"Actually, I usually come during the week to shoot pool," he says, sipping beer as he waits for his sister, a regular. "For me, it's just kind of a hangout. Every once in a while I'll get somebody who's like, "What the hell are you doing in our bar?' Some people assume [incorrectly that] I'm gay, but others are totally accepting."
Perhaps such tolerance should come as no surprise in a place where bathroom graffiti announces that "We are all doomed to be ourselves." Or perhaps the stylishly dressed patrons (wallet chains and baseball caps, bowler hats and ties) have other things on their minds. For example, Amy, visiting from New Mexico, says her thoughts are occupied by one subject -- "That woman in orange" -- a svelte butch with blond hair, an orange bowling shirt, a well-tailored dinner jacket, and, quite possibly, a date.
"Do you think she's with that girl?" Amy asks. "I really want to know her. Do you know her?"
Unfortunately, no. But then, on a brighter note, the Mission's 19th Street corridor offers plenty of highs to allay the burn of sexual longing, from oxygen-induced bliss at the oxygen bar 22O2 to the soothing vibes at Keur-Baobab, where owner Marco Senghor looks amazingly Buddha-like as he lounges on a barstool in a puffy vest and knit cap. His story is incredible: After emigrating from Senegal to San Francisco, Senghor started a home-based ginger juice business, then relocated to his current address when ginger vapors under-mined his ceiling. He boiled ginger night and day until he collapsed from exhaustion, then closed the business and reopened it as a restaurant, offering new takes on the juices of his homeland, such as the Fleur, a blend of tamarind, ginger, and bourbon that could make any evening bloom.
"It's been like a crescendo, going up and up and up," Senghor says of Baobab's seemingly invincible popularity. "In my country, you don't call it business. It's socializing, it's atmosphere, it's well-being. You have to feel happy when you work."
At 1 a.m., the restaurant's pale wood bar and tropical décor host a bohemian, largely French-speaking crowd of perhaps a dozen. Senegalese salsa trickles from the stereo, but nobody gets a groove on. The opposite is true at Sacrifice, a block farther down 19th, where, as the weekly hip hop club "Supastar" hits full stride, a young, diverse crowd owns the dance floor so thoroughly that it may stay owned for weeks. The formula is unbeatable: two pool tables, a $5 cover, an even ratio of men to women, and bartenders willing to make just about anything, including the recipe below.
Pour 1 ounce each vodka and blue curaçao into a cocktail glass. Float with sambuca and 151-proof rum. Ignite. To avoid singed hair, drink through longest straw available while bartender adds 1 ounce each Kahlúa and Bailey's Irish Cream. Surprisingly smooth and not too sweet, with burnt licorice undertones and a strong coffee finish. Equally perfect for drowning sorrows or warming yourself with someone you love.