Every now and then, I’ll find myself out and about, having a fine time at a drinking establishment that is, for whatever reason, not in The Book. Rather than just thinking it a shame that the place won’t ever be visited in an official capacity, I decided to make this page a place to comment on bars (as opposed to Bars) that would otherwise languish in anonymity. (At the risk of alphabetical anarchy, this list is in reverse chronological order, so that the bar I most recently visited will always be first.)

And yes, I realize I am rather woefully behind on this list, but you know what? I’d like to see you try and keep up with all this drinking and the recounting…!

As a not exactly enigmatic follower of this ridiculous blog — under the spurious pseudonym “Slandered” — commented recently, the 2nd Annual San Francisco Cocktail Week is being celebrated at various venues over the next few increasingly balmy evenings. So if you’ve wondered where The Hostess has been lately, now you’ll know exactly where to find me to come and inquire.

As it happens, on Wednesday and Thursday, there are destinations to be decided, and I’ll be detailing those here, once the determinations are made.  Things may depend on the new mixologist friends I make at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room tonight, where the first drink is free! And of course by the end of the festivities, I’ll have a whole slew of Various Marginalia entries to get further behind on. Life is good.

(Note to “Slandered”: it’s neither slander, defamation, nor libel if it’s the truthPerhaps the concept of veracity is a challenge for you, but it would be ludicrous if your grasp of legalese has lapsed thusly.)

“Opening Gala”

Alcohol aficionada (and jaded cynic) that I am, I do believe have this San Francisco Cocktail Week thing figured out. It appears to be a way to promote the increasingly — and unnecessarily — elaborate cocktails that local self-proclaimed “mixologists” are concocting, utilizing every ingredient known to humanity. Don’t get me wrong, “SF Cocktails Week’s signature cocktail The Soiree” which made its debut at the gala is surprisingly tasty, despite a daunting list of ingredients. And there’s no question that many classic cocktails have been invented in America (the Sazerac, which we are celebrating on Friday, for instance) for the sake of variety and/or choice.

The point is that there are already enough cocktails in existence. Besides, all a thirsty person needs is one’s preferred poison and a glass (or coffee cup, or flask, or other conveyance, although really — in a pinch — drinking straight from the bottle will suffice). The Hostess is categorically and historically opposed to cocktails containing non-alcoholic ingredients (with the possible exception of bacon). Extraneous additives just take up space in the glass, people (and yes, this includes ice). I see this over-complicated cocktail “movement” for what it is: a way to extort egregious amounts of money from the drinking public. And in these current economically uncertain times, this is more or less basically unconscionable.

Notwithstanding my aversion to the monetary motive behind overly-engineered cocktails, “celebrat[ing] the dynamic beverage culture of our community” — however cynically — is pretty fun, so far. OK, so it’s hard to go wrong with Harry Denton’s as a venue. And free drinks are the hallmark of a guaranteed good time. There was even free food (but The Hostess is never impressed with a buffet, preferring her appetizers to be passed, thank you). Eventually, of course, there were far too many people there, but not before I had the pleasure of meeting four friendly folks. And get this: one of them even already knew about this ridiculous blog!!!

I felt phamous (fauxmous?) — it was rather surprising. But more importantly, it reminded me how critically crucial continuing my quest is. Bars By The Book needs to accomplish its mission to be the San Francisco Bar information resource. The Hostess has a responsibility — not just to my own crazy calling — but to The Barflies, present and future. So, once San Francisco Cocktail Week wraps up its unabashed marketing campaign for overwrought drinks, I’m picking up where I left off, and I’m inviting YOU to join me. But even if it’s just me and 2,500 square feet of gay guys that night, my vodka-fueled vocation will abide.

“Farmers’ Market Cocktails”

Pre-sale tix were sold out, and, contrary to what we were led to believe, they were not still available for purchase at the door.  Good thing I planned ahead in case that turned out to not be the case, so I headed over to Pier 23 Cafe as planned. What a great place! Way better than the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture’s kitchen, I’m quite sure. Don’t worry, I’ll be filling in the details soon…

“A Night of Cocktail Dinners”

I had quite a few drinks the night before: 2 raspberry margaritas at Pier 23 Cafe, 1 watermelon martini at the Tunnel Top, and half a bottle of pinot grigio with some chi-chi sushi and chilled shellfish at Bar Crudo, it being really far too hot to eat cooked food. Thursday being even hotter than Wednesday, it was too hot to eat, period, so I stayed hydrated with some Gatorinis at the Mystery Mansion. I’m sure the dinners were lovely, but I had to rest up to save the allegedly imperiled Sazerac the next afternoon…

 “Save the Sazerac”

I’m sorry, is the Sazerac in mortal danger?  Does this have something to do with global warming and melting arctic ice sheets?  Are those polar bears involved somehow?  Hmm.  Call me skeptical.  I’ve enjoyed several Sazeracs in recent memory.  Alembic has reliably satisfied many a Sazerac Attack. Yoshi’s on Fillmore makes one with orange bitters that is actually worth paying $10 for (especially if someone else is buying). Tony Klifton assures me that the Orbit Room Cafe makes an excellent version of this classic cocktail.

But it really doesn’t matter if some of the details about this event and venue may be exaggerated — The Hostess is no stranger to poetic license, after all.  And if there’s going to be a barful of Sazeracs at 3pm, I am definitely going to be there, and early.  And when it gets too crowded, which I’m sure it will, I’ll probably head over to the Double Dutch, because I really love that place, and it’s basically a block away.  Then, if it ever gets cool enough to eat, what better place to be than smack dab in the middle of the Mission?  Afternoon drinking + cheap Mexican food = best Friday in a long time.  I’ll certainly let you know all about it…

“Literature, Booze and History”

Wow.  Wait ’til you hear about this truly amazing evening…


Like all good things — and freakish heat waves — San Francisco Cocktail Week must come to an end.  I know I speak for many when I say it was a real blast.  I could go on and on (as you well know) but I don’t want to get teary. 

So here’s the deal for tonight: some folks who paid $45.00 are going to be at Absinthe at 6:00pm.  I decided not to join them, mostly because absinthe (the drink, not the restaurant) is disgusting, and most people believe so many incorrect things about it that it hurts my head to hear them spout the nonsense they do (oh, and they do, bolstered no doubt by w***pedia and other stellar sources of misinformation on the Internet). 

Since last Thursday was Bike to Work Day, I found myself fondly remembering last year’s Bike to Work Day, which I creatively celebrated as Bike to the Bar Day. That Bar was Breezy’s, but Breezy’s was (most annoyingly) not yet open for business. After much redirection, I ended up at Absinthe, which is right across the street from Breezy’s.

