"Frank Sinatra, now he was a real gentleman," said my grandpa. "Always talked to the crew like we were real people; a consummate professional." Then his eyes would squint up and he would scratch his troubled knee. One of us would get up and fetch him some more tomato juice.
This was before the full story on ol' Marilyn had come out -- you know, how her candle flickered in the wind and stuff -- and it was my first experience with the fallibility of an icon. All of us born after the '60s were imbued with a few things: Be whoever you want to be but just don't get fat; experimenting with drugs is a normal part of growing up; and Marilyn Monroe is divine.
It stands to reason that in a city with bars honoring owls, Polynesians, and the carnal union between two men, someone out there would have one with a Marilyn Monroe theme. That someone is Sue, and she runs Randy's Place on Ocean Avenue in Ingleside. The joint is papered with different portraits of Monroe, as well as Elvis and the occasional James Dean. It's a dive; a divey-dive with an exterior that doesn't exactly beckon a weary traveler in for a hot stein of grog. If it hadn't been for the "Isaac Wang" sign in the window, my companion Kaylin and I would never have gone in. It seems that a youngish Wang is running for treasurer. If you were the low sort of person to repeat his name three times with a Chinese accent, well, you might have found yourself chuckling. Oh man, were we chuckling. Wang has signs up all over town. Everywhere we looked there was a Wang in the window, promising a chicken in every pot. We tried to come up with some good campaign phrases: "Isaac Wang for Treasurer: Let's Make It Happen!" "Looking for the right man for the job? Isaac Wang." It turns out he went with a more tried-and-true approach, www.winwithwang.com.
I tell ya, that Wang kept us entertained for hours. But on to the bar. The minute we walked in we were greeted warmly by the pretty bartender, who smiled at us as if we were long-lost relatives coming in all the way from Oklahoma. Once inside, the place was cozy and chummy, with a long bar, a pool table, and an old jukebox with the likes of the Kingston Trio and Paul Anka. We parked it at the end, making sure to lift my guinea pig, Petunia -- whom I had brought along in a messenger bag -- safely onto the bar. Let me cut to the chase, people: This is not only the friendliest bar in town, but it's also the cheapest. Well drinks are $2. Microbrew pints are $2.75. They don't seem to look twice at rodents in backpacks. Holy crap.
Most of the patrons tried to ignore the fact that my bag seemed to be moving, and when The Daily Show came on the TV we turned off the music and everyone watched and laughed. Now, when I say "patrons," I mean about four other people besides us. You see, business is down at this place, even though it sits across the street from City College.
"Most of the bars in this neighborhood have left," said Marianna, the bartender. "It used to be a heavily Irish area, but it has changed a lot." Most of the patrons of Randy's have passed away, she added.
Talk about icons. If we think of old dive bars as historic icons, and I do, then this place is the Marilyn Monroe of bars. It is a bright light marred with tragedy. Consider this: The tavern was named for the owner's son, who died under suspicious circumstances a few years back. Sue has never been the same since this happened. Recently, her husband passed away as well. Now she works there six nights a week just to keep things afloat, but her heart and soul are in mourning. Marianna comes in once a week to give Sue the night off and to baby-sit her dog, Elvis.
"Sue is the biggest sweetheart," said a guy at the bar named Kelly. "You have to meet her."
Bars like this are a dying breed in our town. They don't serve soju or Ketel One. They don't have DJs or "downtempo Thursdays!" They're just nice places with nice crowds and nice prices. Marianna and some dedicated regulars realize this and are trying to buff up Randy's and put it back on the map. A new sign outside would help, as would more seating. But don't change it too much, guys. For the most part, it's great the way it is. Even with a Wang in the window.