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The Self-Loathing Hipster's Guide to [the Universe] S.F. Night Life 

Wednesday, Mar 17 2004
There's a particular, self-inflicted torture of participating in hipster night life -- the elephantine dichotomy in the tiny scene that no one seems all that eager to acknowledge: You always go out, and going out always sucks.

Anyone who employs his liberal arts degree to analyze online music reviews at the office job knows the routine. The tingle starts right after dinner but well before bedtime, with a seductive little scenester birdie on your shoulder. C'mon, it'll be fun, birdie coos. Just for an hour or so. Toss back a of couple drinks, maybe see some friends, maybe meet a cutie with a tight body and a passable vinyl collection. Shit, even if it doesn't end up like some Preston Sturges movie, at least you might get laid.

Resistance to this seduction is futile. So you put on some ass-pants, fast-cash a couple Andy Jacksons, and hit the scene. Birdie on the shoulder quivers with delight on the approach. O, the sweet taste of burgeoning adventure.

But we know all too well how this story ends. Shamefully, we knew it before we started. The taste sours the minute you actually arrive at your destination. As the pupils dilate to the dimly lit dive, Birdie starts to freak. Oh, fuck, THAT guy's here? What a creepy asshole, or Oh, great, apparently it's "awkward retard night" again. Danger Will Oldham, er, Robinson.

The next day, the only thing left to show for the evening is a dull headache from sugary well drinks, a crumb of catty gossip about second-tier indie rockers, and 40 less dollars.

And on the following night, do you learn better? Hell, no. In an act of blatant self-effacement, you press repeat on the awkward experience and play again, as if your life were some kind of twisted adaptation of Groundhog Day with a 19-year-old John Cusack playing you.

Given the abysmal odds for success, confronting this tragic social addiction might be the first step to recovery. So, in the spirit of "can't beat 'em join 'em" we offer this: a night-by-night list of destinations where you can bank on dangerously cheap, heavy pours; passable (often actually OK) music; and relatively few reminders that we choose to live in this, the woefully ballyhooed "smallest big city in America."

Monday: "Vroom" @ El Rio, $3

Hardly a well-kept secret, El Rio's Monday stand-around-and-talk party attracts bridge-and-tunnel indie intelligentsia like so many moths to a flame. The flame? Supercheap drinks ($1 wells and Bud Lights), a relatively low cover, and enough space that you can escape smelling some scene hussy's China Rain and avoid being forced into a "No way! I own Slanted and Enchanted too!"-type conversation. For the true snobs, the usual-suspect turntable selections of soul and punk can be a bit grating, but the many dark corners of the spacious patio are perfect for clandestine people-watching. And if things get too bad, just pull out another dollar.

Alternate: Happy Hour @ Dovre Club, free

Dovre Club's happy hour is a sure thing for cheap drinks and dim lights. And, shhh, you can smoke there.

Tuesday: "Broke as Fuck" @ Hush Hush, free

We hate to even mention Tuesday at Hush Hush, because -- like the club's moniker -- it kind of feels like something that should be kept hella D.L. (to use the parlance of our times). But -- knowing full well that the throngs of Phi Beta Marina girls might soil the night's intimacy -- sing it from the mountaintops: Tuesday night at Hush Hush might be the best self-loathing hipster night in town. It's hard not to fall head over Conversed heels for a night called "Broke as Fuck," which boasts un-ironic hip hop (read: no "My Adidas"), original breaks, and stacks of tight soul 45s. Snuggle into a booth for some coy conversation and when the river of $1 Pabst (i.e., nectar of the gods), $2 shots, and $2 vodka drinks takes hold, switch gears and start talkin' shit.

Alternate: "Elevator in the Brain Hotel" @ Sublounge, free

DJ Doublekick plays a wide gamut of indie boogie, complemented by cheapo drinks and local art shows.

Wednesday: "Ask Dr. Hal @ Odeon Bar", free

(Meta-journalism footnote: The author regrets the absence of a Wednesday night activity and would privately recommend "Ask Dr. Hal" at the Odeon if you are not one of the "woo crowd." This mystifying Wednesday night activity features artsy sage Dr. Hal Robins answering any question the audience can dream up -- for a small donation, of course. Unfortunately, when said author called the Odeon to gather facts about the night, the response of bar owner Chicken John forbade public notice of the event. "Oh, so you like under-attended, unknown little nights around town that are meaningful and cool?" Author wishes to note Chicken's hostile, sarcastic tone. "And you like going to these special little events that are really cool and underground that not a lot of people know about?" Author mumbles agreement. "If you like them, stop ruining the scene by writing about it and become a waiter or something! You'd probably make more money! Because then you wouldn't write about the scene, because when you write about the scene, it dies. I would not like you to write about Dr. Hal or me. It fills my stomach with disgust and it's a weight that I have to endure! All these people from Marin come in -- we call them the 'woo crowd' because they drink Bud Light and yell 'WOO!' -- and they ask Hal things like 'Why is Barbie so silly?' and Barbie is, you know, some girl from Walnut Creek sitting right next to them. So I raise all the prices of the bar so that no one comes in and I'm basically killing my bar business to protect it. But if you want to write about it I can't stop you. Go ahead, play God.")

