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Monday, July 28, 2008

El Amigo Bar

I did a little back tracking this week stepping into El Amigo Bar (3355 Mission Street), the bar I skipped last week because it wasn’t open yet. El Amigo’s new hours start at 6 but the place really doesn’t get going before 7:30 as Alex and Rachel were setting up and getting the place in order on Friday night.

El Amigo and Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack (the address I gave in last week’s post is incorrect, Emmy’s is at 18 Virginia Avenue) are next to each other and share a door and bathrooms which pretty much all they share as they are very different places.

Emmy’s had a vibrant, energetic and colorful sign on the wall by the entrance while finding the bar’s name took me reading an 8 ½ x 11 yellow piece of paper taped on the window next to the dark and cave like padlocked entrance listing its new hours.

Music seems to be a common theme along my journey down Mission Street as the usual Mexican Rachera is playing from the juke box in the bar.

Emmy’s on the other hand, has a DJ spinning many nights as you enjoy your dinner in one of the old fashioned leather booths surrounded by interesting local art hanging from the walls. The bright menu, written in crayon on laminated pieces of paper, and chalkboards showing your drink options, hang above the hall doorway and above the kitchen, differentiate Emmy’s from El Amigo’s interior. The wood thatch fencing nailed to the walls, 2 TVs and pool table are what counts as decoration for the bar. Though it may sound fancy, it really is a run of the mill dive bar.

Why am I talking about Emmy’s so much? Even though they are very different Emmy’s contributes much to El Amigo Bar. I’m sure El Amigo would do just fine on Mission Street as another Mexican dive bar but what it gets from Emmy’s is something truly special… Hipsters.

Hipsters don’t make a large impact on the bar other than the money they spend on their beers. I didn't see them play pool or interact with the bar’s patrons because they mostly hung out in their groups, smoke cigarettes outside the door and waited to be called when their table was ready.

I think I’m getting a little ahead of myself so let me back up. Many of you may already know what a hipster is and have even come into contact with one. Don't worry most of them don't bite though I'm sure a few will. There is a healthy population located in San Francisco but for those of you who don’t what a hipster is you should check out Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia’s definition and history.

Because of their rise in popularity and their recent mainstream growth there has come with it a large anti-hipster movement. I’ve had some conversations recently with people who have had run-ins with the type and now complain about and hate hipsters. A good example of this can be found in the anti-hipster manifesto found here.

I really don’t mind hipsters and many times get a good laugh at their attire of tight jeans, big sunglasses and funky scarves. As long as they aren’t blowing smoke in my face or popping off then I’m cool with them. I’m sure I even have a few friends that have embraced the hipster lifestyle.

An interesting dynamic can be found on this small corner of Virginia Avenue and Mission Street where you can find the wait staff at Emmy’s, who are mostly Rockabilly, the Mexicans playing pool and the Hipsters waiting for dinner all sharing a small area. Everyone’s got their own group to hang with and there isn’t much mixing between the folks. Ever once in a while you can catch a pool player checking out a hipster’s outfit out of the corner of their eye or a Hipster tightening their wallet chain to their belt loop so there’s no threat of it being stolen.

Where did that leave me? I could be placed with the Mexican guys but speaking English and very little Spanish isolates me from them. In my Quicksilver jeans, Gap t-shirt and REI fleece I don’t fit in as a Hipster and without slicked quiff (pompadour hairstyle), turn-ups (turned up cuff on pants) and engineering boots or Converse I’m not Rockabilly.

The good news is that I didn’t come straight from work in my button up shirt, slacks and dress shoes or else I’m sure I would have been shunned and cast off to a corner. Everyone was nice and easy to talk to but next time I’ll consult my Urban Dictionary and Spanish English translator so I fit in a little better.

Monday, July 21, 2008


The Sprinkler did not make an appearance this week as Coronitas professes itself more a sports bar than a dance club.

I thought the next stop would be Oye! Managua but that turned out to be a restaurant. As far as restaurants go it looked entertaining. I poked my head in and saw a couple dancing, some people eating and the music was bouncing. The look and feel was more of a campaign gathering than a night out so I decided to make my way down the block to the corner of Virginia Avenue and Mission Street.

I continued along Mission to Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack at 3355 Mission Street. Emmy’s is an excellent place to grab a good cheap dinner with a fun and funky atmosphere and shares its bathroom with a bar. Alas the bar doesn’t open until 6 and was still padlocked shut when I showed, so eager to get my journey started I decided to move on to the next location, Coronitas Bar and Grill, about a half block away.