Therefore, since it struck me as fitting to do so (and surely you can see the logic at work), while the local cocktail crew is clustered at Absinthe, I’ll be hosting a less-expensive evening across the street. I’ve invited all the new friends I made this week, and I’m inviting you, too.

I’ll be there around 6:00pm. Hope to see you there.  I’ve been making so much merry lately that I honestly don’t know when I’ll have the energy to get out and about again…

El Rio & 3300 Club ( 9 May 2008 )

The Swingin’ Door ( 4 May 2008 )

Grand National Rodeo ( 11 April 2008 )

After concluding Bars By The Books moderately successful hiatus, The Hostess had certainly hoped to resume this regimented raucousness in a more regularly scheduled fashion. Alas, wrangling with the feds over my trumped-up status as a felon is taking much longer than expected, and is rather unfortunately draining most of my energies at the moment. Moreover, I may very well technically be “on the lam”, so to speak, so there is the wisdom of announcing my exact where-and-whence abouts to question. If this federal ineptitude drags on much longer, I may have to go on hiatus again. Hell, I may have to leave the country!

But I would never expatriate myself before attending the most patriotic and all-American sporting event of all time. I speak, of course, of that laser-lit, 1980’s rock-n-rolling, cowboy convention extravaganza known as the Grand National Rodeo, held this time each year at the erstwhile endangered Cow Palace. I didn’t have my cowboy boots re-soled last month just to wear to sneak across the border, pardner. And no way Jose am I fixin’ to miss out on the one night of the year I dust off my cowboy hat. Besides, I used the shot glasses I had from previous years’ rodeos for target practice, so my collection’s integrity really must be restored…

They do serve drinks there, after all. And what better place to elude the long-arm of the law than an arena full of wildly-western iconic Americana? If any federal judiciary flunkees show up, my exit strategy can include horse thievery and they can write me another bogus citation for that. That is, if they can catch me as I gallop off into the sunset. Yippie-ki-yay, ya’ll!!!

Outside of Fresh Air Bicycles ( 22 March 2008 )

I honestly don’t know what it is about me and Easter-time that finds yours truly shanghaied by friendly strangers who want to ply me with alcohol, but this is the second year in a row such an auspicious occurrence has happened to me, and I’m categorically NOT complaining. (See the account of my being kidnapped on the #1 California bus further down in these Marginalia listings…)

So, special Easter greetings to my new friends at 9th & Balboa (none of whom actually celebrate the holiday, I don’t think). Thanks for the champagne and the smokes — and for carrying my bike up and down two flights of stairs. And thank you for being such shining examples of spontaneously good company. And gracias, of course, for not being gang-raping axe-murderers (there may be hope for humanity, folks!). Hope to see you at any Once and Future Bar(s) that may strike your fancy. Y’all are the sort of people who make me think maybe I really don’t not like people as much as I think I do.

Ocean Beach bonfires ( 9 March 2008 )

Guyamas Tiburon, CA / (415) 435-6300 ( 8 March 2008)

City Beer Store 1168 Folsom St. / (415) 503-1033 ( 2 March 2008 )

Rite Spot Cafe 2099 Folsom St. / (415) 552-6066 ( 1 March 2008 )

Mr. Smith’s Whiskey Club 7th St. @ Market ( 27 February 2008 )

Elite Cafe 2049 Fillmore St. / (415) 346-8400 ( 5 February 2008 )

Yoshi’s ( 27 January & 14 February 2008 )

Martin Mack’s Bar Restaurant 1568 Haight St. / (415) 864-0124 ( 21 January 2008 )

What better place to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, really? It’s technically a Cocktail Lounge, and it’s Irish. Does this combination not scream civil rights to you?

Warwick Hotel 490 Geary St. / (415) 928-7900 ( 8 January 2008 )

Blushe (25 December 2007)

Festa (19 December 2007)

Monterey (October 2007)

Awful Al’s Syracuse, NY (July 2007)

I. Bambuddha Lounge 601 Eddy St. / (415) 885-5088

II. Bimbo’s 365 Club 1025 Columbus Ave. / (415) 474-0365 (18 June 2007)

I finally made it to this San Francisco institution with the Girl Posse to see Bebel Gilberto. I was pretty excited to enjoy a night with my best buddies along with some Bosa Nova, and to get to check out this venue at long last on a globally-warmed balmy night in June in San Francisco. Not to cut to the chase, but Bebel G. is no Maria Rita in terms of talented progeny of Bosa Nova legends, Bimbo’s is no Yoshi’s in terms of most excellent places to see live music, and men who are actually on dates should really refrain from hitting on other people while they are at the bar, waiting for a drink to bring their aforementioned dates…(I mean, really.)

Bimbo’s, as a space (and as an institution) ,is inarguably delightful. You literally walk through the doors and are transported to an earlier (and much more lovely) era. It’s just a glamorous room — well-lit in terms of making everyone look their best, and generally quite plush. Courtney Cox and David Arquette are alleged to have had their wedding reception at Bimbo’s (and for an evening wedding in the winter, The Hostess can see how this would work nicely); and various local San Franciscans I know have been to proms and pageants there, which makes sense because Bimbo’s atmosphere is very special occasion-y.

What Bimbo’s is not, I’m sad to say, is a very good place to see a concert. Now, there are mediocre places to see a concert all over San Francisco where a person happily goes anyway just to see a particularly favorite act. But when you are going to see a show at TThe Fillmore (or The Independent), for instance, you expect a degree of gritty standing-up-for-the-duration and having strangers rub up against you whilst you are doing so. The aesthetic at the Fillmore (or The Independent) does not make this any more unpleasant than it would otherwise be. Everyone else is similarly standing around just as haphazardly as you are. This is not the case at Bimbo’s. At Bimbo’s, lots of people are sitting at tables where waitresses are bringing them drinks. And lots of other people are standing around on what is undoubtedly a nice dance floor, but is a crappy place to watch a musical performance, due largely to the distracting fact that the people standing there are surrounded by the tantalizing spectacle of the civilized tables with cocktail service.

