When the bars close, a whole new world opens 

It’s 1:36 in the morning — just in time for last call, somewhere. Anywhere that will pour anything before we head back to the places we belong.

As we’re walking to what’s hopefully our final stop, my friend mentions a bartender who used to work at our destination — a ball of energy, this one. But this bartender is also a knowledgeable entertainer.

He had moved away and had not been seen in a while.

But as we stepped through the doors in hopes of extending the night, there he was, tongue out, toasting shots of fermented agave with some folks who came to see him guest-bartend.

“I don’t sleep!” he said before knocking back the tequila. “I’ll do that s--- when I’m in the grave.”

My friend and I looked at each other in disbelief. Funny how life works.

And it turns out we stepped inside the bar at just the right time. Like the last person to hop on board before the ship sets sail, another bartender shut and locked the door behind us — leaving a good-size group of people inside after closing time.

Candlelit shelves of tequila. Wooden shutters blocking the gaze of police and state booze watchdogs. Cigarettes sparking behind the bar top. All in all, an industry exclusive.

Without revealing where, these types of gatherings do exist. At this hour, there are no meticulously prepared cocktails. The last thing someone who’s been slinging bottles of this and that all night wants is a cocktail. Funny how that works. A beer and a shot are the elixir of choice.

This was just the right amount of wrong.

There was a lady at the corner of the bar with smoky eyes. She looked at me. I winked back. Suddenly filled with pride, I looked around hoping for some validation. But then it became apparent she was giving that look to just about every other guy left in the place.

The fella sitting next to me with perfectly waxed eyebrows started complaining about his marriage. He had the weekend off and his wife did not want to spend it with him. He bartends in the Castro, but he also has a side gig as a go-go dancer and private stripper. The relationship woes started to make sense.

Drink makers from all around The City were there, chatting about each other’s relationships and dreams of traveling to Oaxaca. Even guys who supposedly don’t go out were there.

Marcovaldo Dionysos even showed up for a drink, sipping his beer while he leaned against a wall as those around him poured on the admiration. This is the guy who’s said to have been at the forefront of reviving the craft-cocktail scene in San Francisco. But he was modest, shrugging off the onslaught of compliments that came his way.

Dionysos, who holds down the bar at Smuggler’s Cove, reportedly owns more than 300 cocktail books; has held court at a slew of places, including Clock Bar, Tres Agaves, and Bourbon and Branch; and created the cocktail program at Absinthe in 1997. Damn. That’s almost 20 years ago. Some of his cocktails are still on those menus.

As the rings of beer foam reached the base of my glass, it became obvious that it was getting late even for the after-party crowd.

The guest bartender who said he’d sleep when he’s dead sat beside me gulping down water, barely able to keep his eyes open.

Cigarettes were stubbed out and glasses raised in a final triumphant moment.

Then we all stepped outside and headed back to the places we belong.

Correction: This story was updated Jan. 27 to correct the spelling of Marcovaldo Dionysos' name.

About The Author

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado is a cocktail enthusiast and sucker for soul and sweet reggae music. A food and drink blogger since 2009, Rhys has sipped his way from Hawaii to Santa Barbara and up the coast to San Francisco, where he's found a glorious wave of craft concoctions and expert drink-makers.
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