In honor of our super-hip mayor, I decided to go to the lamest bar I could find this week; one that doesn't serve infused f'n vodka, Fernet, eight balls, or tapas. It's a Polynesian oasis in the netherparts of North Beach, the Hawaii West. Run by Chinese owners who serve stale chips and guacamole on a paper plate at happy hour, this joint puts the loo in luau, the oy in poi. Rumor has it that karaoke is sung here a few nights a week, but when I asked the bar matron about it she waved her hand at me and turned her head like I was bumming change.
The lowbrow night started a few blocks away at the Elks Lodge, of which I will be an official member come April. I had seated myself next to a very inebriated Elk who, after trading various pleasantries with me, proceeded to make his fingers into a V, put them up to his mouth, and spew vulgar tongue thrusts in my general direction. Doesn't he know he can be thrown out of the brotherhood for revealing the secret Elk greeting to a nonmember?
My friend Jamen showed up to get me, and we headed to the Hawaii West. I had heard that it was a hidden gem, a fun place to escape, the architectural equivalent of that piña colada song.
Walking in from the street, one is not impressed upon first glance. It's a long and narrow bar, like most I suppose, with grass and palms and beer signs hung up in the fashion of the Big Island. There are a few scattered tables with folding chairs, and shabby Hawaiian-print stools line the bar. The place smells like tempura. I don't know why.
We ordered two beers and proceeded to watch the Chinese movie on the TV. There was no music playing, and the rest of the joint was taken up with a very attractive Asian woman, two unattractive Asian men, and the aforementioned friendly bar matron. Jamen and I just kind of sat there. I guess I was tired of Jamen; I know that sounds kinda mean. But me and ol' Jamen had fallen into the same old dull routine: slummin' it. So we took out some paper and wrote down a personal ad. Though I'm nobody's poet, I thought it wasn't half bad:
"SWF seeks Gavin Newsom look-alike for Marina high jinx, fine wine, makin' love at midnight in the dunes off the cape. I'VE GOT TO MEET YOU BY TOMORROW, NOON!"
At this point the older man sporting big Florida-retiree glasses fell off his stool at the end of the bar, which caused a brief hubbub. Good thing he was wearing his Life Alert bracelet. Jamen finished the chips. Then I went to the bathroom.
"Jamen, we gotta get out of here," I said when I returned. "Jesus, I haven't been this bored since the Picket Fences marathon was on the Family Channel."
On most nights, hanging out in a dive bar with its regulars would definitely set off my fireworks. Whether a place offers sawdust on the floor and a mangy dog humping your leg, or cheesy faux flora and charming clumsy drunks, dives offer a certain comfort; they ensure that you'll have no need to feel self-conscious and that you won't blow your wad on drinks named after European vacation destinations. But I think that tonight I needed to at least be hearing country music. To quote B.B. King, "The thrill is gone."
We emerged out into the street and did something I love the city for: We went to a restaurant at midnight near Chinatown, Yuet Lee at Stockton and Broadway. It was packed with people speaking Chinese and eating strange fish under the über-glow of fluorescent light. We wedged ourselves into the corner and ordered hot soup, squid, and noodles. The cook behind the line had to be 7 feet tall, 400 pounds. He chopped something gently while roast ducks dangled over his head. For the first time that night I felt like staying put.
"So that's what's so cool about being the mayor of San Francisco," I thought to myself, "instant fealty from everyone." You can walk into any place and feel like it's part of your city. The guy who is reading the Shanghai newspaper to your left probably voted for you. Elderly women come up and ask you for a picture. The same feeling I get every time I go to a different neighborhood and meet new people -- that I'm glad to be alive, that everyone is beautiful -- well, this guy Newsom feels that every day, even toward Paris Hilton.