OK, enough whining about the fact that I wasn’t at a table. I myself assured the Girl Posse Angels that it didn’t matter to me — and I didn’t think it would — but I was thinking of Bimbo’s along the lines of The Fillmore (or The Independent), where it doesn’t matter — how was I to know what Bimbo’s was really like? The seating situation in Bimbo’s is not really the point. I have only gone on about it so in case whoever is reading this has also never been there and is interested in maximizing their experience of a particular musical performance: go early. Wait in line outside (it will probably be windy, so bring a jacket) and grab yourself a table, preferably one of the ones behind the “dance floor” — these are elevated somewhat and will afford you a better view, the better to enjoy with your cocktail delivery service. Enough about seating options…

The good news is that there are multiple bars in Bimbo’s. I counted at least three, and there could well be more. The interesting thing is that none of these bars actually has stools (or hooks, for that matter), so there is no rest to be had for the foot-weary who also have to fetch their own drinks at Bimbo’s (although anyone there on a date with someone who thinks nothing of flirting with pretty strangers at the bar, regardless of the fact that he is there on a date, might want to consider getting her own drinks no matter what). Still and all, so many bars means hardly any waiting for a drink, once you abandon the “dance floor” because the tall person who has installed herself in front of you (via her elbows and dearth of social politesse) has bumped into you for the last time before you will have to decide whether it’s really worth it to slug her. And not having to wait for a drink is an inarguably good thing according to Bars By The Book.

Another good thing is happening upon that certain special kind of bartender who is truly a credit to his (or her) profession, which is what may happen to you if you are there, as I was, when Saul is working (hi, Saul!) and you are fortunate enough to find yourself at the back bar when he is doing his amazing watercolors. Let me be clear: I think that the back bar is really supposed to be for the cocktail waitresses who are serving drinks to the swells at the tables, but the bartenders will serve anyone who doesn’t get in the waitresses way, apparently. I had wandered around looking for a decent vantage point in proximity to where I could obtain a cocktail when I found the back bar, and Saul. He fixed my drink and sent off a giant tray for a waitress and then proceeded to pull out a watercolor paint set and some paper on which he then began to paint a representation of the room, Bebel included. I was transfixed. I had never seen anything like it at a bar (or a concert, for that matter, and I used to follow the frickin’ Grateful Dead around the East Coast). I was compelled to ask him if he minded if I watched him. He assured me that he didn’t, and I have to say he was more entertaining than Ms Gilberto, for my money. He was also charming and personable and dashed off two paintings without compromising his drink-making. To top it all off, he managed to sell his first watercolor to someone right then and there (but he sent me a digital copy of the second — and we both agreed, better — one the very next day, which I will put up here if he says it’s ok…Saul?). The Girl Posse finally found me with Saul, and got to enjoy his company for a bit until we decided to split (before Bebel’s encore, I might add).

No discussion of Bimbo’s would be complete without a description of the bathroom experience. I cannot, of course, speak to what the mens’ room is like, but the ladies’ room is two parts over-the-top razzle-dazzle and one part annoyingly repetitious. By which I mean that there is an attendant, with a lot of the things of which a lady might wish to avail herself whilst powdering her nose, including hairspray. And she hands you paper towels. OK. But this begs the question of whether or not you need to tip her — which is really pretty silly when you think about it — and then there is her initially amusing but ultimately annoyingly unvarying patter regarding why people pee on public toilet seats but certainly don’t do so in their own homes. I see her point, but I wonder if such disgusting persons don’t actually pee on their own toilet seats, and I really would prefer not to hear about it over and over again, frankly. If Bimbo’s wants to create jobs for washroom attendants, that’s great, but they could instruct them to be less chatty, in my opinion, or at least more interesting and conversant on a larger range of topics.

All in all, I’d gladly go back to Bimbo’s. Especially if Saul was working. I’d just wear more comfortable shoes…

III. Solstice Restaurant & Lounge 2801 California St. / (415) 359-1222 (15 & 21 June 2007)

Alas, I thought I had found my new favorite neighborhood spot. Not a Bar, not a Cocktail Lounge, but a Restaurant & Lounge, but whatever. Paladin and I were enjoying our second Friday in a row at Solstice. We had befriended the most delightful bartender (hi, Nathan!), dined on delicious steak tacos I think must have been made with filet mignon, and I had even switched to champagne, so I could stay all night. Around 9:00, a madly skilled dj started spinning (real records, too, not all pre-programmed, but masterly mixed right before our very eyes!) and I made my way through the suddenly pretty crowded lounge to see if he had a card so I could be one of his groupies (I tell you, this guy was great). On my way back to the bar, some sloppy drunken idiot (henceforth to be referred to as The Annoying Bitch) plowed into me, and let’s just say things went downhill from there…

And rapidly. Determined not to let anything spoil my happy mood, I merely whispered, “Rude, much?” under my breath as I made my way back to the bar, where Paladin was overtipping the bartender with my credit card. Unfortunately, The Annoying Bitch was also headed in the direction of the bar when she plowed into me, so when she finally got there (after plowing into who knows how many others, I’m sure), she saw me and poked me and slurred, “Hey, I didn’t mean to bump into you.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The Annoying Bitch poked me. Me! It is a fact that I generally do not like people. Bartenders, my friends, boys who hold doors open for me, the custodian at work who saves me a killer parking space — these are exceptions to my general rule of not liking people, as a concept. Drunken people who plow into me in bars? Don’t like ’em. And drunken people who plow into me in bars and then poke me, whoa.

I was a model of restraint, really. “Whatever,” I said, and turned around. But The Annoying Bitch would not cease and desist bothering me. I asked her nicely to leave me alone. She would not stop blathering about how she didn’t mean to plow into me, blah blah blah. I implored Paladin to ask her to shut up and go away. He tried to, but she had got herself very worked up by then and had resorted to calling me names, for no reason. I tell you, The Annoying Bitch had been seriously overserved somewhere (unless she is always a moron, even when sober).

Well, I had pretty much had it with her harshing my mellow, so when I saw out of the corner of my eye that she was moving her pock-mark and pancake makeup shellacked face in towards mine in order to spew more of her drunken insults, I formed my hand into a fist and put it where she expected to find my ear. I imagine that she was quite surprised indeed to smash her face into my clenched hand instead of my smooth hair, but really, The Annoying Bitch should have left me alone in the first place and then she never would have bumped her face into my hand, now would she?

I didn’t stick around to find out if she got over the shock. I imagined wild accusations on her part were about to ensue, and The Annoying Bitch had really already ruined enough of my evening, so I took my leave of the place. Paladin later informed me that the manager told him I was no longer welcome there. ME! Not The Annoying Bitch who drunkenly stumbles around plowing into people and then poking them? Well, let me say this about that: there are 129 Bars in this town, Mr. Restaurant & Lounge manager, and I may only have been to 16 of them — Officially speaking — but I have not experienced in any of them the kind of unruly and audacious behavior in clientele as I had the misfortune to experience in your establishment.

