I have always been fascinated with why we believe the things we believe. Initially I got caught up in the impossible-to-answer question, "How do you know you are right about something?" How can you be so sure of something that sounds insane to someone else (for example, the existence of UFOs, Jesus, or trickle-down economics)? When I meet people who have what I consider nutty ideas, it naturally calls into question the things I firmly believe in: If these people are so certain, then how can I be so certain, too? I still don't have a good answer. So I have moved on to the next profundity: How do we develop our beliefs in the first place?
The latest theory that makes sense is the idea that we are born with a set of idea portals in our brains, and when a certain perfectly shaped theory comes along, it pops in with a satisfying thwunk. In other words, we have a blueprint based on our innate morality and aspirations, and when we are given evidence to support it, we latch on. Over time, our beliefs are fleshed out into whatever political party, ashram, Chamber of Commerce, or Battlestar Galactica appreciation thread we join. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good example. He once said that he had no concept about American "Republicanism" when he was growing up in Austria, but once he got out here and was exposed to its philosophies, he said to himself, "Ach! Finally! Zis is vat I have always been thinking!"
Every time a new bar crops up in S.F., the folks behind it are trying to find brains to meld with. They want the right people to wander and in and feel a satisfying thwunk that will translate into cash money being spent in their new home-away-from-home. More than any other service-oriented business (restaurants, salons, spas), bars depend on making you feel welcome so you will return again and again to share the intimacy of intoxication. And just as I can walk into one bar and feel an immediate need to exit, others will enter that same space and finally feel they have "arrived."
Zeki's Bar in Nob Hill redesigned itself about a year ago. Let me first confess that I never went to the old Zeki's, so I only know this new version, which is pleasant enough. It is clean and sleek yet cozy, with various browns from the Pantone color wheel and mixed textures like leather and wood. In short, it is like many other newly redesigned bars in this town: Goldrush Chic.
There is always a hopeful exuberance in a newly thought-out bar, and no matter what experience I have, I always wish the owners the best, because it reminds me that their asses are probably on the line financially. However, you have to ask yourself just which preprogrammed brains a bar is trying to attract. I set out to try and solve that riddle at Zeki's last week.
Zeki's bills itself as the "friendliest bar in San Francisco." Uh-oh. When I see stuff like that I immediately expect Aunt Bea behind the counter, reaching over the bar to dab a napkin on a patron's beer-soaked chin with a motherly chuckle. At least, I thought, the bartenders should be as gregarious as the robotically upbeat cheer-gerbils who work at Specialty's above the Montgomery BART station.
When I walked into Zeki's, there was a woman behind the bar, but she didn't have her hair in a bun and wasn't wearing a plus-size peasant dress. Curses. She didn't regale me with a smiling welcome, but she also didn't sneer. In short, she was a normal person behaving normally, which is fine — but if you are going to advertise the warmth, turn up the heat a little.
I sat at the end of the bar. Besides the bartender, I was the only woman there. Pockets of guys were seated at the bar and at various tables. It was hard to make out which income bracket they were from; it stands to reason that the bar would try to attract the Nob Hill set from up the hill, rather than the Polk Street dross from the bottom. It could be fair to say that Zeki's wants someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger to wander in and feel zu Haus (at home, for you non-German-speakers out there).
"Do you want another one?" the bartender asked a patron.
"What do you think?" he said with a regular's familiarity. She chuckled (not unlike Aunt Bea, actually) and began to pour another beer. She also came up to check on me and gave me a smile. Okay, so she was friendly.
Then two other well-dressed men went behind the bar and began to fiddle with the computer/cash register thing and point things out to her. One of them caught my eye. He smiled and pointed my way with an "Are you doing okay?" reach. More friendly points.
So Zeki's has up-to-date décor, and niceness, and an extensive wine and beer selection — but, just like the Republican Party, at the end of the day, it has nothing to offer me. I did not like the music that was playing (think Coldplay programmed into Pandora), the men in attendance would never want to sleep with me (nor I with them), and everything was too new to hold any sort of uniqueness or charm. I was, in short, not satisfactorily thwunked.
On my way out, some young professionals sauntered in. A few of them gave a big "Hello!" to the staff, who gave their own heartfelt salutations. For a moment I felt the intimacy I couldn't find in Zeki's. But it's there, observable and measurable — just not for me. Kind of like Scientology.