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The Phone Booth: a place where hipsters, gay dudes, vegans, and music columnists can all get along

Wednesday, Jan 12 2005
You know a bar is great when you've been there for four hours and suddenly realize, "Hey, man, like, is this a gay bar?" It slowly dawned on me after I had finished my fourth stimulating conversation with a man who knew what the word "chiffonade" meant. The place was the Phone Booth on South Van Ness, a watering hole held in esteem among cheap musician friends of mine who sing the praises of its low-low prices, jukebox, pool table, and free popcorn. Yes, it's yet another gay bar that has been invaded by hipsters, sort of like Kimo's but with fewer bitter 'n' grizzled bartenders.

The Phone Booth is aptly named, being a bit compact and full of chatter. But the real trick to this place is the camaraderie, that delicate mix of friendliness and conversation fueled by alcohol that made Cheers so darn appealing. At the Phone Booth, everyone is "Norm." I had been there five minutes when I got hugged goodbye by a fella whose joke I laughed at. This was a place at which I could really be myself, man.

So when I sat down next to a gentleman and he told me he worked at an organic, vegan, raw-food cafe, I abandoned all social censors and immediately let out a hearty guffaw. I mean, Jesus Christ. Organic, vegan, and raw? Gimme two out of the three and I'll politely take a bite, but all of 'em is just fucking idiotic.

For some reason, I immediately got off on the wrong foot with the guy. He was a 37-year-old from Guatemala with a round, open face, a tight waffle weave, a long-sleeved T, and a wallet chain. His name was Hugo.

"I know what it sounds like, but it's not like that," he said smoothly. "These are really nice people and the food is delicious. I was like you once." I could detect the hurt in his voice. I felt bad for being so closed-minded. So what if people want to crunch into an uncooked "pizza" made from cashew cheese? My No. 1 New Year's resolution is to stop being so damn judgmental of those who listen to world beat and don't eat animals.

"It's part of the philosophy known as the 'Abounding River,'" he continued. "It's the idea that we have everything we need and we should celebrate and appreciate the bounty." I pictured a vast oaken table of celebration, piled high with roast game, glazed ribs, and a glistening suckling pig.

The Abounding River. Hmm. Taoism tells us that we must go with the current, not stand on a slippery rock midstream and let all the leaves, bad karma, and Cheetos wrappers collect around our feet. No, it is the chi that we should let collect around ourselves, sweeping us off to our designated fate with as little struggle as possible.

Actually this is the only hippie-dippy philosophy I believe in, and it is rooted in the idea that the truth shall set you free. If you are gay, be gay. If you are awkward in social situations, be awkward in social situations. If you enjoy Dr. Phil but can't admit it because you are a left-leaning sarcastic music columnist, admit it. (I enjoy Dr. Phil.)

So maybe the whole Abounding River thing was worthy of some study. After all, you at least know there are plenty of delicious, fat, pink salmon jumping in that sucka.

Hugo was losing his patience. We were sitting at the end of the bar underneath decorative Styrofoam icicles left over from the holidays, and mid-debate a fellow to my right piped up. He was a smooth black man with bright blue eyes and a voice like Billy Dee's. "Can you please explain tofu to me?" he asked. "It has no flavor."

"Ohhh," I replied, turning my attention to him. The second of my New Year's resolutions is to stop being such a know-it-all, and I was about to abandon it completely. "The secret to tofu is that it absorbs any flavors or spices around it ...."

I then proceeded to tell him about the virtues of soy and even shared a few easy-to-follow recipes. Shortly thereafter the bawdy hip hop troupe Fannypack came on the jukebox and my attentions were soon turned to that, but for a brief moment I was the yin to Hugo's Whole Foods yang.

So why is soy OK and uncooked tomato soup not OK? Herein lies the key to understanding prejudice: time. Soy has been around for all of my lifetime, so it's not freaky anymore. Uncooked vegan food is new and is therefore suspect. I am the Archie Bunker of macrobiotics.

Two other guys came and sat with us at the end of the bar, and behind us gathered the Le Tigre set, snuggled into the tables and chairs discussing the merits of guerrilla file-sharing in the age of the PATRIOT Act. I didn't know if they were gay or straight, but the guys here were hot and looked like happy-go-lucky roadies for the Arcade Fire.

This is why the Phone Booth is my new favorite bar. It's hip but not unfriendly. It has regulars from all walks of life. It's cozy and cute, with corny old bar signs and an amazing jukebox stacked with the likes of TV on the Radio, A.R.E. Weapons, and the Jam. Homosexuals wander in and out and mingle with the undersexed, older heteros who line the stools at happy hour.

I sit quietly on my rock and let them all stream past me.

"So," I asked Hugo, "tell me what cheese made from cashews tastes like."

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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