would she be so upset he that he was a man-whore.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Not on a Subway, But Still Fun

Was at the North Beach Festival, overhead this conversation between two dudes and the girlfriend of one of the dudes.

Dude One: Dude, You are SOOO INDIFFERENT to strippers.

Dude Two (with arm around girlfriend: Silence.

Dude One: "You are sooo indifferent to strippers, you're BORDERLINE GAY!"

Hmmm, in the girlfriends position, should she be happy her man isn't into strippers, or worried that her man isn't into the sight of a naked woman.

Stuff to ponder.

Dude, Where's My Weed...

Was riding home from Oak-town one night. I was tired and frustrated by work, in no mood to stand up riding the BART back home.

While walking through the car looking for a seat I saw a girl sit down then immediately get up from a 4-seat cluster. Tired and not thinking, I went straight to where she was sitting. Then I saw why she left.

Sitting there, half open, a plastic sandwich bag filled with marijuana buds. Some pothead had dropped their stash on the train!

I did what the girl did and left.

On instinct I shot a glance in the direction where the girl went, she shot me a knowing smile.

At the same time, some dude (or dudette), probably in Berkeley, was probably saying;

"WTF, where did my weed go."

Probably went home with some BART maintenance worker....