Astute BART riders may have noticed those glossy new ads for Mace that are being displayed in the cars. "Protect your personal space with Mace," they read, showing a picture of a woman in a crowd with a five-foot circle of space around her. This is strange on so many levels. Firstly, Mace is so noxious that it is illegal in many countries — mostly ones without a pesky Second Amendment. For those who carry it, it is not a way of getting someone to move over a few inches because they are invading your "personal space," like the ad implies. Mace is supposed to thwart dangerous attackers and make them feel like their retinas are melting. (Real Mace is hard to come by; the version advertised on BART is really pepper spray created by a company called Mace Security International.) But can it seriously be taking this approach to promote the product? If I blinded everyone who invaded my comfort zone on a daily basis, half the city would be Ray Charles by nightfall.
All of this reminds me how annoying it is to see how annoyed people get when someone crosses a line and gets too close in public. For example, I was once on Muni at rush hour. It was one of those occasions when it was so packed that everyone was pressed into everyone else, so much so that the doors could barely close. I felt two disproving eyeballs staring up at my face. "Your bag keeps poking me," whined a guy who was wedged underneath my right armpit.
"Are you serious?" I said back. Now this is the sort of person I wouldn't want to take the Mace ad seriously.
The same goes for bars. There are some people who go out, and even though they are in a room full of people, they do not want any interaction with anyone else. They are very particular about their personal space, even in a place that is supposed to foster camaraderie. They are people who don't want to be home alone, but they don't necessarily want to play liar's dice either. They would rather indirectly drink with other people. In my opinion, a good bar caters to the both the introvert and the extrovert. Too much of either is off-balance and bad for the chi.
I am happy to say that all of the chi was in proper alignment at the Residence, the new bar that has replaced Amber (new decor, same ownership) on the outskirts of the Castro. It's the sort of spot you can visit alone or in a group. Gone are all of the thrift-store couches, kitschy lamps, and graffitied restrooms. In their stead is a long room that looks like Jane Eyre's boudoir, with a fireplace facade, dark wood along the walls, more upscale lounge chairs, and a painted portrait of an 18th-century woman over the mantel. The biggest change that most people will notice immediately is the lack of cigarette smoke; Amber was one of the only places in town where you could openly up. As a result, it was a mecca for smokers, which meant, I would guess, that nonsmokers who ventured in rarely returned.
I loved Amber, and I went there often, despite hearing of a fatwa issued by the owner after I wrote a somewhat negative review of my experience there the first time. But over time business seemed to wane, and it makes sense to me that the bar would reinvent itself. Its owners seem to be hitting on the marks of a successful, modern S.F. bar: First, they are playing Turner Classic Movies on the TV instead of sports, just like the Lone Palm. Secondly, they have stepped up their drinksmanship and are offering more gourmet-style drink selection — you know, the usual chichi stuff with cucumber and Hendrick's gin. When I sat down at the bar, three different bottles of bitters were prominently displayed by the garnishes. All of this seemed response to higher-end booze holes like Rickhouse or Beretta. The only thing that seemed a bit behind the times was the music selection. Although I will always have a soft spot for Astrud Gilberto and Esquivel, the whole lounge scene happened about a decade ago, and it seems a bit generic to bring it back.
The bartenders also seem rejuvenated, although they were always quite good. But my guy was especially bouncy the night I was there, and I recognized him from Amber. "Hey there, baby," he said, seductively placing a beverage napkin in front of me. "What can I do you for?" The latter question was asked as if he really wanted to do me, which was definitely a good start to my evening. I told him he could have me for $25. He asked for $24, and I acquiesced.
He got my drink while I checked my phone, during which time I accidentally bumped a woman who was gingerly carrying her beers to her table. I not only bashed into her personal space bubble, I spilled beer on her. I apologized profusely, but she was really cool. She seemed to get it that if you go out to a bar, you might get a little wet. I looked around. A man was sitting by himself at one of the window tables, buried in a book. A couple was sitting on the sofa, and three people who seemed like co-workers were at the end of the bar. The place definitely met my criteria; loners and socialites were both having a good time. One woman let out a string of expletives with a mighty laugh.
"That one's got a mouth on her," I said to the bartender.
"So do I," he said back to me, in a way that implied that he was good at doing sexual things with it. I began to blush. This shit was working on me. They say that a good bartender can read his patrons and tell exactly what they need, when they need it. He could read me perfectly: I'm desperate.
My reverie was all short-lived, however. I was just starting to feel special when another woman walked in, and he called her baby, too, and imparted his groovy love vibe on her all over again. Ah well, c'est la vie.
I slowly finished my drink, sitting there quietly alone, content. I nodded a hello to the guy reading the book. He nodded back. We got each other.