Broke-Ass City: Enough with the damn cocktail bars already 

click to enlarge With 21 Club closing in the near future, the spot has already been targeted by Big, another bar that was ousted from its former home in the Vantaggio Suites. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • With 21 Club closing in the near future, the spot has already been targeted by Big, another bar that was ousted from its former home in the Vantaggio Suites.

It's time we put a moratorium on cocktail bars. They are ruining bar culture. The great American dive bar is being threatened in its natural habitat, and unless we do something the last one will be put on display in Golden Gate Park next to the buffaloes.

OK, so I'm being a little dramatic. But seriously, enough with the damn cocktail bars already.

Here's the scene: It's Friday night and you're out with your friends. You wanna have a few drinks, get loose and see what kind of weirdness the night leads you to. But instead of actually drinking, you spend most of your night in line while the barkeep measures out Inuit tears and grasshopper farts into cocktails filled with obscure liquors that didn't exist yesterday. After the measuring comes the 40 seconds of cocktail shaking while the sound of chika-chika-chika rings in your ears, making you thirstier by the minute. You mutter to yourself, cursing about how long it takes to get a damn drink. But then once you get to the bar, you order the same three-minute drinks and the cycle continues.

And the thing is, it's all entirely your fault. Yes, you. Why do bar owners keep opening fancy cocktail bars? Because you, dear reader-drinker, keep standing in long lines and keep paying $12 for a cocktail not only willingly, but enthusiastically. Has the world gone mad?

At this point in the article, I've managed to piss off a large number of my friends who are bartenders and/or bar owners because I'm attacking either their livelihood or their craft, or both. Industry folks all over the Bay Area are reading this and sharpening their fruit-cutting knifes, imagining what kind of cocktails to pair with my organs.

Here's the thing: I really do respect the craft it takes to make drinks that are both high quality and complex. And I completely understand charging a lot of money from a clientele that has too much of it and is willing to fork it over. But in 2015, there are just too many damn cocktail bars.

It was recently announced that the 21 Club in the Tenderloin will close in the coming months and in its place a cocktail bar named Big will be opening. Big had previously been in the nearby Vantaggio Suites until the hotel was bought and Big was asked to vacate. I personally loved Big in its original space and was sad to see it go. But when I heard that it was taking over the 21 Club's space, all I thought was, "Here we go again." In the couple years of Big's absence we've seen too many San Francisco institutions get turned into cocktail bars. Kimo's became Playland. Esta Noche became Bond. Tosca became unaffordable. On the horizon looms the former Lusty Lady space becoming a peep-show-themed cocktail lounge. And the Mission's last lesbian bar, the Lexington Club, is being bought by Gavin Newsom's mayonnaise-on-white-bread Plumpjack Group.

The 21 Club is a Tenderloin dive bar filled with everything from street hustlers to Mexican cooks to rave kids in pink wigs. It's weird and grimy, and when you walk in, you know that you're gonna get cheap drinks and meet interesting characters. It's the kind of place where you can blow off some steam and not care about what other people think. And this is why it's beautiful. At this point in history, San Francisco desperately needs more 21 Clubs and far fewer cocktail bars. Because when this bubble bursts, where are the newly out-of-work people gonna drink?

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in The San Francisco Examiner.

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