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Passing Through 

Sampling the cozy bars along Divisadero

Wednesday, Jan 2 2002
Divisadero is a street that transcends neighborhoods, running from the Haight through the Western Addition and Pacific Heights before making a final plunge into the Marina. Its bars tend to have a cozy feel, none more so than Club Waziema, near Fell. Here, you can shoot pool, eat Ethiopian food, and admire the work of local artists in one of the most psychedelically soothing spaces in San Francisco.

Behold the sparkly ceiling, the smooth, well-seasoned, dark wood bar, and, best of all, the red-and-gold wallpaper, as vivid as henna on the thigh of a tawny goddess.

"We were talking about the wallpaper earlier," says Jesse, who's kicking it with a friend on a Saturday night. "It's an interesting choice." Indeed.

According to Neviat, the owner, the wallpaper is a holdover from Waziema's previous incarnation, a jazz and blues joint that closed in the late '70s. These days, the "vegetarian food Mondays" are supposedly quite lively, but tonight the crowd numbers fewer than a dozen. Jonathan's winding down after a long night of parking cars, hoping that a Guinness and the current jukebox selection (the Doors' "The End") will provide motivation for further partying. Lisa and Robin, who live nearby, came for a chat.

"It's our neighborhood bar," says Lisa. "It's the best bar on the strip. You know, as opposed to the other one."

Since the Justice League is more of a club, "the other one" would have to be Fly, up near Fulton. Fly strikes a nice balance: It's neither too full nor too empty, not too hip but certainly cool. It's toasty enough for one woman to wear a tube top that reveals her belly-button stud, but not so toasty that it wilts the gelled hair of the slickster near the bar. In fact, Fly is pretty fly. But despite the purple-felted pool table, the funked-out soundtrack, the young, local crowd, and the vast selection of beers, wines, and sake cocktails, Will has one request: "Liquor."

For that, one must trek to Rasselas, an elegant jazz club on the corner at California. Here, well-dressed couples and random sophisticates array themselves handsomely on plush couches, their attention captured by the bopping and scatting of a live six-piece band. Yianis, from Greece, has come with Yianis, also from Greece.

"It happens that we have the same name," says Yianis. Weird. Fleeta says she's been dropping by for 20 years. "It's always a nice group of people," she explains, "always good music. It's nice to come to a place that's been here a long time."

Another old haunt -- the Lion Pub, a block up at Sacramento -- has undergone something of a change. Known informally as "the place that used to be a gay bar," the Lion has become a neighborhood spot, which in Pac Heights means thirtysomething women in sling-back pumps and guys with stiff, wavelike haircuts. Still, it's a gorgeous space, with golden light and a roaring fireplace, and not everyone looks like a young Cabinet member.

Jason, a goateed local, explains the lack of gayness: "Well, the ladies from the neighborhood started coming around. The woman leads the man."

Near the bar, we meet Jack, a therapist. "Ask me a poignant question," he says. OK: What's the best way for people to deal with post-9/11 turbulence?

"I would say there's nothing in the universe worth disturbing your peace over," Jack says. "It's easy to be seduced into contributing to the mayhem. If each one of us can keep our own sense of peace, then ...." And if the peace thing doesn't work, do what Jack does and have a drink.

About The Author

Greg Hugunin

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