On account of the ill-mannered types one is apparently likely to encounter drunkenly careening about at Solstice, I cannont in good faith recommend that anyone check it out. I hope a lesson can be learned from my experience there, though, and this is that if one does bump into someone in a bar (or a restaurant & lounge, as the case may be), the only correct response is to apologize, on the spot, profusely. The Bump-er should at no time continue to invade the personal space of the Bump-ee, and this includes, but is not limited to, poking. Finally, if the Bump-ee shows no signs of wishing to further engage with the Bump-er, then the Bump-er is obligated to leave the Bump-ee alone. Period.

Now Paladin is not known for being especially honest, so there is a chance that he made up that bit about me being 86-ed from Solstice. So Nathan, if you read this, and I can, in fact, come sit at your bar again, let me know. I promise to leave before the bridge & tunnel riff-raff stumbles in from now on!

IV. Dawn Ranch Lodge, Guerneville, CA (dates obscured to preserve annonymity)

OK, most of you know that I am on the fast-track to spinsterhood (albeit the ceaselessly sexy variety), and that watching other people get married is pretty low on the list of things I can stand even the most fleeting thought of (just above going on the wagon, basically), but if you have to get married — and in the unlikely event of my own miraculous matrimony, you can be sure some duress is going to be involved (in fact, if you know anyone who owns a shotgun and is willing to keep it aimed at the groom during the ceremony, put them in touch with me, will you?) {Note to self: since even though you sooo thought of Pachebels Cannon way before anyone else ever did, but now it is over-used as a wedding processional, your new choice is “One Singular Sensation” from “A Chorus Line” which is really a way better song anyway.} — as I was saying: if you have to get married, you could pick a worse place to tie the knot than Dawn Ranch Lodge.

I am still so surprised at what a good time I had at a wedding, of all places, that I hardly know where to start, so I’ll begin with a little history. Dawn Ranch Lodge is the property formerly known as Fife’s, which was a (perhaps even the) destination for gay Russian River revelers, back in the day. Apparently, Fife Creek, which flows down the middle of the 15-acre spread, flooded a few years ago (before global warming and the drought we here in California are poised to start panicking about) and sort of wrecked the place. Rather than restore it, the owners sold it to some new folks who decided to change the orientation toward the destination wedding business. Now, since gay people still can’t get married legally in California (which is really just silly, to say nothing of discriminatory, and also further diminishes my own marriage prospects by arbitrarily halving my pool of potential partners), Dawn Ranch Lodge is not any longer a so-called “gay mecca”, but I am pleased to report that a lot of the gay staff seems to have been retained. I hope that the re-orientation was made for purely financial reasons, since astronomical surcharges for anything wedding-affiliated seem to be the norm, but I am sorry that the gay community lost such a charming place in the process. Still and all, I’m pretty sure they’d be happy to let same sex couples have their civil union ceremonies there, too.

So, they changed the name to Dawn Ranch Lodge (and even made up a story about “discovering” two rare “Dawn Redwoods” from China growing on the property to obscure the fact that the name change was just part of the re-orientation process), removed of all traces of rainbows (I’m assuming this part), and got themselves a slick website that creates the impression that they have been the setting for memorable and effortlessly co-ordinated ceremonies of all sizes for years. In fact, this wedding I attended was their third. And their largest — at 200 guests — to date. And this is actually quite unbelievable, considering the fantastic-ness of the whole weekend.

Yes, it was one of those cringe-inducing weekend-long weddings, but at least it wasn’t a federally-sponsored three-day weekend, so I only rolled one eye. And there was no superfluous day after the wedding breakfast (display of bloody sheets optional), so that was a relief (although the restaurant at the ‘Ranch does not serve breakfast, and there seems to be only one place in “downtown” Guerneville that does, so we all sort of wound up in the same place anyway). But I went there determined to find fault, and this is all I could come up with, after no small amount of effort, I might add:

  1. All wedding printed material (and there was sort of a lot of it, frankly) contained grammatical errors (and was annoyingly devoid of any capitalization). But here I must mention that the bride and groom are best known for being good-looking, not their intellects.
  2. The beds at Dawn Ranch Lodge are small — 6 foot plus persons will not be able to contain their whole selves on them — and they are a little on the lumpy side. The pillows are terrible.
  3. The linens at Dawn Ranch Lodge are spartan (but they do provide robes). There is also a complete dearth of counter space in bathrooms, and there are no full-length mirrors in the rooms, which they are going to have to fix if they really want people to have fancy weddings there.
  4. The dinner was buffet style – ugh.
  5. The bridesmaids’ dresses were, as usual, tragic. And strapless – ick.
  6. The bride’s dress was strapless. Please.
  7. The mothers of the bride and groom both wore pants. Ladies, come on! A wedding, unless it on a beach (and even then only maybe) calls for — at a minimum — a skirt. Is this Hillary’s doing? (And I am absolutely serious when I say that I will not vote for her if she doesn’t ditch the pants suits.) Even both of the nuns who hate me (and yes, there are, in fact, two of them, believe it or not) were uncharacteristically showing some shin. The mothers looked under-dressed, even for a wedding in a meadow in the middle of a forest.
  8. A disconcerting number of female guests wore black. Honestly, does it take a girl from that outpost of civilization known as the state of Maine to tell you that this is just Not Done? You can argue the thing about not wearing white shoes (or straw hats) between Labor Day and Memorial Day with me until the cows come home (and I’ll still be right), but a woman simply Does Not wear black to a wedding!!! Black is for funerals. Or nights at the opera. Or anywhere, anyplace, and anytime other than a wedding. The one exception might be if one is attending an invitation-specified “black-tie” or “white-tie” evening wedding, and even then, you should seriously consider all other colors and patterns. I’m not wrong about this.
  9. The lavatory facilities in “The Orchard” area leave a lot to be desired (you can use your imagination, but the lack of soap was not even the worst part).
  10. There is no 10. That’s all I could come up with.