Entering Coronitas I was surprised to see a security guard at the door unlatching the chain to let me in. I wasn’t asked for an ID, not that anyone thinks I’m younger than my 34 years, or to pay a cover charge I was welcomed in. I guess in a sweater and jeans I don’t look that threatening, it could be the J-Crew and Quicksilver labels. Who knows?

The place was hopping. A good crowd for 6 on Friday night, all male customers of course, but the liveliest group I’ve seen so far. As I made my way to the bar the interior reminded me of a Chevy’s Restaurant with TexMex d├ęcor, neon signs and beer logo pendants hanging from the ceiling. The only thing missing was the tortilla making machine in the middle of the checkered linoleum floor right next to the juke box.

A group of guys were playing pool in a room separated by New Mexico fashioned brick archways. Tall bar tables line the walls from the back of the bar/restaurant to the entrance. The juke box sits in the middle of the room playing; you guessed it, Spanish tunes.

On the TVs were Sports Center and the Tour de France. Nobody was watching because they’re too busy conversing amongst themselves and trying to get one of the 6 waitresses in very short miniskirts to come by their tables to have a drink. The waitresses weren’t shy in downing a shot with the boys but hanging around meant that a flab grab was on the way.

What is a flab grab? It’s when someone puts their arm around you as if to give you a hug and grabs your love handles (also known as a spare tire) copping a feel.

There was a lot of flab grabbing going on. I’m hoping the girls were getting decent tips on top of the free drink. But I wonder what Pope Benedict XVI, whose picture hangs above the Virgin Mary behind the bar (the pope is barely visible middle left of the picture to the right and Mary bottom right), thinks about all this. And why is the pope hanging from the wall?

Carla, a nice enough bartender, continually fed me drinks as I waited and spoke with Garina, the waitress. At 7 it was time to find the Giants game.

I had to help Paker, the second bouncer who only has 2 front teeth, find the baseball game because it wasn’t on its usual channel. I called a buddy who hooked us up and we were off and running. Too bad Parker a local boy, who’s dental duet of two front teeth were so easterly and westerly pointing one has to wonder if he only eats out of the side of his mouth, was a Cowboys, Lakers and Braves fan. Standing up for Bay Area teams is hard to do considering our teams have sucked the last couple of years. My only hope is that the San Jose Sabercats win the Arena Football Championship next week versus the Philadelphia Soul. What a sad state of affairs when you’re rooting for the local Arena Football team.

The two hours here went by quickly and I’d gladly go back the only exception being it was the first place where I didn’t received a free drink. Maybe it was the sweater...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Club Malibu

I’m writing this late Monday night because I’ve had a tremendous amount of internet issues this weekend. After struggling for the past couple months with my wireless router I finally decide to break down and buy a new one. This comes after dealing with resetting the thing time and again, having my TiVo run out of programming because it can’t connect and not being able to update my Yahoo! fantasy baseball team.

I’m sure my fellow fantasy baseball managers will laugh at my lame excuse (my team is currently in 7th place) it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Now I’m up and running although not wirelessly but my musings need to be posted so here we go Club Malibu, a dance club.

From 6 to 8pm the place was quiet and it reminded me of an empty hotel ballroom prior to a wedding reception. It was a large open room with tables and an open dance floor with stage. Tall bar tables lined the walls and Andrea, the bartender, moved through the place making sure everything was in order, the margarita glasses were salted and Long Island Iced Tea mix was made. The only person to show up during this time was Guillermo who was making his rounds selling perfume from a bag.

At 8 it was time to grab a bite to eat before returning for the action which was described as a lively dance club with a great band and some very hot ladies by Andrea. I left with high hopes when returning.

Club Malibu looked very different upon returning. It was like walking into a cowboy dance bar / strip club / prom with red as the school’s color. The tablecloths, walls, bar and stage is a dark shade of pink and red. Black cowboy hats everywhere and the band is playing Spanish cowboy music.

A number of waitresses are moving around the bar, tables and dance floor asking people if they are in need of a drink. There doesn’t seem to be any designated area for each to cover so it felt very much like being at a strip club as the women walk around asking you if you want a lap dance.

The people on the dance floor looked like they were having a good time but the general vibe was not energetic. Not being much of a dancer I had to make the most of my time at Club Malibu so I tried to wiggle myself into some conversations which was hard because most were either on dates or in tight groups of 3 or 4.

Finally the time had come for me to hit up the dance floor so dressed in my work attire I asked one of the waitresses to join me. She stayed for only two songs as I proceeded to act like a drunken spaz and debut the Pencil Sharpener which was introduced to me by my old boss, Chris (click here to view video sample). I think I freaked some people out with that move. After hanging out at one of the tables with a woman who was definitely not having a good time, didn’t want to talk or dance, especially with a crazy guy who didn’t know how to, I decided it was time to call it quits and head home.

