BENGAY and Spurred in San Fran

March 23, 2011

Silver Spur, San Francisco, Calif.

Since I can’t justify traveling all over the country specifically to run in and out of dive bars, I’ve had to pull in some reinforcements. Last week Amber Shinn took us to L Capitan in Holly, Mich. This week, an unnamed San Francisco-based lush (no offense Lady X) who recently called me from a Norwegian cocktail party, opens the door of San Fran’s Sliver Spur.

Thank you ladies — oops, I mean Amber and maybe a man — for shedding some light on some dank U.S. corners.

I’ll be in Columbia, several U.S. airports and England for three-to-four weeks so these from afar posts will continue through mid-April. And now, impressions from Lady X…

For some reason I felt compelled to research the “diviest bar” in San Francisco.  Not like I couldn’t find one on my own.  Having lived in small Colorado towns my whole life, my 20s have been defined by dive bars.  However, the Silver Spur received a four star review on Yelp as a San Fran dive bar, so I thought I’d head over.

Once I got there I realized I had been once before, of course.

A hand written sign out front bar read, “Hot Bartenders, Cold Beers.”  I almost have to compete with a woman?, man?, wo-man named Bonnie with a mustache for the front door handle.

Once in I notice a mirage of motorcycle images moving around behind the bar.  Is that a curtain leading to the back of the bar?  Nope, it’s the bartender’s Harley Davidson moo moo. She slowly moves in my direction. Several red snap barrettes hold her red hair in place.

I order a vodka soda with lots of lime. What a fool. I get a sneer at “lots of lime.”  Limes are precious. Do I think I live on a tropical island?

After she places the drink in front of me I realize my cardinal sin, I have $1 in cash.  I have to run down the block in work high heels to an ATM.  I ask her if she trusts me to come back, she says, “I don’t care, I can give the drink to someone else to drink if you don’t.”

I come back, pay my $3.50 and the bartend decides I’m okay.  She motions to her left to a plastic cake box.  “Help yourself to some tuna sandwiches if you want.”  If I hadn’t inhaled a burger and fries two hours previous I would have seriously loved a homemade tuna sandwich, even if it meant food poisoning. I think I might have fit in a bit more with a white bread delight in my hand.

I can’t help but ignore the blaring TV to my left.  A middle aged Asian gentleman is leaning against the end of the bar, feet propped up on a stool, empty whiskey coffee behind him, watching Westerns at full blast with his sunglasses on.  A second bartender, perhaps the manager or owner, walks out of from behind the bar with fresh bottles of cheap hard alcohol.  He sets them down on the counter and says to the Asian gentleman, “I knew you were here, I could smell your BENGAY.”

He slowly turns around, un-props his feet from the neighboring stool and smiles slowly.  I think he’s been here all afternoon.  “Hey Mr. Wang,” the manager says and walks away.

I turn my gaze to the left of Mr. Wang where there is an electrical box on the wall next to a bowling arcade game.  A handwritten sign on the bow states “300 N Multivolts, Experts Only. “ From this point on people either named themselves experts or were nominated as experts, as the sign now reads, “300 N Multivolts, Experts Only, + Mike + Ed, NO SUE.

I sit there sipping my drink, order another and watch the dog movie on the center television in the bar.  Probably a Disney flick. People have taken a group of dogs, made them talk, and put them into a birthday party scene where they are shooting silly string at each other.  No wonder Mr. Wang is at the end of the bar with his own personal TV.

The corner of the Spur holds a small shelf against the wall where about 25 ragged paperbacks sit.  Novel idea, a bar library.  Everything from Westerns — of course — to steamy romances to dictionaries lean on that narrow shelf.

Finally another gentleman joins us. In his Hispanic accent, he orders a Bud, greets Mr. Wang.  Another regular walks in, takes a seat and pulls out a crossword while the bartender pours his usual red wine from a jug of Gallo.

Mr. Wang becomes inpatient with the Western and flips through the channels from Westerns to Chinese TV to SPIKE TV for men to models learning how to pose on the beach.  He settles back on another Western.  This one has an amazing heavy metal soundtrack.  I think about how awesome it would be if the “Native Americans” jumped off their horses and started wailing solos on their handmade guitars, when the bartender comments on the music and starts quoting lines from the film.

I am finishing my second drink, but look up in time to see a Jesus statue and a Tiger Woods bobble head on a small shelf looking over, maybe blessing the bar.  Below is a sign inviting me to the St. Patty’s Day feast in a couple of weeks.  Free corned beef hash.  I think I’ll be back.

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