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The sanctity of Strip-Mall Bars 

Wednesday, Oct 25 2006
You have to be careful in San Francisco when someone describes a place as a "hole in the wall." Once you've made sure that they weren't speaking literally (think George Michael), proceed accordingly.

The fact is, there is a nostalgia for places that are metaphorical hole-in-the-walls, because they really don't exist anymore. Hipsters ferreted them out and set up shop throughout our fair city long ago.

So what does that leave folks like us who crave authenticity with a hint of exclusiveness and a dash of cornball? Not much. Well despair not, gentle reader, I have some good news. For those of us who delight in the hunt, there are still new directions that we can take. I give you: The Strip Mall Bar.

The Strip Mall Bar is not unlike the Strip Mall Chinese Place. Both of them have predictable interiors (beer signs and cardboard stand-ups of chicks with wedgies holding said beer for the former; Chinese fisherman mural and tank with near-dead fish floating in it for the latter). Both of them are comfortingly predictable (MGD for one, MSG for the other) and reasonably priced. But the real draw here is the clientele. These are neighborhood folks who obviously don't kowtow to aesthetics or pretense. They like their yellow beer cold and their sports programming turned up freakishly high.

My friend Scott frequents just such an establishment. "I dunno man," he said to me with a sigh. "I don't want people to know about my place. I don't want it to get ruined." I assured him that, while at times entertaining, my column was for armchair boozers and dreamers, and that the stunts I pull should not be replicated in the real world. In short, dude: No one will care about the Miraloma Club next to the Round Table Pizza in the strip mall off Portola. Still, he was trepidatious, sure that once anyone got wind of this jewel, his evenings of homey revelry would implode.

I can see what he is talking about. I mean, the boxy wood paneling, the mirrors, the wealth of Frito-Lay products, and the pool table all spell H-O-T hot. Run, don't walk to the Miraloma Club. "Man, shut up!" he said to me upon arrival and just after I let out a snarky, "Oh yeah, we don't want anyone getting wind of this Xanadu!"

Despite its pedestrian interior and proximity to a Laundromat, the jukebox was blaring Too Short's "Oakland." I had expected, oh, I dunno ... Creed or something. It turns out this place has one of those amazing jukeboxes that have every band in the history of the world. You simply search for whoever you want, it shows you at least three albums by the artist, and you can choose any track that you want. It seems that the large cluster of black dudes in football jerseys had made their selection.

The barstools were pretty much all taken except for a few at the far end, and some guy's beer was in front of one of them. I turned around a bit to see if I could spot the dude and ask him to move over one so that I could sit with my pal. Then I noticed a guy out front smoking in a Giants cap with a Doobie Brothers' mustache. He slowly motioned for me to come toward him. I stood stock-still. He motioned again. His face was expressionless. I turned back around and continued to try and solve the mystery of the abandoned beer.

"What did that guy want?" Scott asked me.

"For me to sit on his face," I blurted out. Suddenly, Scott's face looked a bit ashen, only his eyes weren't looking at me, they were looking directly behind me. He whispered, "Uh, he's right behind you and he heard that ... "


"I was saying that I would be happy to move to give you room," he said accusingly, in a "no, I wasn't clearing a space on my face, just the bar ... don't flatter yourself" kind of way.

It was time to head for the jukebox. I have been on a solid Guided By Voices kick, Isolation Drills mostly, and the idea of hearing "The Enemy" in this place was too hard to pass up. Once that task was done, I took my ill-gotten seat at the bar and began to chat with the young woman next to me who was Scott's roommate. She was from Calaveras County. It took us about three seconds to start talking about methamphetamine abuse. "Oh, it's everywhere," she assured me. Apparently, those celebrated jumping frogs are antsy for a reason. "Houses blow up here and there all the time."

I used to live in Crockett, which has the same problems. If you look at the brains of people who have abused crystal meth, they look like whiffle balls, full of holes and unable to travel very far.

Finally, my song came on. If you have never heard "The Enemy," let me assure you that it rocks. It has some really deep layering and it builds to a crescendo. When I hear it I have to close my eyes. I was doing just that, lost in reverie and sure that the rest of the bar was along for the ride, when I heard out of the corner of my ear, "Jesus, this is a boring song." It was from the Calaveras County cutie. Wow. How anyone could think this song was dull ... it boggles the mind. But it just goes to show you that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Actually, come to think of it, that is probably why Scott and his friends love this place, but for me it is simply a nice way to pass the time until your pizza or laundry is ready.

Scott and his roommates were lost in peals of laughter, sharing a bag of jalapeno kettle chips. "Jal-a-pen-oooo!" they let out in unison. Jesus, they do love this place.

"You see why I don't want this to get ruined?" he asked me later with a pleading look in his eyes. Yes, I replied, I get it.

Sorry, Scott. I wrote about it anyway. —Katy St. Clair

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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