Dawn Ranch Lodge has real (as in authentic — the place is over 100 years old) rustic charm. It feels a lot like what I imagine summer camp to be (I never actually went to summer camp, so I am speculating a bit). The word “cozy” comes to mind. In point of fact, it’s pretty frickin’ precious. There’s a (somewhat steep and perhaps precarious) trail down to the river, there are butterflies flitting about absolutely everywhere, and there’s a bar (which is all done in blond wood and really quite a lovely spot). What more do you need for a relaxing weekend? A pool, you say? They have that, too. I’d gladly go back to Dawn Ranch Lodge again, even if I had to watch someone else get married, which is high praise indeed from me, the future proprietress of the Spinster Chateau. (Come to think of it, this place would be a perfect venue for the countryside counterpart to the urban version of the Chateau!!! That would mean I could pluralize it and have Chateaux. This idea has some definite possibilites…)

V. Northstar 1560 Powell St. / (415) 397-0577 (7 June 2007)

Northstar is not a Bar. Nor is it a Cocktail Lounge, thank goodness, because that means I do not have to go back there. I’m not sure why I had never been there before — after all, they have the phrase “drinking consultants since” 1800-something painted on their exterior wall, so the place has been calling to me for some time…

I had just endured an arduous rehearsal dinner at the Cliff House’s Terrace Room (beer, wine, and champagne only at the party, which really could have benefited greatly from hard liquor) as the Technical Guest of the father of the groom. After desert, and as the more despicable relations left (still seething at fact of my presence and perceptibly miserable on account of which – HA!), the kids in the wedding party begged my Escort to join them at the after party at Northstar, which is where the bride and groom first met. Given A#1 that the Escorts’ Standards of Ethical Conduct frown on leaving Escorts Un-Escorted (you will have to trust me on this), and B#2, the guy had no clue whatsoever where the Northstar was, I agreed to accompany him there, figuring at least I could get an actual cocktail there.

Well, I figured wrong. I did order a vodka club (water program, I was being such a good girl!), and paid $5.50 for it, but there was no noticeable trace of vodka in the glass of ice and club soda I was served. I volunteered to make my way through the throngs of people packing the place to scout for members of the wedding party, and had beer spilled on me at least three times. Why so many people un-affiliated with this wedding were at Northstar, I cannot say. I don’t even understand what the bride and groom were doing in there the night they met each other in the first place. The place simply has zero going for it. It’s just plain unattractive, the jukebox seems only to have Billy Idol songs, and the drinks are terrible. Take it from me and steer clear of Northstar (and you’re welcome).

But as long as I’m here, I may as well fill you in on The Monster Wedding Works. The rehearsal was a soundly pronounced a great success by all (in spite of my disconcerting presence, the kitchen’s pathetic interpretation of “blackened salmon”, and the out-of-towners complaining about having the sun in their eyes during a rare and glorious sunset so that the shades had to be drawn). The groom’s mother adored me by the end of the evening, her husband had promised to dance with me at the wedding, and his oldest daughter — the proverbial black sheep of that little nuclear-fusion-blended family unit — said she wanted to be my new best friend. Not only that, but the number of people who hated me there were vastly out-numbered by 10-to-1, and were visibly uncomfortable with my smooth sailing among and amidst the other two families present, which is what I call karma, and further proof that people who fail to appreciate my charms (and/or actively hate me for no reason) are basically severely flawed in the judgement department (if not downright sociopathic).

The best part of the evening was how many people — completely on their own, with no prodding from me, being the Expert Ethical Escort that I am — expressed negative opinions of the groom’s grandfather, aka patriarch of the cabal of crazies that hates me. The man’s own favorite daughter was complaining about his character! It was music to my ears. Oh, and everyone is warning everyone else to not get cornered by his gabby and blathering girlfriend — all their words and not mine. Karma, people. It is a lovely thing to witness, and can sometimes almost be worth the wait.

Now if only the one nun who hates me (there are actually two of them, if you can believe it) will get molested and eaten by a gorilla on her upcoming trip to Africa, I think I might start believing in Justice again. Until that happens (and I’m quite willing to be patient and wait for something even more fitting to befall the so-called Sister who never learned the Golden Rule) , the Cliff House is a fine setting for expensive drinks on a clear evening, but stay away from the salmon. And avoid Northstar in North Beach at all costs, of course.

VI. Golden Gate Fields (19 May 2007)

Yes, it’s a racetrack. And it’s in the East Bay, which is a pretty far ways to go to have a drink, especially at 9:00am on a Saturday morning. But Nora Charles loves the races, and two years ago we watched the Kentucky Derby together in a luxury condo on Maui, and she didn’t see the Derby at all this year, and that made me sad. So we had made plans to watch The Preakness Stakes together, although sadly, not on Maui. She gave me three options: watch it at her house (zero parking, we’d invite other people, and no one would probably come), watch it at a b(B)ar (ho-hum, really) or go to Golden Gate Fields (where we could place bets, wear cute outfits — maybe even hats! — and where we were sure to find men to buy us drinks, she was quite certain). Well, that wasn’t too tough to decide, now was it? So, entirely egregiously early on that Saturday morning, Nora Charles came to fetch me at the Mystery Mansion and we were off (decidedly glad for Nora Charles’ heated seats because our cute outfits were not at all up to the San Francisco chilliness at that hour), as they say at the races.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect. But I don’t believe I have ever had a bad time when Nora Charles was around, so I wasn’t worried. By the time the valets handed us out of the car (sooo unlike the blue-jacketed savages in North Beach who mess up your seat and mirrors and radio AND flagrantly violate the law by parking in residential spaces — barbarians!), I was thinking this had been a good idea, early morning-ness notwithstanding. It was already quite balmy in Berkeley, and I asked the valet who he liked in The Preakness. He asked me who I liked, and I admitted I was on the Street Sense bandwagon (of course — this being the only horse’s name I knew in the race), and he gave me his feelings about which horse would win (which I shall reveal in due time). Then into the racetrack Nora Charles and I went.

I confess that it seemed a bit cavernous at first. As in: there was barely anybody in a space that was obviously designed to accommodate huge crowds of people. There is also a somewhat baffling number of areas to perch oneself, so it’s a good thing I had Nora Charles to knowingly consider our options and steer us toward, well, frankly, I’m not sure precisely what they call where we ended up, but I can tell you this: we didn’t go up or down any escalators. And there was a bar, with a bartender named Tony, who quickly had us move to the center of the bar, saying that later on, when it got busy, the bar would be divided into zones with other bartenders, and he wanted to be sure we his. Before the charming-ness of this sentiment was fully-impressed upon us, the only other person at the bar — a dapper gent in a tie and a hat, with copious racing paperwork spread out in front of him — told Tony that he would “like to buy the ladies a drink”. (Hello? Is Heaven a racetrack?)

