Basque people have always fascinated me. They exist somewhere between Spain and France, and hold aspects of each culture, but they also have their own thing going on, with national food, dress, and even a nationalist movement. It seems perfect then that the Basque Hotel would be squished between Chinatown and the outskirts of North Beach, tucked away behind a titty bar on an alley called Romolo. The bar attached, 15 Romolo, is very well hidden, something that doesn't happen often in this city.
"Romolo" is a mnemonic for me, and it brings up the Cars lyric "Shakin' like tremolo," from "Moving In Stereo." That song moves from speaker to speaker, man, leaving you in the middle of Basque country, or between Chinatown and North Beach. If that's too deep for you, it's also what is playing when Phoebe Cates comes out of the swimming pool and undoes her bikini top in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
When I walked into 15 Romolo there were two gents behind the bar. Strangely, the music playing sounded like a modern Cars, but I know enough not to ask bartenders what is on the soundsystem. The answer is always "I dunno, it's so-and-so's iPod." I did, however, contemplate unhooking my bra in slo-mo as I approached a stool.
There was something disappointing about the bar. Maybe the feng shui is off, but it felt like a Knights of Columbus hall, despite the warm, dark woodwork and well-stocked shelves of artisan booze. It would be a good place for a work meeting, or a putsch, though. It was also still daylight out — I was there for happy hour — so maybe at night it gets more bewitching.
I had just survived my first Catholic Mass. It wasn't as boring as I had expected, but it was still very regimented. I made some observations: First, you can wear whatever you want to Mass, unless it is a hat; the guy next to me was in a Fight Club T-shirt. Second, any depiction of Jesus must include him bleeding, suffering, or weeping. Third, there are still altar boys, despite the warnings to parents. But the best thing I walked away with were the informational pamphlets in the lobby. Did you know that contraceptives actually increase pregnancies? Apparently, "72 percent" of people who use condoms will get pregnant within a year, while "54 percent" of women who sought abortions had been using contraception. Don't even look at spermicidal foam or you might get knocked up right there in Walgreens.
I can't say the relief I felt to be in a place serving the devil's elixir in the middle of strip-club row. I perused the menu and it was pretty impressive. The Pimm's Cup is what the bar is best known for, but I went for the non-alcoholic version, known as the Fimm's Cup. Why is it called that? No one knows. "It's like a fauxjito," said the bartender, conceding that at least that drink name rhymes with the original. Whatever it was, it tasted damn good.
I had also grabbed pamphlets on what it's like to be a man, assisted suicide, and stem-cell research; all of them had to do with abortion in some way. I can't fault Catholics for being anti-choice, but I can damn well fault them for being anti-contraception and anti-end-of-life-decision.
In case you are wondering about the experience of modern man (and who isn't?), here are some helpful hints: A whole 42 percent of men who get women pregnant offer to marry her. What a sad statistic. Standing beside this woman as her man is where you belong. But according to these pamphlets, you just have to avoid getting someone pregnant out of wedlock and your entire life will be peachy. Unfortunately there weren't instructions for women, except to say that the Pill is dangerous.
The bar began to fill with potential fathers and fornicators, so I moved over to let a group sit next to me. They got a pitcher of sangria, another house specialty, and the mark of an inexperienced drinker. At least the men knew enough to get a beer back. Why wasn't this covered in the pamphlets?
I contemplated leaving the Catholic leaflets in the bathroom. Maybe through my one small act, a woman might make the right choice that night. You know, like the choice that the new Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, made to drive drunk back in August when he got that DUI. This, the same "moral" arbiter who has been behind all of the anti-gay marriage initiatives in this state. That guy. "With their doctrine they build, and with their lives they destroy," as St. Augustine said.
I needed to hear the song that had been stuck in my head ever since I saw the sign for 15 Romolo. I had to hear the Cars. I paid my bill, tipped my metaphorical hat, and loped down the alley, pamphlets clutched to my chest. I had a better idea than leaving them in some saloon john. The Hungry I club was right there, and surely full of lost souls sucked up into Satan's maw. I scattered them out front, though avoiding the shortish door guy in the ill-fitting suit was difficult. Also, the stem cell info seemed a bit obtuse. But whatevs.
As for me, I'm going with a different St. Augustine quote: "O Lord, give me chastity, but do not give it yet."