Lit City: Stories from San Francisco’s Dive Bars
They’re the repositories of so much of the city’s undiscovered history, of anecdotes and information that rarely find their way into ink– some of the best stories out there. And San Francisco, original home of the shanghai and the world’s largest collection of ‘last chance’ saloons, is particularly endowed with bar stories.
The Riptide (aka Sandbar)
I remember the Sandbar because one night I somehow ended up there, very drunk, after an evening of exploratory chaos that somehow brought me almost to the edge of the ocean. The place smelled like beer and puke and the floors were sopping wet with what seemed like the sweat of the patrons. The Sandbar was right “where the debris meets the sea,” at the edge of the city.
Twin Peaks Tavern
Squinting, the last bits of sun slumbering along its edges, the obtuse and exposing windows of Twin Peaks Tavern stare back at the street. Like the bent, 100 year-old Victorians shoring up Market Street as it recovers from its harrowing 17th Street drop, Twin Peaks remains, ornery and defiant.
The Saloon also served as a whorehouse in 1906, and was favored by firemen. One of the main reasons two-thirds of San Francisco went up in smoke in the aftermath of the earthquake was the lack of adequate water pressure for fire hoses, but the valiant turn-of-the-century firemen weren’t going to let the residence of their favorite floozies go up in smoke.
Billing itself as San Francisco’s Premier Transgender Nightclub, Divas is flanked by a fire station and the dealer-infested southeast corner of Polk and Post. Though primarily a market whose meat consists of Tenderloin sex workers, it’s also a popular and safe hangout for all manner of non-professional cross-dressers and transvestites, as well as transsexuals such as myself.
I discovered Specs years ago, when I offered to drive a group of friends to North Beach after a show at the I Beam (a very bad idea, it turned out).
It took about three seconds after walking in the door at Jonell’s to realize that this was exactly the spot we were looking for. Named so because it sits on the corner of Jones and Ellis, Jonell’s is the type of fine establishment where sitting with your back to the door might be the last bad decision you ever make.
The Brown Jug
How could I say no to that? If this guy Mike said the Brown Jug was the “Best Bar in the World” it had to be a pretty fucking strange place. I almost felt like it was my civic duty to go check it out.
The 222 Club
The 222 Club is hardly what you would call a “dive” bar, but the intersection of Turk and Hyde Streets in the Tenderloin District certainly qualifies in the “gritty urban edge” department.
Sonny and Princess | The Gangway
It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Holidays in the city quiet things down and even streets like Geary and Polk seem almost quaint and slow, kind of thoughtful.
So it wasn’t so depressing, spending most of a sunny and cold Christmas day inside the darkness of that bar, around the corner from the porn store and up the street from the cheapest place in the city to get flowers — granted they were always on the brink of wilt, but so pretty anyways.
The Attic, by Ian Tuttle
Madison’s feet danced like firecrackers on the barstool’s metal rung. She kept sliding around and catching the ass of her tights on a rip in the vinyl stool’s seat but it didn’t bother her tonight. Jules grinned and said, “To my champion!” and drank another drink of beer. Madison broke her cocktail straw’s spine then
C. Bobby & The Owl Tree
It was an annoyingly bright October morning, too warm too early in the day, when I learned Bobby had died. I read it over breakfast on the Chronicle’s obituary page. I looked up and told myself I should have a drink, not to settle my nerves, but a final tip o’ the glass to one of San Francisco’s last great bartenders.