That’s when Nora Charles and I met our new friend Del Mar (hi, Del Mar!). He is a complete gentleman, total sweetheart, and a very knowledgeable gambler. He was also kind and patient enough to remind Nora Charles (and explain for the first time to clueless me) what all the microscopic codes in the Program meant. Furthermore, he told us how to make an exotic bet called an Exacta, which is a better way to make money than betting on win, place, and/or show, and he took time out of his own busy betting business to escort us to the wagering machines to make sure we placed our bets correctly.

But before any of that happened, Tony and Del Mar realized Nora Charles and I had no clue that the race we were there to see did not actually start for almost six hours. That’s right, two college-educated, impeccably-attired, internet-savvy ladies both independently got the time of the race wrong. The Preakness was actually the 12th race at Pimlico that afternoon, where they were just getting around to starting the 6th one when we ordered our spicy first Bloody Mary’s, courtesy of Del Mar. Nora Charles and I could not believe our error. But did we let a little thing like the prospect of spending hours at a bar stop us from our goal of watching a certain race at a certain place that day? No, we did not. We were just going to have to pace ourselves, was all … which meant switching to vodka cranberries after our second spicy Bloody Mary’s (when Tony says spicy, he means it, making for excellent eye-openers before noon, but could conceivably lead to trouble if left unchecked).

Pace ourselves is what I am proud to say we did. And the time mix-up gave us a lot longer to get to know Del Mar. He made a point of making sure I got outside to see the actual track (which is surprisingly pretty) and one live race. Then we all went upstairs to the Turf Club, where there is a dress code (which I love) and where there are white tablecloths and there’s an extra cover charge (to keep out those who have “lost their shirts”, I imagine). When it was finally time for The Preakness, that’s where we were, drinking champagne and at least I was toasting the valet who had correctly predicted that Curlin would win, meaning I won something like $1.36 for taking his advice. (Del Mar will tell you, betting the favorites to win is not the way to win big money.)

What you should know about Golden Gate Fields is that it is a completely delightful place to spend a sunny afternoon. There are bars on all three levels, chicken wings (among other food options), and lots of friendly people (the crowds do pick up after noon). The people who work there are very nice (especially Tony), and they always say to you, “Good luck,” in a way that truly seems sincere. Nora Charles and I had a blast. I highly recommend you check it out. It’s really quite a festive experience. Now, I can’t promise you that you will have as much fun as the two of us did, but if Del Mar is there and Tony is working, the odds are in your favor.

VII. The Secret Bar in San Francisco (sshhh!) (9 May 2007)

Look, what can I say? It’s a “secret bar” in San Francisco. Either you know about it, or you don’t. And I’m not going to be the one to tell you what it’s called. I’m all about secrets. (I live in a place called “The Secret House” and/or “The Mystery Mansion”, fer crissakes!) But I will tell you this: after being told, and promptly forgetting, the name of this joint numerous times since it opened last fall, I was recently reminded what it is called yet again and could not resist the delicious fact that it’s name falls squarely between the Boom Boom Room (Bar # 12) and Brazen Head (Bar # 13), alphabetically speaking, and I had to schedule my Off The Page visit accordingly.

And schedule you must, Barflies. While you can go and get into one part of the bar without a reservation, Wanda (that trendy little minx who goes there quite often — mystifyingly without moi, I must add) assures me that you want to be in the reservations-required room. So of course that’s what I arranged. And it’s a process. Registration is required (as is internet access, as far as I could determine). Names and passwords and e-mail addresses — the works. And I know what you are thinking right now — because I was thinking it, too — “there’s no way this place can live up to this much faux-hype”. And we were right. Sort of…

So. You make the internet reservation, and they give you “the password” (no, I am not making this up, mind you). And THEN they also e-mail you “the password”, just to make sure you have it, I suppose. And THEN they call you on the day of your scheduled visit, to be sure you have “the password”. OK. It’s a bit much (to put it mildly). And, in the spirit of “the password”, let me just re-iterate: “And I know what you are thinking right now — because I was thinking it, too — ‘there’s no way this place can live up to this much faux-hype’. And we were right. Sort of…”

It’s on a pretty sketchy corner, frankly. And the door is pretty non-discript (as — ironically, perhaps — described on their website). You do need to say “the password” to get in. And then, there you are. Escorted to a booth by a fetching (if you’re lucky like we were) young lip-glossilicious thing and handed a fairly daunting menu of…drinks. Pages and pages of…drinks. Granted, my idea of Heaven, but I was trying to soak up my share of the allegedlly rarefied atmosphere, and the menu of…drinks was not only fairly daunting, it was downright heavy. As in: hard to hold up heavy. (And I work out, you know.)

That’s where the genius of the “amuse-booze” comes in handy. Yes, like the oh-so-preciously-trendy “amuse bouche”, only in an alcohol (i.e. superiour) format. My (in the spirit of the secret nature of the spot) Mystery Drinking Companion and I enjoyed the wierd blueberry concoction that was served to us, in no small part due to the clever name “amuse-booze”, I am sure.

We did finally make it through that daunting menu of…drinks. And, being the new fan of flavored vodka — thanks to the “Syracuse Spring” — that I am, I bravely ordered something called a “Cucumber Gimlet” that was inventively comprised of cucumber-infused (infusion being vastly superior to the pedestrian flavoring, as our speak-easy-tress convincingly informed us upon my ordering this completely unlikley — for me — concoction) vodka and champagne (really, what were the chances this mixture could go wrong?). My Mystery Drinking Companion ordered something champagne-y, and we settled into the business of sizing up the joint.

There are hooks. But who has to sit at the bar? There are no backs on the barstools (which look pretty uncomfortable, in a metalic sort of way). And, if you have a reservation, why would you be sitting there? Confusement set in almost immediately: is the chandellier Chiluly (I am pretty sure I am spelling this wrong) or not? What happened to the other half of one side of our booth’s seat? Why don’t they have a dress code (although it turned out to be a good thing that they don’t, for us — and a lot of of others). And finally: if I had to reserve a table for a specific number of persons for a specific duration of time (1.5 hours), why didn’t they kick us out at 10:30pm (as planned)?

Returning to our mutual initial wondering: “And I know what you are thinking right now — because I was thinking it, too — ‘there’s no way this place can live up to this much faux-hype’. And we were right. Sort of…” — I’m sticking with “Sort of…”. It’s not as bad as I was thinking it might be; but it’s not as special as they would have you think. The place could be way more pretentious and full of itself, which would be obnoxious. But it could also enforce its “House Rules” (no cell phones, speak quietely, no cameras, enter and exit quickly & discreetly) — not to mention implement a decent dress code — a bit more strongly, which would certainly help to justify the steep price of their (albeit inventive and not too shabby) cocktails.

