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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tacos Santana Bar and Grill - 2491 Mission Street

Mission on Mission got off to a slow start on Friday night. Making my way down Mission Street, I couldn’t figure out my next location. Though the sign read “Tacos Santana Bar and Grill” on first pass I couldn’t tell if this spot was a bar or if it was restaurant with “bar” conveniently added to its name. After a few trips up and down Mission Street in the car I finally pulled over and took a quick peek inside which revealed a bar with alcohol shelved—decision made—Tacos Santana fit the bill.

Along my journey there haven’t been many questions about whether I was visiting a bar or sitting in a restaurant. So far I have only encountered one place that occupied that ambiguous territory between bar and grill— Playa Azul, which I concluded after a delicious shrimp tostada, was more restaurant than bar.

With checkered black and white tile along its foundation wall reminiscent of old school diners and a gleaming, expensive looking die cut aluminum marquee with lights, Tacos Santana has an impressive exterior that serves as a beacon to late-night patrons in need of sustenance or perhaps a final beer or margarita after a night of partying.

Entering the bar side of the establishment I was immediately surprised by the brightness coming from the three TVs—each playing “Caballo a Caballo” some kind of Mexican comedy from the 50s or early 60s. The walls were mostly bare with the exception of a Mexican sombrero enveloped in Miller Light logos which hung high above a mirrored wall and just under the various white orbs that dangled from the high ceiling. Across the aisle from four cocktail tables was a short bar with five or six stools.

Service was swift with four waitresses in tight jeans and high heels circling tables on both sides of the room—serving up drinks, food and company to those in need. Along with a Pacifico, I ordered two shrimp tostadas to help stave off my hunger and quench my thirst. What quickly followed were a bowl of tortilla chips and some bland, ketchup-like salsa. The passing waitresses were attentive and quick to deliver drinks and food. The shrimp tostadas that followed the sub-par chips and salsa were pleasantly delicious. Crisp but not crumbly, the tostadas supported a plentiful amount of shrimp and fixin’s.

Though the service and food were good I was bewildered by the check—two Pacificos and two shrimp tostadas came to a hefty $18.50. Next time I’ll gamble on the burrito to save a little dough.

Tacos Santana is a great post-night-out spot for some good eats if you can stomach the prices. The place doesn’t have much personality and its interior décor is lacking but after a night of drinking does it matter? As far as bar vs. restaurant? I am undecided. Tacos Santana continues to linger in between.

Mission on Mission’s next stop cannot be confused as anything other than a bar. Bruno’s, will be a late night visit and I’m sure to see some interesting action though it will have to wait until the first Friday of December. With the Thanksgiving holiday this weekend, I will have ample time to prepare for what I expect to be an interesting evening.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Medjool Sky Terrace - 2522 Mission Street

With the fabulous 70 degree weather Friday night, it felt more like San Diego on a warm summer night than San Francisco in the middle of November. Thankful for the beautiful weather I was ready to spend my Friday evening at Medjool’s Sky Terrace on the roof of 2522 Mission Street.

To get to the Sky Terrace I entered Medjool’s main restaurant/bar/club entrance and passed the vast open room lined with empty tables. The short bar along the right side of the room was equally deserted with only two patrons. I made my way to the hallway which featured a reception desk for the Elements Hotel/Hostel and an ATM machine warning prospective Sky Terrace patrons that the rooftop bar was a cash-only establishment. Thankfully, I came prepared so I was able to forgo what I am sure was a ridiculous ATM fee. Yelpers describe the elevator to Medjool’s rooftop as rickety and slow and I couldn’t agree more. In the time it took for the elevator to reach to the rooftop, I could have easily hiked up the four floors on foot, ordered a beer and taken a sip in time to toast the elevator’s arrivals as they emerged from the hollow death trap.

A full moon dangled heavily in the sky and a warm wind slid over the exposed roof. Stella in hand I took in the San Francisco skyline enjoying the bright lights of the City –recognizing that this was not only one of the best vantage points in the Mission, it was also, by far, the best view I had experienced on Mission on Mission. In the absence of available stools and a place to put my beer, I leaned up against a pillar by the bar and began to scope out the terrace and its guests.

