There are some bars you walk into hoping for a glass of wine and tapas. There are other bars you walk into hoping for a beer and a blow job. And then there are the bars you walk into because you just want to get royally shitfaced. Dirty Thieves is in that last category. I have no idea why. Of all the scuzzy bars in this town — places that are merely alcohol delivery stations disguised as businesses — why does Thieves Tavern inspire such a strong urge in me to drink shot after shot of cheap rye with a PBR-back?
It isn't the decor, which got decidedly blander after it changed from the taxidermy shtick of its former manifestation, Treat Street Cocktails. It isn't the music, which is actually pretty good (country, punk, etc.) but can be found at myriad other places. It also isn't the friendly staff (another holdover from Treat Street). No, it's something not of this world. It's as though Dirty Thieves were under some Santeria prosperity spell that zaps all the people who enter with the will to pickle themselves. Many bars would kill for this power.
I think it must have something to do with where the building is located, what stars are aligned above it, and which energies are being pulled toward it. I know I sound like a San Francisco nutjob, but I am being serious here. Walk a few blocks toward Mission Street, and you will be more apt to drink responsibly. (In your case, that might mean stopping after 15 drinks instead of 20.) How else to explain why the drunkest people I've ever seen have been on this corner? Granted, many of them were leaning up against the nearby panadería, but they were loaded nonetheless.
There is nothing more annoying to a drunk than being around other drunks. "Keep it together, dude," you think, while peeing in your pants. That's why I took a drunk with me the last time I went to Thieves, and stayed sober myself — which was hard, especially when forces are at work. Someone in the back room was obviously pouring Jameson over the head of a voodoo doll in my image. But I was determined to keep my edge.
I shall keep the identity of my cohort a secret, but feel free to conjure up an image of the alcoholic of your choice — how about Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous? During his drinking years, natch. Yes, picture Bill at 30, and you have my companion. Heck, I'll even call him Bill. He never reads this column, anyway, so I could even call him Dipshit. But I'm feeling magnanimous, so Bill it is.
Here's the funny thing about people with drinking problems, though: They don't really appear drunk very often. It's the lightweights who act like fools. Alcoholics might get into fights, or start crying, or be just plain grouchy, but they are less apt to dance on the bar or let out a loud "Wooooot!" when a song comes on the jukebox that they like. Alkies are the silent majority at a bar.
"Woooooot!" Bill exclaimed when a song he liked came on the jukebox.
Okay, so maybe my theory is flawed.
"Men should not use the phrase 'woot,'" I offered. "It's a chick phrase." Yeah, I don't know what I meant by this either.
"What should I say, then?" he asked. "Mutha-fuckaaaaaa!?"
"Only if you are Huggy Bear," I answered.
"You have the dumbest set of ideas," he grumbled.
I couldn't really argue with that, except to say that he was entirely wrong, and that I have a great set of ideas. So there. But I knew this would kick off an hour-long discussion and debate, so I zipped it.
We were sitting at the bar. Again, this place looks like a million other bars, with booths and a pool table and low lighting. Sure, there's the hushed sound system that subliminally pipes in drink drink drink like the rhythm of your mama's heartbeat, but beyond that, nothin' special. The bartendress had been catering to Bill's whims all night, and I thought I recognized her as being the same great one who used to work at Treat Street (I never had a chance to ask). She was sweet, sharp, and efficient, like a good Harvey Wallbanger.
Bill and I got on the subject of alcoholism after he found himself ordering a double scotch for the third time. "You're right about this place," he said. "I feel like fucking Charles Bukowski." (To be clear, the word "fucking" was used as an adjective, not a verb.)
"The signs of alcoholism aren't the usual ones," I said, and Bill tilted his head toward the heavens, bracing for a set of wacky ideas. "Drinking in the morning, not being able to stop at one, blacking out ... everyone does that. It's called going to New Orleans."
"Oh, Christ," he sighed, taking another sip.
"No, the real signs are these." I held up my fingers, ready to count them off. "One: When drinking, you want to listen only to music you liked in high school."
"Hmmm, you might have something there," said Bill, who was seconds away from looking for Turbonegro on the jukebox.
"Two: You have a favorite brand of hard liquor, and will not drink any other brand in said genre. Three: You make Charles Bukowski allusions. Four: All of your Facebook photos are of you with a drink in your hand, or at a party, or passed out with Sharpie all over your face. Five ..."
"'Five: You make know-it-all lists of stupid shit'?"
Well, he had me there.
Bill never did get completely blotto, but then again, he never does. He ain't no lightweight. Besides, the real drinking would begin when he got home and had access to on-demand horror films. As for the rest of the place, it was mostly other guys like Bill, drinking their own favorite poison and cuing up songs of their forgotten youth. Drink drink drink, said the room. Sure, okay, yes, said the patrons. And on it went.