In conclusion, I would take out-of-towners here. I do not think it is actually a serious “Secret Bar In San Francisco”. It definitley seemed like a regular bar by the time my Mystery Drinking Companion and I left, by which I mean: it was getting crowded, people were jockeying for seats, and there was a line for the ladies’ room. I would be happy to go back if someone else was paying. Or if it was not in the middle of some freakish gobal-warming heat wave (there are no widnows). It’s schticky, but they are rocking their stated schtick, and not to egregious levels, so as long as you keep in mind our mantra about the place (“And I know what you are thinking right now — because I was thinking it, too — ‘there’s no way this place can live up to this much faux-hype’. And we were right. Sort of…”) and you don’t mind going through a whole process just to go and have a drink, it’s worth a drink. But the fact is that there are 130 other actual Bars in San Francisco where it is not as difficult, or expensive, to have just as nice a drink, as we have learned, only 13 Bars in. (I am sooo proud of us!)

VIII. Syracuse, New York (April 22 – 24, 2007)

OK, so the relevancy to this ridiculous blog of a report on drinking conditions in Syracuse, NY has been questioned, but I don’t care. This is a page specifically created to describe bars that are not in The Book, and that distinction applies to every bar in Syracuse, so there. Besides, if I am in Syracuse someday even stranger things may happen and you could find yourself in Syracuse, too, and now you will know where to drink, so you’re welcome.

I was pretty worried when I checked into the hotel so recently known as the Marx Hotel that everyone still calls it that and discovered that the Syracuse yellow pages list a mere 8 “Bars & Grills”, only 5 of which are actually in Syracuse proper. “Cocktail Lounges” didn’t help matters, anemically listing only 3 establishments, including a bowling alley in the neighboring village of Mattydale, and the local American Legion Post. Granted, this sort of nightmarish scenario is why I travel with a fifth in my suitcase, but this was grim by any standards. Fortunately, a quick check of “Taverns” revealed 82 places proud to be listed as such, and I was instantly cheered up.

My perusal of the local yellow pages was purely academic, though. It turns out that the hotel bar is called The Library Lounge, and also happens to be delightfully appointed with comfy couches, leather armchairs, and candles on the coffee tables (lit after 5pm). It’s even the #50 “Tavern” in the yellow pages, which lends it further credibility as a legitimate drinking establishment for any wierdos out there unnecessarily dismissive of hotel bars. After tromping around Syracuse University and its environs all day long in unseasonably warm weather, I was fit for nothing but flopping myself on the bar and begging the bartender for something refreshing to quench my thirst.

I had been thinking a tall glass of vodka with a splash or two of lemonade would be nice, but no dice on the lemonade. To my own surprise, I actually ordered something with watermelon vodka. I’m sure I said tonic water, but the bartender thought I said sprite, and when he asked to be sure, I had to admit the sprite thing sounded better, so that’s what he made me. With a lime in it, it even looked like a watermelon! It was certainly refreshing, and now in need of a name. Luke, the serendipitous bartender, left that up to me, and thus, in honor of the long-awaited end of winter (it had been snowing four days ago), the Syracuse Spring was born! I highly recommend it. And in case you have your doubts, you can perhaps find some reassurance in the fact that several converts were made that night and the next.

As luck would have it, it was the last night of the Syracuse International Film Festival and a bunch of film festival-ites rolled into the bar where I had also returned for a nightcap after dining up the street at the 1060 Restaurant (where there is also a bar, but I sort of missed Luke). That’s when and how I met Itay (I am sure I am spelling this wrong) and his disarmingly handsome friend, Yaniv (hi guys!). They are from Israel and promptly set out to disabuse me of the notion I had theretofore had that Israelis are not big drinkers. That turns out to apparently be a trait shared by a subset of Israelis in Silicon Valley, because these guys showed no signs of stopping ordering successive rounds. My kind of guys exactly. They did impress upon me that their kind of Israeli drinking is the rule, and we all wondered what is wrong with that Silicon Valley bunch. As sometimes happens when drinking and talking are combined, inspiration struck and we decided to make a movie. (No, not a pornographic movie, get your mind out of the gutter!) I’m not going to tell you the details, lest Hollywood steal our awesome idea, but I can tell you that we’re calling it “Better In Paris”, and it is going to absolutely sweep the awards whenever we get it made and into theaters near you. Watch for it.

Eventually it was last call, which does seem to come early in Syracuse, just so you know. I said goodbye to my new friends, and thanked Luke for being a credit to his profession, as he did that bartender thing that always amazes me: kept an entire bar-full of people drinking all night long basically single-handedly. On the way up to my room, I was thinking that even though I categorically do not like people as a rule, I do like meeting intelligent and entertaining ones, and I seem to be meeting a lot of them lately, which is nice and makes me feel better about a living in a world with Indian-outsourced call centers, the insupportable nature of modern airline travel, the DMV, and such.

I returned to The Library Lounge the next night, thinking I would avail myself of their free wireless internet (they charge you to go online in the rooms, which is as wrong as it is annoying). But the whole hotel was experiencing technical difficulties, so I left the Lounge to an obnoxious group of conventioneers and headed out for dinner at the world famous (if by “world” you mean the state of New York) Dinosaur Bar B Que (when in Rome, my friends). And let me just say this about the Dinosaur: wow. Even on a Monday night, a party of one has to wait 15-20 minutes, but there’s a bar, so no problem. There was even an empty seat at the bar, so even better. And the nice man next to me introduced me to Justin the bartender, so things got off to a pretty good start. Just barely into my first vodka tonic (water program in effect, and besides, martinis definitely do not go with barbeque), my table was ready. My face must have fallen, because the nice lady assured me I could eat right there at the bar, so I got to keep chatting with Justin and Chai (another Israeli, believe it or not!) while eating my gigantic plate of food, which I am sure was not the prettiest sight, but everyone is used to seeing people gnawing on rib bones at the Dinosaur, trust me. More meat than I could eat, two huge helpings of sides, something called “honey hush cornbread” that is so yummy it will make you forget about the evils of carbohydrates, and three vodka tonics came to a whopping total of $30.00. That, plus live music every night (alas, I left before the band started), and you can see why the place is so popular. If there’s better barbeque to be had in San Francisco, I sure haven’t come across it. If only the Dinosaur sold shot glasses, it would be pretty near perfect.

