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The Happiest Hour 

After-work saloons of the Financial District

Wednesday, Apr 10 2002
Standing near Market Street's 711 Club at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, you can detect arriving customers at a distance of 50 feet. They come in many shades, but all have a purposefulness to their stride. As if afflicted with an itch that's about to be scratched, they move determinedly toward the faded sign that marks this watering hole. The ceilings here are sparkly blue, the wallpaper red and velvety, and a faux bronze wall carved with bare-breasted nymphs. This bar doesn't bother with happy hour discounts.

"We raise the prices," jokes Les, the daytime bartender, himself off for the night. Alone or in pairs, customers trickle through the door. Some come for the German beers, others for the décor, but for most, it's all about proximity. Leonard, from Kenya, works nearby, as does George (in fact, George has been frequenting these parts since he was a kid -- his father used to work across the street). Sarah, Liana, and Miranda work a block away.

"This is the Friday spot," says Chris, a long-haired cat who used to work in the area. "But it's the every weekday spot, too."

Regardless, 711 is a fine spot to unwind in the Financial District. To the same category, add the Tunnel Top, a refurbished former dive on Bush, just above the Stockton Tunnel. You've gotta like Harveen the owner's sense of style: a chandelier that looks like a cross between an iron maiden and a wine rack, bizarre videos (commuters boarding trains, a tattooed man taking a bath), and Manhattans served with vermouth-soaked cherries. Figure in the wraparound mezzanine stocked with plump, comfy couches, and the Tunnel Top may be the coolest after-work drinking site in FiDi. The young, capacity crowd includes a stylish international group (Vietnam to Sweden) from the nearby Cinta Salon, come to celebrate Hang the hairstylist's 25th birthday. Another Chris -- this one clean-cut and bespectacled -- is the only customer wearing a suit. Is he a suit type?

"I'll be honest with you," Chris No. 2 says. "The whole suit thing is in opposition to casual Friday. The rest of the week I'm casual; Fridays I wear a suit."

To honor his honesty, we'll indulge in some of our own: The Irish Bank, in an alley off Bush near Kearny, is not San Francisco's most authentic Irish pub, as advertised. (Sure, it's got the requisite layering of old photos, but the customers just aren't drunk enough.) Still, it's a fine locale in which to tip a pint, if only for the tables in the alley. Joe, a computer programmer, has taken casual Friday to the extreme, wearing sneakers, shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt. He's on the programmer's equivalent of an injured reserve list. "I think I got RSI," he says. "RSS? Repetitive stress syndrome." The cure, in this case, seems to be a drink.

Meanwhile, bona fide suit-wearers can be found among the dark wood booths at the Royal Exchange, on Sacramento and Front. Frankly, we prefer Harrington's Bar and Grill, around the corner. You meet all types here -- from Armani-clad attorneys to regular dudes like Andrew, who contemplates the value of the after-work saloon.

"You need a place to chill out with people you work with, to talk to them on a nonworking level," he says. Elsewhere, Allison is also hanging with a posse of co-workers. Two wear identical blue shirts. She doesn't seem stoked to be running with what is, to say the least, a squeaky-clean crew.

"They're a bunch of boring accountants," she whispers. "They're 'droids, OK?"

OK, but to be fair, they look like real people. Anyway, they've picked a great place to drink.

About The Author

Greg Hugunin

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