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Outer Limits 

Discover the Alaskan Duck Fart and other charms of the Outer, Outer Sunset's dive bars

Wednesday, Feb 13 2002
Pittsburgh's Pub may be the only bar in San Francisco with a banner touting the Alaskan Duck Fart (Kahlúa, Irish cream, and Canadian whiskey; one's plenty), but the place's charms extend further. Sure, it's way, way out there at Judah and 47th Avenue, but John the bartender, previously of the Philosopher's Club, is reason enough to make the trip. A true ace mixologist, John moves with the efficiency of a Terminator, mixing cocktails, pouring beers, offering darts, taking phone calls, extolling the digestive-aphrodisiac qualities of Fernet Branca -- "It's like smoking a fatty" -- and asking everyone if they'd like quarters for the pool tables with their change.

Beyond that, "It's a nice, friendly dive bar," says a customer named Frank. "Ninety-nine times out of a hundred you won't get in a fight. And the beer's cheap, too." Frank lives within a few blocks, which is nothing unusual in these parts. In fact, other than a man in surgical garb who hails from Vallejo, pretty much everyone in the crowd of 20 could stagger home if necessary. The people on hand range from Nicole, a student recently arrived from San Diego, to longtime Sunset locals who remember Playland at the Beach.

"There were always too many people in there," says Bob, a tough-looking dude at the end of the bar. Sitting with his back to the fireplace, Owie's even more fearsome (picture a cross between Wyatt Earp and the wrestler Goldberg) and says he used to go to Playland while visiting his grandmother.

Owie used to be a bouncer at this same address -- the bar was formerly Kelly's and the Reef -- for 20 years. He figures the neighborhood hasn't really changed. "The Sunset's still the Sunset," he says. As in mellow and working class? "Yeah, it's a blue-collar, shithead type deal."

Thanks, Owie. Moving on to some other haunts in the wild and woolly outer avenues, on Noriega and 45th there's Flanahan's Pub, a tiny hallway of a bar where everybody knows everybody in the group of eight. Mike, the owner/bartender, isn't technically a Flanahan, but he is "the pope of Noriega," according to Jon from the SF Surf Shop. Talk circulates about holding a surf night, but the pope has yet to give his blessing. Otherwise, all is chill.

"This is one of the few bars where you can go and not have a big problem," says Ski, adding that "the girls here are gorgeous." Girls? "They're not here yet, but when they do show up, they're gorgeous."

Down at 47th and Taraval there's the Sand Bar, a place that folks in other drinkeries often describe as a rough-and-tumble establishment. On this particular Friday, the only trouble comes from a scrawny old guy who causes a woman to scream, is escorted back to his seat, and eventually peels a few doughnuts out front as he departs. Still, one hears stories about brawls and drunken footraces around the block, so leave those debutantes at home. The faux wood pattern on the bar has faded to white in places. It's a likely place to meet droop-eyed boozers, hoodie-sporting surfers, and regulars like Jennifer, the bassist for the Mermen. She plugs the Sunday night jam sessions: "The drummer gets in the corner, I put my amp up on the fireplace, and they put a sign up earlier in the day that says, "Band tonight, no more wood.'" (Otherwise her amp would melt.) As for the everyday scene, let's turn to her friend Brittany.

"It's the scum and villainy of the outer universe," Brittany says, possibly exaggerating, possibly not. "You can get so fucked up you fall off your stool and nobody gives a shit, because it happened to them two days ago."

That we believe.

About The Author

Greg Hugunin

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