With a standing no-reservations rule, the tables scattered across the rooftop are on a first-come-first-serve basis. As a “party of one” my prospects for a coaster and comfortable seat remained limited. With no “home base”, I felt a bit hobbled and found it difficult to navigate the rooftop landscape—it wasn’t hard to tell that this is a bar that caters to groups of two or more. I asked a group of women if I could join them at their table and was confronted with sideways glances then offered a free chair—not to sit in, but to take with me and sit somewhere else. Deciding not to pursue the opportunity, I figured it best to return to my duty of buttressing canopy’s support pillar. Flying solo at Sky Terrace is definitely a liability.

Once again, finding comfort in my spot I took in the mixture of perfume, cologne and cigarette smoke. The rhythmic echo of high heels on the wood floors accompanied a decent selection of music playing over the loudspeakers. Everyone was dressed up for a Friday night out in the City and it appeared that this was their first stop of the evening. Women in precariously high heels, shiny dressy tops and tight jeans seemed to dominate the landscape as guys walked around in their patterned embroidered button up shirts, jeans and glossy black shoes. Outside of the few couples who came to enjoy the nice weather and the view the majority of the crowd was comprised of crews of men scoping out the action, and looking for opportunities to infiltrate any group of girls who would give them the time of day. Likewise, I noticed a few prides of mountain lions and cougars roaming about – waiting for a weak 20-something guy to fall away from his pack. It couldn’t have been more clear—these people were not from San Francisco.

For those coming up to the City for a night on the town the appeal of Medjool is undeniable—Sky Terrace is a great place to start the evening, have a drink and check out the panoramic views. There’s also an opportunity to have a light appetizer while you wait for the dinner hour to end so you can head downstairs and watch the restaurant transform into a dance club. A one-stop-shop of sorts, Medjool is anything you want it to be—a bar, a club, a restaurant, a patio—and while the view is great, one thing is painfully obvious—being all things to all people, Medjool is pretty mediocre at everything.

A little disappointed at the lack of hipster patrons, seating and the high price of beer I decided it was time to call it a night. Having had one successful trip that evening, I decided to cut my losses with the elevator and take a trek down the stairs. As I hit the first floor landing, I had to wonder how many drunks had made the same decision only to find themselves eating concrete before heading home.

For a hot November evening in the City I got pretty much all I could ever ask for at Medjool’s Sky Terrace—except for maybe a place to put my beer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Laszlo Bar - 2526 Mission Street

With the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of helicopters overhead, I ventured into a cold, winter San Francisco night and down to László Bar, my next stop on Mission on Mission. As my evening began, a protest gathered in the Castro to challenge the passing of Proposition 8—accounting for the aerial surveillance. I had to wonder, what can three helicopters really do to hold off a crowd of thousands? I wondered if protesters would spill onto Mission Street or if I was too far on the outer periphery of the neighborhood.

László Bar has two doors—one on the street which is found between a few tables outside the bar, and a second door down the long hallway leading up to Foreign Cinema’s hostess station. I entered through the side and found the bar comfortably full, but not packed. Upstairs a mezzanine offered a curtained seating area which hovered vacantly over the bar area. The corners of the bar buzzed quietly with small groups enjoying cocktails, and the bar stools were all spoken for as couples sipped their $8 drinks and waited for tables at Foreign Cinema. I chose a spot along the wall that had stools and a thin landing to place my beer.

Over the doorway a large, contemporary painting reminiscent (or a direct replica) of a communist propaganda poster, announced the bar’s ironic socialist-chic vibe. Lighting inside was dim with a faint orange glow radiating from the pendant lights above the bar. A TV in the corner added its own shimmer to the surrounding bar. Though the lighting was dull I quickly noticed the difference between László’s clientele from that of the other bars I’d visited so far. A new-to-me SF crowd—these folks were not hipsters or rockabillys, and they weren’t Latino—rather the place was packed with Europeans, yuppies and the over-40 crowd. Opting for a subdued pallet, the patrons of the bar all seemed to don every shade of gray and black, and my brightly striped orange and yellow sweater seemed to clash with the rest of the crowd.

Though the bar’s website promotes the DJs that spin nightly and considers it a Euro-friendly which was evidenced by the many European accents I detected through the low music. Despite its promises of a clubish atmosphere, I couldn’t quite imagine the place packed with dancers and loud music. With its urban, minimalist décor, the prospect of house music ricocheting off the bar’s steel and concrete corners seems potentially unpleasant.

