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Distillations: Third Rail Has Lots of Potential, Once the New Bar Smell Wears Off 

Wednesday, Jan 15 2014

I've ordered the drink special, which is some kind of modified Mai Tai. Jimmy has ordered "Let us make you something tasty!" from the non-alcoholic section on the menu.

"I feel like I'm just too happy," Jimmy says, grinning. "Like some day somebody's going to pull me over and say 'I'm sorry, you're having too much fun, this has to stop.'"

I nod although I do not, in fact, know that feeling. It's also complicated: Moments before telling me that, he was explaining that he needs to stop drinking. He keeps falling into bed with the wrong women when he drinks.

"I don't know why I keep sleeping with crazy," he says.

My drink arrives. It's busy, full of chopped plants and ice, right up to the rim. I have to drink it through a straw, which always annoys me. But I have to admit it's worth the trouble. Good stuff. "Sure you do," I say.


"You know exactly why you sleep with crazy. Talk it through."

We're at the recently opened Third Rail in Dogpatch. Jimmy's been pushing me to visit the bar for weeks. He helped install the sign outside.

Normally I would never go to review a bar with someone affiliated with it. It stinks of insider collusion. But this is Jimmy asking, and I try to give the kid what he wants.

Jimmy helps people. He builds arenas for robot fights, he builds sets for theater plays, he paints, he roofs, he has a truck that hauls other people's loads across bridges. When I had to move apartments during a difficult transition Jimmy helped me do it, along with Chicken John and a fascinating itinerant former-programmer named Joseph who sleeps in the scariest-looking white van I've ever seen. Jimmy is a kind of public resource for a large community of artists, eccentrics, and dreamers in San Francisco — and when he's not working for free he tries never to charge more than he thinks we can handle.

The kid asks for something? I say yes.

His friends make a good tavern, too. Third Rail is sleek and attractive with a gorgeous bar big enough to fit four hipsters in the center of the room. The tables are small and intimate, the décor is minimalist, and there's plenty of space to stand.

The drink menu is a weak list of beers and wines with a selection of 16 specialty cocktails. That, and the gourmet jerky they serve as bar food, is where the action is.

They don't miss a beat on the mixed drinks. The 601 Apertif (Sutton Cellars vermouth, prosecco, ginger, honey, lemon) is tasty and the Tally Ho (gin, yellow chartreuse, ginger, lime) is sublime — while the nine kinds of jerky are dangerously, addictively, good.

My criticism of Third Rail would be that it's too new. The plastic just came off. It has no grooves, no ghosts, no notches or history ... and that means no character. But that's a timing thing; it'll come. And soon. If I lived in Dogpatch, I don't think I could stop myself from dropping by. Living nowhere near there, I still might go back.

"They're easy," Jimmy says of his crazy girls.


"They're exciting."


Then he says something that surprises me. "And I'm a really good person in their eyes, and I see that and feel that from them, which makes me love me too."

"Huh." That's not something I associate with chasing crazy.

"So I guess that's it. It makes sense after all." He smiles self-deprecatingly. "I need to stop drinking, though. All the same. That's ... it's an impulse-control thing, you know? Self-control — no one in my family has it."

I remember my 20s being like this: up and down, from joy to despair in the same breath. We always learn the hard way. Except that I didn't. I seemed to have a guardian angel back then, as I crashed around the world, stepping in whenever I stepped across the line, keeping me safe from the consequences of my own idiocy. I don't know why I was so blessed. But it means I only understand so much of what he's going through.

"Why do I do anything?" Jimmy asks. "One reason, really: I'm hoping I stumble on something purposeful I can do, to make my life have meaning."

That I understand completely. "Wanna get dinner?" I ask. I could eat the jerky all night, but that would be a stupid decision.


On the way out he gets a call: A guy needs help with a thing on Haight at 5 a.m. tomorrow.

"Sure," says Jimmy. "I'll be there for you."

About The Author

Benjamin Wachs


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