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Noe Valley Is Pretty, but How Many TVs Does One Bar Need? 

Wednesday, Mar 18 2015
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Why does anybody go to Noe Valley? I tried to figure that out as I walked through it the other day, on my way to the Valley Tavern. One could ask the same question about my neighborhood, the Inner Sunset, but there the answer is obvious: to be left alone. The deeper you live in the Sunset, the more you would like the rest of San Francisco to just fuck off for a while.

It seems that people end up in Noe Valley, however, with no sense of why except a clear belief that if it costs so much money it must be good.

My friend A., who lives in Noe, even apologizes for asking me to come to her neighborhood watering hole.

"This is the thing about Noe Valley," she tells me after we're seated in the spacious all-wood interior, beneath pictures of players from the Giants lineup. "This is the best bar in Noe Valley, and it's still really bland. We need a good bar. Why don't we have one?"

The Valley Tavern does have character, but my first thought upon walking in: "How many TVs does one bar need?" I lost track in the bar itself. Its website says 17 televisions; whatever the number, the way they're all placed right next to each other across the room makes them the defining aspect of the venue. And a bar that can be defined by TVs is ... well, a bar with nothing more interesting happening than a TV.

I'm really excited to see A. again. "It's weird," she says, "I feel like I just saw you the other week, but, it's been ... what ...

"Two years," I say.

"No," she says. "It has to be longer. I haven't seen you since I was pregnant and that's ..."

"So, three years."

"Has to be."

Ordering is a bit of a trial, as the Valley Tavern doesn't have a full beer list, rather it has a whole bunch of taps — 39 to be exact (It does provide a short list of bottled beer, mixed drinks, and all of six wines). Likewise, it doesn't have a menu, but does have a list of pub fair that the employees will order for you from the bistro next door — and they don't mind if you bring your own food in with you.

"Really?" says A.

"Sure. Bring a picnic," the waitress says. "We love it."

This fact raises A.'s opinion of the bar considerably. "I wish more places did that."

They're out of my first choice, Chimay Red, so I order one of a selection of Belgian wheats. A. takes one of the American IPAs you can't seem to avoid these days. We're sitting in a booth — the Valley Tavern has a lot of booths, along with a back patio area — trying to cram three missing years into single conversation. But she's right: It does feel like we're just picked back up right where we left off.

"Remember that time we had drinks Christmas Eve?" A. asks me, and I do. She'd asked if I wanted to get a drink that night specifically because she knew I often get viciously depressed around the holidays. It meant a lot. I'd actually been trying to think of a way — three years after the fact — to thank her for it. But the knowledge that she'd had a good time took that pressure off.

"I think about it every Christmas, actually," she says, and what more could I ask in a friend than to be thought of that way? For her to have found fun and meaning in helping me out? Or maybe I'm also a better friend than I sometimes think.

But how do I summarize three years of my life? And how much has really changed? A. has a kid, a new job, a new house. I feel like I've changed a great deal, but I still live in the same place, have the same job, know the same people. Objectively, I might be in the exact same place. Subjectively, I feel like I'm standing on a cliff waiting for a strong gust of wind to carry me over the ocean.

The Valley Tavern may seem like a neighborhood spot with nothing to recommend it except that it's in the neighborhood, but in fact it's better than that because it's open to becoming more. Bring a picnic, choose from a smorgasbord of beers, spread out. It has a pool table, a patio, a smoking room. It's open to whatever you want it to become. If it resembles Noe Valley too much, well, that's to be expected.

About The Author

Benjamin Wachs


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