Brass Tacks has officially opened in the space that used to be Marlena's, for 23 years the go-to place for fancy opera gays, lovers of discount drag and, every December, fans of the world's largest collection of Santas. Hayes Valley must have been thirsting for it, cause it was packed on a Monday. Marlena herself (nee Garry McClain) gave it the OK, and you know she has powers from when she was Empress.
As with Churchill -- itself a project by co-owner Anthony Healy-London -- or the recently opened Virgil's Sea Room, the vibe at Brass Tacks is basically "post-gay." But unlike Virgil's, Brass Tacks is pretty muted. A herringbone reclaimed oak floor, black anodized steel shelf counters, bronze sconces, gray vinyl wall coverings -- it's all very tasteful, but conservative, like a gay psychologist's office. (Or maybe the neutrals are anticipating all those Santas? Probably not).
But the bar is walnut and stocked with hundreds of bottles and that's what people walk in for, right? Interesting, affordable beers are everywhere (like Stillwater Cellar Door Saison and Drake's Dry Stout on tap, Belgium's Bacchur Sour and Iceland's Einstock White Ale in bottles) and that is rather un-conservative. The cocktails reference quirky art films, from Roman Polanski's debut, Knife in the Water (an unusual mix of Manzanilla, Salers aperitif, Dolin Blanc and Peychauds) to the quite too utterly utter To Wong Fu [sic], made with Smith & Cross rum, brandy, Cocchi Americano, lemon and pamplemousse (i.e., pomelo).
Also, Brass Tacks is dog-friendly. Like, hundred-pound-mastiff-friendly. How refreshing is that? Big, big points there -- almost enough to counter the feeling that, to put it in the language of the SAT, Brass Tacks is to Marlena's like Doris Day is to Eartha Kitt.
Hayes Street's astonishing transformation has drawbacks. Crossing Gough still sucks. "Not-entirely-outrageous" drinks are the new baseline, and $200 fleeces chased all the heroin away. But you can drink something intriguing at Brass Tracks, look out the front window at the boutique wonderland and remember that once, there was a freeway out there, and drag queens, and maybe even a little danger.
Brass Tacks, 488A Hayes St.