Monroe Afterhours with Nikita, Bo, Rooz, and Lee Burridge
March 18, 2012
Better than: Brunch.
If Internet rumors are to be trusted -- and if you can't trust the Internet, what can you trust? -- then the history of California's 2 a.m. alcohol curfew dates back to World War II. Apparently laws were placed on the books to get people home in case of some cataclysmic Japanese bombing run. Somehow these supposed wartime laws were never amended, and they've since become the bane of the entire state's drinking population. Yet, while many are content to end their night at two, there are plenty of people out there that desire a more European (or Las Vegasian, if you will) party experience. The fact is that the night doesn't necessarily need to end when the bars shut down, and demand has created an entire system that exists to cater to those hardcore enough to seek it out.
What it boils down to is that California has a four-hour dry period every morning between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Find something to do for four hours (or, better idea, take a nap) and you'll also find that there are a decent number of venues open to the all-nighter crowd. Traditionally associated with music-minded clubs like the The EndUp, you can find 6 a.m. parties popping up in diverse locations throughout the city. Perhaps the most unlikely member of this scene is North Beach's Monroe, an ultra lounge on Broadway just across from the Green Tortoise. Once called Dragon Bar, these days its become one of the better places to find yourself at 6 a.m. with your party clothes on.
The sun was just barely rising as we shot out of the Broadway tunnel into Chinatown. Street characters whizzed by in an incomprehensible rush before quickly melting into the glittering neon of North Beach's strip clubs. It was hardly morning, but the streets were showing signs of life in the form of old people hucking garbage and a few small platoons of joggers. The injustices of St. Patrick's Day had already been bleached and forgotten.
Monroe's smoking area at 6:30 a.m. was a lively scene -- it could have been a decent weeknight party at midnight. Through the fumes, a tapestry of non-English languages separated a well-dressed and mixed crowd into small pockets: French, German, Spanish, and even some Eastern European languages I couldn't place. The few conversations I did understand were characterized by the kind of rapid pace and obsessive thinking that only a person wide awake at 6 a.m. can generate.
We paid our fee and wandered inside to find a comfortable atmosphere. Monroe is a nicely appointed space that's obviously designed with bottle service in mind. Booths run down its sides and lead up into an elevated, couch-lined area in the back. Each seating area seemed to carry its own scene holding court. In the front a group of people in animal body suits and costumes enjoyed champagne on ice; behind them a pack of girls in slinky knockoff couture giggled and laughed over screwdrivers; back further still, you could find an edgy group of jocks in Ed Hardy trying to give it one last shot before going home hungry. Every once in a while the disco lights would catch a stray hand on its way up a thigh.
DJ Rooz presided over the room from its center, playing a set of instrumental deep house that fit the mood perfectly. The dancefloor was packed thick with people in varying states of fatigue. Here things were less sectioned off, with a mixture that crossed through conventional boundary lines (subculture, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, etc.). Maybe it was the strangeness of the hour, but it seemed as though weirdness was encouraged: at one point a man in a full-on top hat and tails made balletic spins across the floor.
Far from what you'd think, the place only seemed to get more packed as the day wore on, and 7 a.m. brought with it a whole new wave. I suspect a part of this was due to the fact that Lee Burridge was rumored to show up and grace the spot with one of his storied morning sets. This is, of course, exactly what happened -- Burridge took over only a little while later.
He eased into a valley of tech house that complimented the hour well. Not showing any signs of exhaustion (he'd been DJing at Public Works just a couple hours prior), Burridge danced around and threw his arms up as he manipulated the filters and EQs for dramatic effect. People moved with a renewed sense of energy as he launched through hypnotic arpeggios and cascading washes of white noise. With each beat, the club's disco lights projected a grid of shifting rainbow-colored dots on the assembled mass.
Later, as I was putting my sunglasses on to leave, I caught a telling conversation. "Nah bro, San Francisco is way better than Vegas. You can party 24/7 if you know the right spots, the drinks are cheaper, and the music's way better." I can't argue with that logic. We hopped in the car, made a pit stop at Bob's, and blitzed down an empty Van Ness toward home.