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The Gold Dust's bartenders don't just mix drinks, they put on a show

Wednesday, Mar 13 2002
To drop by Union Square's Gold Dust Lounge and see Chuck the bartender do his thing -- he may layer you a Fuzzy Nipple (Kahlúa, peach schnapps, and Irish cream) or fire a straw out of an empty liquor bottle in a whoosh of flame (the "Protestant Rocket") -- is to wonder if the man wrote the book on mixology. He did, actually: It's called the San Francisco Bartender's Workbook, and its recipes run from a classic Gimlet to the Icy Orgasm, the Cosmic Milk, and the Hairy Virgin (aka the Hairy Slut).

Throw in Phil, the Gold Dust's other bartender, who specializes in flaming drinks, plus a live band covering Johnny Cash and Bill Haley, and you've got one of the finest shows in town. At nearly 70, the Gold Dust, on Powell near Geary, is aging gracefully. Antique murals and tremendous chandeliers overlook a crowd that can include restaurant workers, strippers, two dudes from Houston, or a North Beach native like Robert, who says three things bring him down: "Tradition, tradition, tradition." Jamie, another regular, is entirely plastered. He waxes poetic about the Dust.

"Every night, it's the Fourth of July," he says. "Every day, it's New Year's ..."


"No, Christmas Day."

Glad we got that straightened out.

Gold Dust isn't the only place to sip the light fantastic in the city's hotel/retail/ theater hub. You could drop a bundle at any number of swank hotel bars, or join the herd waiting to get into Ruby Skye. Better yet, drop by Lefty O'Doul's, on Geary, a piano/sports bar that doubles as a hofbrau. (One warning: The place reeks of beef.) On a Saturday night, some two dozen chanteurs have gathered around the piano. You'll find theater types such as A.J., who clutches a bouquet and explains that she's a cast member in Cat and Mouse (Sheep) -- "a British absurdist piece that's never been done in the United States before." Tom, from Spokane, says Lefty's is his favorite watering hole in San Francisco. He's with his three daughters, who are all indescribably gorgeous.

"You should see their mother," says Tom. We'd love to, Daddy-o, but for now, we'll make our way to Red's Corner, at Ellis and O'Farrell, one of those bars you've just gotta like.

At Red's you meet a slightly shadier breed of out-of-towner. Eli, from Sacramento, describes the fellatio he once purchased at a nearby "whore shack." Joel, from France, is a full-on freak: black eyeliner, dreadlocks topped with a poof of curls, and a face so haggard he may be at the end of a 27-year bender.

"People don't like me," laments Joel. "It is a very big problem to be different." We can imagine. Then comes a bona fide coolio, who strikes the classic cool-cat pose in his leather beach hat, leather jacket, and pants sagging halfway to Hades. He's well aware of how stone cold chill he looks. Is he a player? A hustler? The king of the Tenderloin pimps? Words could never do justice to his freezingness. He won't give his name or say where he's from, nor does he give interviews. Luckily, his friend Robert isn't so shy.

"We're from Milwaukee, and we just got 12 inches of snow," Robert says. (In other words, they're tourists.) Robert came to Red's "because of all the hookers." Funny thing is, the hookers are hard to spot. "They're here," says Robert. "Trust me. Whaddya think this guy's doing?"

Robert points to the coolio, who may spend years trying to formulate a comeback.

Like we said, you've gotta like Red's.

About The Author

Greg Hugunin

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