In late February, patrons at Eddie Rickenbacker's in SOMA had the experience everyone who entered that bar feared they would: The establishment's ever-present patron, Henry Africa, died on the spot.
Africa, who was born Norman Hobday, was the corpulent man who sat on a couch near the bar's entrance in his bathrobe with oxygen tubes up his nose. The tubes always seemed to be entwined with the wires from the oversize headphones he wore so he could watch TV amid the din of a crowded bar. It wasn't like you were in Africa's living room -- you really were.
Was it uncomfortable to tipple socially while a disheveled, sickly man outfitted in a ratty bathrobe punctuated lengthy naps with curt orders directed at the waitstaff? Oh yes. But he owned the place and could do as he pleased. And if waddling around in pajamas at 10 p.m. on a Friday wasn't proof enough, there was the matter of Indian teeth and a 27-pound cat named Mr. Higgins to prove it.
Africa -- who, among other feats, is credited with inventing the fern bar -- earned a measure of infamy in 2005 over an exhibit at his eclectically decorated tavern: the teeth of "Custer's squaw."
The bicuspids, Africa claimed, were knocked from the poor woman's jaw by the eventual loser of Little Bighorn in a jealous fit after she allegedly cuckolded him. Their exhibition drew the ire of left-wing zealot Ward Churchill, local Indian activists, and even the city's Human Rights Commission -- making Eddie Rickenbacker's ground zero for what must be the first instance of government involvement in a dispute over objectionable bar decor.
happier, and they can pray over the debris in the city dump out there
Africa's next bit of controversial decor wasn't a box of human remains but a massive cat every bit as friendly as it was obese. A Hurricane Katrina survivor, "Mr Higgins" was a walking, purring goldmine. Large numbers of patrons wandered into the bar merely to visit with the four-legged maître d'.
Can you tote your XXXL-sized pet into a bar as if it really is your living room? No you can't. As SF Weekly wrote in 2009:
...If you're wondering, no you can't have a pet cat in a bar
in San Francisco -- but Mr. Higgins has a knack for pulling a
disappearing act when the health inspectors drop by. Africa did get
caught once -- and fined $200 -- but he doesn't have any plans to leave
the cat at home in the future. Besides, if Mr. Higgins is drawing
customers into the establishment, it may be worth risking the fine.