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That Girl is Poison 

Katy St. Clair illuminates another dubious connection: Socrates and the Hemlock Tavern

Wednesday, Feb 2 2005
At the beginning of the night I was sitting on a large red couch that looked like a gigantic pair of crimson lips. I was splayed out on the center of the sofa, so from a distance if you were nearsighted you might take me for a rather large novelty-style exploded cigar. If you were nearsighted, that is. The truth was that I was half asleep, nursing a wicked cold, and reasoning how I was going to traverse back to my car parked on Sutter Street by avoiding any and all hills. Yes, it was going to be a night of deep thinking.

My companion's name was Greg and we were in his apartment, a smallish 100-year-old studio with exposed brick and rolls and rolls of unexposed film stacked here and there. This guy carries around his camera the way Mary Stuart Masterson carried her drumsticks everywhere in Some Kind of Wonderful. Anyway, directly across from where I sat was a painting of an old white dude with a long face and an even longer beard.

"Is that Leonardo da Vinci?" I asked.

"No," said Greg, mustering all the doy energy he could and looking at me askance. "It's Socrates."

Ah. Like anyone knew what that guy looked like, let alone well enough to make a paint-by-numbers of his mug. It was Leonardo da Vinci, but for the sake of irony let's keep it as Socrates. Greg and I were, after all, headed to the Hemlock Tavern.

Why a club would name itself for an ingredient in a Stevie Nicks spell is beyond me. Does anyone else besides me conjure up images of the White Witch whenever he hears the word "hemlock"? At any rate, Socrates was forced to down a lethal concoction of the stuff for being a godless heathen who corrupted youth. He was also opposed to privatizing Social Security.

I kept him in my head as we sat at the long bar and drank several martinis. It was midnight, I had to get up at 5 the next morning, and I knew we weren't leaving until 2:30 a.m. Call it the Socratic method of self-inflicted poisoning. In the Socratic method, the reasoning process is considered more important than the facts. This comes in real handy when you want to persuade yourself to stay out later than you should. I reasoned that somehow I wouldn't wake up before dawn in a few hours with a hangover, or if I did it wouldn't feel that bad, and after all I could go home and go to sleep later that day. This line of thinking ignored a few crucial facts. At press time I feel like total fucking shit.

Blame the Hemlock though -- it induces overindulgence. The bar is set up with the bartenders in the middle and the patrons all around the perimeter on stools. There is a smoking room off to the right when you walk in, some nooks and crannies in the northern territory, and a whole other section for bands in the back, which was recently remodeled to allow for greater capacity (because apparently the assortment of noise, experimental, folk, and cabaret acts the Hemlock tends to book is drawing ever-increasing crowds these days). And speaking of music, if you like the stuff the Hemlock's got one of the best jukeboxes in town, packed to the gizzards with local bands like Deerhoof and Comets on Fire and other cool shit like that. The bar also hosts regular DJ nights, which range from sleazy and off the heezy to just plain cheesy (somewhere in between exists Monday night's "Punk Rock Sideshow").

But whoever invented the Hemlock's two-sided bar, where patrons can gaze across at each other while the barkeeps shuffle to and fro in the center, was a genius. If you can't get laid at the Hemlock, you ain't trying very hard. The place was made for the long locking of eyes, the pursing of lips, and the stroking of one's martini glass with one's fingers.

Under such circumstances, I like to find the hottest guy in the room, meet his stare, and then hold the cherry from my drink over my mouth like a Grecian statue. I then softly drop it into my pouting mouth, all the while keeping a steamy gaze on the hunk across the bar. Slowly I tie my cherry stem into a bow with my tongue as I fan out and plunge into the splits on two stools. I'm telling you, you don't have to try too hard here.

On this night, however, we wanted to just chill in a crowded bar and watch everyone else do the mating dance. I was with the proverbial "snatch latch" to my "cock block" anyway, so neither of us was going to leave with anyone.

"Did I ever tell you about the week I slept with five different chicks?" asked Greg, lost in revelry. Greg is a good-looking guy who periodically realizes this and then has the confidence to meet girls. The rest of the time he is incredibly insecure and celibate -- everything I look for in a drinking companion. Besides, what self-respecting girl wants to wake up with her panties stuck to her head and Leonardo da Vinci staring down at her?

"It's Socrates, not da Vinci," Greg reiterated later at the bar. "My grandfather painted it." Well, that settles that, the reasoning being that his grandfather is older than we are and therefore closer in age to his contemporary, Socrates. It follows that he would know what the philosopher looked like, and reasoning, as we have concluded, is more important than facts.

We parted on that lazy night with one nugget of wisdom, handed down from sages of old: "Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good." (All right, so that was Søren Kierkegaard and not some Greek dude. Who cares? It sounded cool.)

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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