Cozy is not the word I would use to describe László Bar especially on a brisk evening like last Friday night. But somehow, through its bare interior—with glass doors, ice block windows and masonry—there is a certain kind of warmth to the place. Over the two hours, a steady flow of patrons in overcoats and wool scarves found their way into the bar to join friends for a pre-dinner cocktail, but I was hard pressed to single out anyone who looked like a habitual visitor. More than anything László’s seemed to like a nice place to enjoy a relaxing layover before moving on to a main event—wherever that might be.
Leaving László Bar I could almost feel Mission’s tide turning from dive bars to trendy lounges. László did its best to bring the Eastern Block’s cold edge to San Francisco–for this Friday, I am hoping that San Francisco can serve up one more warm, Friday night as I make my way to the Mediterranean ambiance of Medjool’s Sky Terrace.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Doc's Clock - 2575 Mission Street

Friday capped my long strange week. After another tough work week this one ended with a celebration of sorts—Halloween. With a forecast for rain and not knowing where my next stop would land me, I struggled to decide whether or not to wear a costume on this night’s Mission. Would it be another Latino bar? A hipster bar? Or, just a local watering hole?

Wearing a mask, even on Halloween, is tough to do at a bar. There’s always that question whether you’re a good guy or bad. (I recently heard an interesting story on NPR’s This American Life about a guy dressed in a Superman costume who went to a bar which was pretty entertaining. Click Here.) I’m sure that Mission on Mission would have been fine with a Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestler) character cruising the streets. A guy in white tights, blue men’s bikini underwear and blue and white mask with a strategically placed nameplate labeled “Rapido Rapido Magico” would have been quite the sight to see. Alas, I opted to go incognito, but I have included a picture to satisfy your curiosity.

Walking down Mission Street I was amazed by the activity in the street. The Mission is always busy on Friday nights but I’ve never seen it quite like this! Crowds of people of all ages cruised up and down the sidewalks. Parents escorted their costumed kids from storefront to storefront trick r’ treating, which a motley flow of folks dressed in work attire or their Halloween best zipped up the 24th Street BART station’s escalators on their way home or ready to hit some Halloween festivities. The mood on the street was both spooky and joyous on this windy autumn night.

The bar de jour turned out to be Doc’s Clock and I knew right away that it was a good find. I was greeted at Doc’s Clock by two women dressed in black handing out candy to the continuous stream of kids. With knickknacks and tchotkies adorning the walls, Doc’s had a distinct trailer park feel with an extra layer of Halloween décor. Settling into my seat I selected a Big Daddy as my beverage of choice.

Inside the dim bar with rock music booming in the background and Halloween night all around me I never expected that this would be the place where I’d hear a ghost story—sort of. I parked myself next to a friendly bunch of folks who were pre-partying before heading out to a handful of parties but it was a South African gentleman who I ended up chatting with for most of my visit.

Hailing from South Africa he didn’t understand Halloween or why it was celebrated so I gave him my two cents. The talk of spooks and costumes inspired him to tell me a story about being cursed by witchcraft as a teenager in South Africa. Completely intrigued I peppered him with questions. A neighbor cast a spell him to make him unhealthy, self conscious and unpopular. To reverse the hex he had to confront that which he feared most… God. The story became a fable of sorts about finding salvation by confronting and accepting God. That’s when it started to get a little scary. Though the story wasn’t my own, I was brought up Catholic—so thanks to a childhood of CDC and Sunday mass, I have a built in “salvation radar” and it was telling me that the point of this story was to “save” me—and that’s not what I was looking for on Halloween or in a dive bar in the Mission. As his story concluded I quickly made my exit. Nice guy but salvation on Halloween is a tough-sell.

Doc’s Clock is an excellent bar with good service and plenty of activities. Known for its Sunday night happy hour that runs from 8pm until closing, Doc’s hosts a weekly shuffleboard tournament as well as special events throughout the month. One offering that peaked my interest was the “Barbie Mutilation Night” which took place a couple months ago. If a $2 PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) or a $3 draft along with some Barbie plastic surgery and contortionism sounds like a good time, check out their website to see the artful additions and enhancements that were made to the little lady and the various yoga-like poses and compromising positions she was twisted into. Doc’s Clock also hosted a big event for Election Night. Billed as they Election Night Celebration or the Pity Party– the bar offered a free shot if Obama won. No doubt that was a raging event!

As I left Doc’s I caught a glimpse of my next stop, Foreign Cinema. No doubt the next stop will be a start contrast to the relaxed neighborhood atmosphere of Doc’s Clock.