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Dragon Lounge 

Wednesday, Sep 19 2007

Some things seem purely male to me. Take, for example, setting off fireworks. I have zero interest in that activity and I don't understand people who hoard fireworks all year and then go all nuts on the Fourth of July. The guys I grew up with in Illinois would rent vans so they could cross state lines to buy cartloads of M-80s, WizzBangers, FaceRippers, and FingerBlasters. They'd ceremoniously trot out their loot at Independence Day barbecues like they were holding the Torah on Yom Kippur, and all the other little guys would gather 'round with anxious faces for the sacrament. Having by that time already sat through fella after fella squirting lighter fluid on lit coals, that was usually my cue to grab the last Rice Krispie treat and take my leave.

Another male thing I just don't get is the fascination with car chases in movies. To me that's just God's little way of giving you a bathroom break in an otherwise suspenseful film.

"Oh! It's comin' up," said the guy to my right at the Dragon Lounge on Taraval. We were sitting at the bar watching Bullitt, a film that is apparently known for having the greatest car chase of all time.

I suppose sitting at a bar in the afternoon is another purely male thing, only this one I get. I am usually the only female in these situations, especially at older dives.

I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the Dragon Lounge, because the peel 'n' stick signage they have in their front window didn't exactly evoke a rich, cream-filled center. But the place is actually quite cute and cozy. My only quibble would be the overpowering smell of disinfectant, which I suppose was better than whatever it was trying to cover up.

The real key to this place, however, was the bartender, Bobby. For any of you bemoaning the loss of San Francisco watering holes run by older bartenders bursting with personality, the Dragon Lounge is for you. Now, Bobby's not exactly crotchety, which is the norm in an old-school barkeep, but he is funny and full of stories.

"What are you poppin' there, Bobby?" asked a patron, inquiring about the pills he was taking.

"It's my fourth Viagra and I still don't feel a thing," he quipped back. Bobby has a crew cut and glasses with a black band holding them to his head, and he wears sporty leisure ensembles. He called me "sweetie" and told me a story about how he threw up all over his date when he was 22. He never drank gin again. I loved this guy. When I asked him what time the place opened (9:30 a.m.!) he told me that the staff comes in at nine and kicks out all of the Chinese guys who smoked too much opium and passed out on the floor the night before.

Ike and Tina's version of "Proud Mary" was playing on the jukebox. It was all I could do not to jump out of my stool and start shakin' it like a retarded go-go dancer at the precise point where the horns come in. A patron asked Bobby whether he was rockin' to the music, and Bobby said he could handle anything except that rap stuff. When someone plays a rap song, "I go back there and I pull the plug," he told us.

Then the car chase came on the TV screen, and a hush fell over the bar. For those of you who don't know, Bullitt takes place in San Francisco, and the actors race all over the city. "There's the Safeway in the Marina!" observed one guy. In fact, Steve McQueen goes from the Marina to North Beach to Candlestick in about five minutes, just like we can! The hot pursuit didn't seem like that great of shakes to me, but I suppose it was the first of its kind or something. I must say that it was nice to be sharing something on the TV with the men around me that wasn't sports.

I recognized one black guy in the movie as being a big TV actor in the '70s.

"Hey," I said. "That's that one guy!"

"Sidney Poitier," said the man on my right with the gin-blossomed nose. I wasn't sure who the actor was, but I was quite sure it wasn't Sidney Poitier (turns out it was Georg Stanford Brown, of Roots and The Rookies fame). Have you noticed that whenever there is a black character from the Bullitt era and he isn't playing a thug or the guy who gets killed in the first five minutes, that some dude always says, "That's Sidney Poitier!"?

Bobby asked me how I liked my drink. I said it was great, and then he went into a story about dirty martinis.

"The first time someone asked me for one of those things," he said, "I had no idea what they wanted. I have been a bartender for a long time," (29 years at the Dragon), "and now they have these dirty martinis." He ended up making that initial cocktail with sweet as well as dry vermouth. A good guess.

From there we got onto the subject of mojitos. Oh God, if you go to the Dragon, don't play rap music, and don't make Bobby drink (or have to make) a mojito.

"I don't care for them," he told me. "I tried it once, and after about the third one I realized it wasn't my thing."

An older lady came in and sat to my left. She was from London, as it turned out, and she ordered a hot toddy. What a strange mix of characters I had plunked myself next to. Each bar in San Francisco is its own little universe, and places like the Dragon Lounge are drifting farther and farther off into the distance.

I realized that I had to get going if I was going to avoid terrible traffic. I asked Bobby what driving route he preferred, and we both came to the conclusion that there really was no "good" way around the city at rush hour. "Just stay here and have a few more martinis till the time passes!" he offered. I made a joke about not wanting to barf all over my date and sadly demurred. A bar writer has to have her limits.

"See ya, sweetie," he said to me on my way out.

Now there goes the last of the red hot San Francisco bartenders, I said to myself.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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