The great news is that I’ve got another dance bar coming up on Mission Street so I better start practicing the Sprinkler.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tikal Billiards Bar on Mission Street

I got a kick out of the fact that on US Independence Day I was entering Tikal Billiards Bar on Mission Street which is owned by an El Salvadorian (Maria), is named after the largest of the ancient ruined cities of the Maya civilization located in Guatemala and the guy sitting next to me (Gabriel) is Mexican. We were celebrating Independence Day by drinking beers, playing pool and chillin.

Tikal was a major cultural and population center for the Maya civilization and so it is appropriate that this bar had its own culture and a very interesting population.

Culture: Tikal is family owned and operated. Maria has owned the bar for over 21 years and bartends it with her daughter, Jessica, as her other daughter managed some of the bar back duties.

Maria also manages the money, not the till but anything over $20 goes to her and she breaks it as needed. That reminds me a lot of Mexico and how my aunts and uncles would do the same when running their shoe shops in the market.

The Virgin Mary portrait with fresh roses purchased daily from the gal who stopped by is a cultural staple.

The “bartender handshake” has happened more frequently along my journey. At three of the five bars visited the bartenders have given me a handshake and introduced themselves while taking my order. It was very obvious at Tikal because both Maria and Jessica did this. I usually only shake hands with bartenders after I’ve been there a number of times and it is me initiating the interaction. On Mission Street it’s been the opposite. I wonder if this happens when it’s busy too or only happening because it’s early in the evening and there are only a handful of us around when it occurs. Then again, maybe it’s the culture.

The fourth drink is free. I don’t know if that should be under Culture but at the first couple bars a fellow patron bought a round and at the last three it was the bartenders. I know it’s always good to make friends early but I haven’t been doing it to get the free booze that’s just a nice surprise.

Population: Approximately 10-12 when I first entered.

Gabriel, my barstool neighbor, knew Maria personally and from what I could gather in our conversation was dating Maria’s niece. I can’t be sure this is true because the music was very loud and he was speaking in drunken Spanish.

Of the many drunken guys the one who stood out was in an open button up bowling shirt with white tank playing pool and trying to grab at Jessica to dance with her. He was soon booted from the bar and last I saw him was passed out on the bench at the bus stop.

The tables were busy with many players waiting to play a unique game of 8 ball. As I was mustering up the courage to play I noticed that the games would take some time to finish. To end the the game the winner has to bank the cue or 8 on the last shot. I've got something new to practice now that I know the rules.
I did practice at my neighborhood bar later that evening so watch out Mission Street I’ll soon be throwing my quarters down. Between the beers, the bar, the tables and the juke box there was plenty of entertainment in this dark little bar.

What the bar did not have was a TV, Tequila (no hard alcohol), bright lights, Mariachis popping in and the traveling food guy.

I took a peak at next week’s bar and unless one pops up before Friday it should be a doozy with a lot more dancing at Club Malibu.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Shoe Shine Anyone?

Recently I’ve been asked how I’m making my way to each bar on my Mission on Mission.

I've been walking from my house to the next bar along my journey but this will soon end as La Terraza was .76 miles from my house and eventually I will be forced to leave pretty early to make it to the next location by 6pm.

Alternate modes of transportation will have to be considered as I get dropped off at my last location to walk to the next. I’m not a big public transportation guy so this may pose a challenge.

I’m comfortable driving but maybe this is an opportunity to conquer a fear of mine. Not really a fear more of a challenge to finally learn about San Francisco’s bus system. This may take some time and a lot of research.

These walks have provided me a time of reflection on the places I’ve visited and time to psych myself up to enter a strange new door that awaits me. This is much like a prize fighter making his long walk from the bowels of the stadium to the ring with loud theme music playing to a cheering crowd. You, reader, are my crowd. I can hear you with every step I take.

What’s my theme music? I’m going to pick “Down in Mexico” by The Coasters because that's where I've been the last few weeks on this journey.

I haven’t seen much on my walks but did come across an interesting little service last Friday, Shoe Shining at 3611 Mission Street. I wore sneakers so I couldn’t take advantage of it but just knock on the window and someone will come out to the garage and shine your shoes. The garage door is open and there awaits a shoe shine chair.

I’m thinking this is the first stop for all the Mariachis making their way down Mission Street with their large hats, guitars, sparkly suits and of course shiny cowboy boots.

I will visit the shoe shine person at some point and am still looking for the traveling food guy. Stay tuned.