Upon returning to my hotel, I ran into two gentlemen in the lobby who were just leaving The Lounge, where they had been when I went out for dinner. For some reason, we all spontaneoulsy decided to return to The Lounge together, where Evan (Luke’s roommate as well as co-worker, as it turns out) made me the first of a series of Syracuse Springs. My new drinking buddies were completely hilarious. Their names both stared with the letter “M”, but I couldn’t keep them and their New Englad accents straight, so I just started calling them “M & M” like the candy. What a pair they were — older cynical world-weary (but only sarcastically, not really) guy and younger fiesty pornography-obsessed (probably not actually to the degree he professed) guy. They were cracking me up and paying for drinks and then Yaniv showed up! That’s right: me, and three objects of flirtation. I was positively giddy. And also very glad that all the Israelis I had been hanging out with in Syracuse had reminded me of the delightful custom of the double-kiss-on-cheek adieu (there must be an actual name for this — anyone?). Why don’t we do this in America? What is our problem? Could this be why the rest of the world thinks we are so stupid? We need to bring this custom to our own country! Think about it: it is the perfect way to end an evening spent with interesting and entertaining company without things devolving into something torrid and tawdry. It transforms any latent drunken kissing bandit tendencies into worldly politesse. Bars By The Book is going to start campaigning for this civilized form of leave-taking at once. Especially when charming, good-looking men who are buying The Hostess drinks are involved. (Thank you all! <kiss>, <kiss>)

IX. The #1 California bus (Easter Sunday, 2007)

As Part 3, Article 4 of The Rules explicitly states, I do not condone drunk driving. Now, I’m not saying I intended to necessarily become drunk that day, but driving to the Big Wheel Races would have meant trying to park somewhere in the vicinity, which was sure to be impossible, so I took the bus, which meant I had to take the bus home, which turned out to be one of those Strokes of Luck and/or Twists of Fate, what have you, that makes one feel as if Things Might Be Right In The Universe, after all.

Having bid Wanda adieu, upon boarding the bus, I was greeted by a group of people welcoming everyone to the bus, thanking them for riding, and wishing us “Happy Easter”. Boisterously. With the sort of enthusiasm that is usually reserved for major sporting events, and certainly never seen on any Muni bus (ok, except maybe on Halloween). This cadre of cheerful chaps and chics proceeded to do the same thing at every stop, and they bid fond farewells to those disembarking, too. While I was completely puzzled by these people and their antics, I have to say that they considerably ameliorated the ride of everyone on that bus.

And then they tried to convince me to come with them. It seems as though they were on a bar crawl of their own. Or at least they had a drinking establishment as their destination. I did try to resist their charms, but Luck or Fate or what have you intervened again and when I tried to get off the bus, the doors did not open, various helpful shouts from the crowd of “back door, back door!” notwithstanding. So it was settled. I was going with them…

We got off at the next stop — to the chagrin of everyone continuing on the bus I am quite sure — and it turned out that my new friends were going to the Lion Pub, which is not, as it happens, a Bar in The Book (it’s a Cocktail Lounge), but does happen to be just a couple of blocks from where I live, conveniently enough.

I don’t know where my new friends live. (At least one of them mentioned Pacifica.) I never did figure out exactly how they all knew each other, or what had prompted them to be so festive on the bus, but I did have a very lovely time chatting — and drinking — with them. To top it off, they were even buying the drinks! Completely marvellous folks, they can kidnap me again anytime. I can’t believe I managed to tear myself away after just two vodka tonics (wisely chosen by me instead of the martinis I was craving, but my sixth sense told me it was time to introduce some water into the beverage program). Yet somehow, I did. And I missed them all instantly. Truly.

Even more amazing, I did not get lost on the way home (which is not always the case when I have been at the Lion Pub). Gretchen and the Gang, I hope to see you all as Barflies soon!

X. The Fishbowl Bar & Grill 1854 Divisadero / (415) 775-3630

Although I had been past The Fishbowl many times, I had never been tempted to check it out. In fact, I had formed a rather bad opinion of the place, based on nothing but the doorway. Here is what I actually wrote about it when I put out a “Breaking News”, last minute announcement about a happening happening there on a Thursday evening in March 2007:

“Anyway, Fishbowl is not a Bar (in the blog sense). It is not even a Cocktail Lounge. It is basically a Hole In the Wall, outside of which all sorts of wannabe-hipster-doofuses with too much hair product are always posing, after dark, with their cigarettes.”

Also unpromising is the fact that, not only is The Fishbowl disinclined to advertise in The Book, but in the Business White Pages, it has chosen to be listed under “T”, which is such a flagrant violation of the basic principles of alphabetization that, really, there should be a law.

Thank goodness that Universal Records bewilderingly picked The Fishbowl as the spot for the Amy Winehouse CD release party, or else I never would have had my notions about the place so disabused as they deserved to be. While I certainly saw no evidence of any grill operation — and indeed, I would not be inclined to eat anything from a grill on the premises, if one does, in fact, exist — it’s pretty decent inside. Certainly smallish, but cheerfully decorated with various sea-creature themed “art”, and even some high tables with candles, no less.

The martinis are huge (although at $8, they had better be), and not noticeably watery. And while the fishtank behind the bar is — somewhat disturbingly — devoid of fish, the bartender the night I was there was singularly exceptional. Stacey (Stacy, perhaps) kept the glasses of an entire bar full of people full, by herself. It was pretty amazing. I was watching her, and I still don’t know how she managed it.

Caveat emptors: When the Amy Winehouse CD was finished, the music immediately degenerated into something loud and horrible, to the point of being off-putting and take-my-leave-inducing. And there is a surprising half-step downward into the ladies claustrophobically tiny bathroom, which has only a toilet (although there is a Hook, which is interesting because there are none in the bar) — there is a sink outside the restroom doors (a social arrangement, and surprisingly clean, considering).

XI. Cinch, The 1723 Polk / (415) 776-4162

I had no preconceived notions about The Cinch. I had never seen it before in my life. It just appeared to me one night as I trudged up Polk Street, desultorily as a Dickenisan street urchin, in December 2006. I happened to glance across the street, and there was The Cinch, sort of like the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

Apparently, it’s a gay bar, and has been around since before “Once Upon a Time…”, but all I knew as I sat there, sipping the Peppermint Martinis I was in the process of perfecting, was that the longer I sat there, the better I felt. The details of the eveing quickly progressed to hazy, to the point of being positively Off The Page in terms of reminisceability, madeleines or no. But I do believe that my pleasant evening at The Cinch was somehow responsible for my miraculous survival of The Holiday Season, which earns it a chapter in my book, absence from The Book notwithstanding.