Alternate: "Random Acts of Music" @ The Bamboo Hut, free

The delightfully cheesy Tiki vibe ensures safe haven from most highbrow hipsters. You can even get drinks in a coconut!

Thursday: "Club Dare" @ Edinburgh Castle, free

First and foremost, '80s nights, by their very definition, are full of shit. The plethora of ironic, Reagan-era jive has some mystical power to turn normally rational people into blubbering piles of nostalgia. That said, the promising freshness of Club Dare is a port in the storm. DJs Little Melanie, Aidan, David, and Cherry Jam have a knack for toeing a tasteful path through the minefield of '80s music on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. Their taste for dark, danceable tunes from the decade includes OMD, Bowie, the Smiths, and New Order. And, at least for now, it's free.

Alternate: Alphabet Soup @ Bruno's, $5

This live band blasts through tirades of hip hop-touched progressive jazz; the perfect antidote to "angular" guitars.

Friday: Live Music @ Thee Parkside / The Hemlock Tavern, admission varies

Avoiding the perils of a Friday night on the town can be a bit dicey. But cross your fingers and hope for salvation at one of these two dives. Its sporadic "Budget Rock" series has made Thee Parkside a safe bet for catching up-and-coming rockers who are usually really good -- while the cover is usually really cheap (in the neighborhood of $5). The workaday charms of the place might not have much by way of Lower East Side savoir-faire, but any transplants from the Midwest might get a little homesick from the tattered linoleum floor, no-bullshit bartenders, and cheapie drinks. If the tunes at Parkside don't have appeal, try the Hemlock where consistently rad shows turn the teeny back room into a sweaty sardine can of artsy-punk-folkie-indie strangeness. Though often uncomfortably crowded, the inspired booking and intimate feel is like taking a trip down memory lane to the basement shows of youth -- or at least you can pretend it does.

Alternate: "Sexotica" @ The Make-Out Room, Free before 10 p.m., $5 after

It's like musical foreplay: DJ King Coffin spins aphrodisiac selections of Indian, Middle Eastern, and Latin grooves.

Saturday: "Browntempo" @ The Tunnel Top, free

Sure, the Tunnel Top might not be the best place for cheapie drinks, but it's free to get in. Sure, the expat Euro vibe might not be so indie. But the Afro-soul mishmash and dim lights have the uncanny ability to tempt even the most stoic of hipsters to the tiny dance floor. Host DJ Alvaro sums up the turntable ethos as a "mix of Latin, Brazilian, and world music on the electronic tip, so to speak," but five minutes in the company of the able hands of Alvaro and his team of turntablists (including DJ Coop d'Ville, Rueben, and Jah Yzer) and you're hooked. Next thing you know, you're covered in sweat, grinding some hottie, and throwing back Mojitos like it's going out of style (which it probably is). After you've worked up an appetite, stumble next door to the newly opened Crepuscule (blissfully open until the wee hours of the weekend) to wolf down fancy-pants French food.

Alternate: "Undertoe" @ Julip Cocktail Lounge, free

DJs Él Ron Hubba Hubba and Doug de Fresh Deacon have mad good taste for rare groove, worldly hip hop, and soul.

Sunday: Rest

Heed the advice of Chicken John, "Go ahead, play God." Even God needed a day of rest.

Alternate: "Mundo" @ Lingba Lounge, free

Don Bustamante and El Doctor spin Afrobeat, Cumbia, and bass-heavy dancehall.

Top 10 Clubs to Get Piss-Drunk and Vomit At

1. The alley beside the Hemlock Tavern: The smell of piss makes you feel less self-conscious.

2. DNA Lounge: You can check your e-mail at the same time.

3. Bimbo's 365 Club: The attendant will always hand you a towel to clean up.

4. The Edinburgh Castle: On a quiz night you'll have the toilet to yourself.

5. The Fillmore's men's room: Since it has a long tub, all five of your buddies can yuke at the same time.

6. Top of the Mark: If the view doesn't make you hurl, the bill will!

7. Tunnel Top: If you can make it outside, you can try to hit tourists on the street below.

8. Cafe Du Nord: You're already bent over so you don't hit your head on the low ceiling.

9. Bottom of the Hill: Think of it as a challenge: If your puke smells worse than the bathroom itself -- you win!

10. Odeon Bar: Everything's a performance here!
-- Dan Strachota

About The Author

Nate Cavalieri


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