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Golden Beers and Thirsty Girls 

Wednesday, Feb 25 2009

I wonder what sorts of things San Francisco Public Library employees talk about in the break room. I head to the main branch every week to pick up my new holds, and I always marvel at how many interesting weirdos are hanging out at the library, usually on the upper floors. I'm not talking about the homeless people who read to themselves as if they were giving a lecture; actually, those folks are nice to see. I'm glad they have a library to go to. No, I am referring to your garden-variety eccentrics, of which there are rows and rows, each one blooming in his or her own way. There's the devil-may-care nose picker, the guy with the combover in the trench coat who reads only military histories, the over-the-hill floozy who tries to meet men in the home-improvement aisle, and the Dude Who Just Sits There and Stares.

Sometimes I take these people home with me. That is, I take their words with me, as when someone quite cracked has written in the books I check out. It adds entertainment value to whatever I am reading.

I was sitting at the Thirsty Bear bar, reading Golden Girl Betty White's autobiography, In Person, when I let out a loud snicker. No one really seemed to notice except the couple next to me, who quickly went back to their discussion of the make and manufacture of tequila. Anyhoo, some real wingnut had checked out the book before me and had taken the time to add little penciled asides in the margins. During a passage about one particular airplane ride White took, this previous reader made a joke about grabbing the plane out of the sky and munching it down like an Easter egg full of little treats.

The bartender looked at my glass and asked, "Would you like another one?" I declined, although the beers at Thirsty Bear are really delicious. It's an organic brewery, a fact made very clear the minute you walk in the door. The only place you can see the word "organic" mentioned more times is aisle three at Rainbow Grocery. The Thirsty Bear menu also points out that the brewery recycles, composts, and conserves, and uses good light bulbs.

The food has a Spanish theme, which seems incongruous at a joint designed like a restaurant you'd find at the airport. Thirsty Bear is spacious and somewhat pedestrian — wholly created, it seems, to appeal to SOMA happy hour types. It has also pulled out all the Bay Area stops to try and keep business at a brisk pace. First it does the microbrewery thing. Then it does the organic thing. Then it does the tapas thing. Add a background of Kiss FM–style '70s soul music, and the result is a mishmash that seems thrown together by whatever big bucks are behind the place. How do I know the owners are big-bucks types? Because Thirsty Bear operates under the first rule of restaurant and bar marketing: If you don't specify the size of beer you'd like when you order, the bartenders automatically pour you a big-ass one. (This is why I didn't order a second beer. I got the Meyer ESB, and it was strong.) To be fair, the big-ass one is only $6.

As I was mentally writing all my Thirsty Bear asides in the margins, I started to feel a little guilty. Any critics who say they never feel guilty about what they write are full of shit. You do develop a sort of cognitive dissonance, telling yourself that if people want to play the game, they have to deal with others' postplay analyses. It also feels good to be able to say great things about deserving places that might go unnoticed otherwise. But as I sat there at the bar, quietly dissecting everything that was wrong with the place just felt bad.

We are in a terrible economy that is getting worse. Everyone who works at Thirsty Bear needs that job. The folks behind the scenes need the bar to do well, too. Someone went to chef's school before planning the menu, and he or she is probably still paying back student loans.

I looked around the room. People seemed happy to be at Thirsty Bear. The beer was good and so, as it turned out, was the food. If there's anything Betty White has taught me from reading her book, it's that you need to take life a little less seriously. Oh, and have your pet spayed or neutered.

I wish I could say that White's book was good (argh, there's the critic in me again), but it was pretty damn bad. I wanted to learn about her early days, about her marriage to the guy from Password, inside scoopage about the Golden Girls, and more about her love of needlework. Instead I got somewhat shallow musings on life. There was one good part, which I ripped through during my paella. She describes the Pictionary parties she and her husband would go to at Carol Burnett's house. They would set up a big board and separate into two teams. Her teammates included James Stewart, Anne Bancroft, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Rock Hudson, and George Burns. Wow.

I finished the book in about 45 minutes. The paella clung to my insides like Spanish moss, and I damn sure had no room for another beer. I paid my tab and headed out into the rain.

I made a mental note to check out the autobiography of Rue McClanahan, the other Golden Girl with a book (to my knowledge, Bea Arthur hasn't written one yet). Biographies are my favorite section of the S.F. Public Library, and I'm working my way through them, slowly. As I write this, Joan Crawford's story is sitting in the hold section with my name on it, waiting for me.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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