San Francisco lays claim to hundreds of bars, but only a tiny fraction of them get regular press. This column is about the other one. Your guide is Citysearch editor and bar aficionado Patrick Heig, who takes a look at the city's anonymous watering holes, one at a time. His words follow:
I emerged from Hanaro's bathroom, borderline high on fumes from the industrial urinal cake, to find the Japanese bartender in forced banter with a lonely immigrant. Her Spanish malapropisms made him coo, and his hard-earned wad brought a snaggletoothed smile to her face, but this was no love connection. Had I stumbled into a whorehouse?
Outside, the Polk Loin was a noirish fresco of skid row sleaze: Passing the glowing pink hand that marked the den of a palm reader, square-jawed, balloon-breasted streetwalkers strode by on thighs thick as pommel horses, and every doorway seemed to hold a yellow-eyed lurker. Thrown from a window somewhere, a piece of chalk shattered on the sidewalk, sending the lurkers into a frenzy, pecking after the bits to examine them for possible crack content; someone was playing "pigeon." Seen from this street, Hanaro had looked warm and wholesome.
Now I could see a potential mama-san sat at the crook of the bar, ornery, with her ballcap pulled low, watching the action like a pit boss, and looking like she could handle herself in a donnybrook. Near the john, too, there was a reinforced door declaring "KEEP OUT" a little too emphatically; who knows what depravity it led to? The grimy security camera above the door might know. Most incriminating, however, was the bar itself: How could any establishment so devoid of amenities, so louche and unappealing, attract even this many--five--customers in a city with so many great bars?
With about half the square footage of the 38 Geary that runs past its front door, this hovel hasn't found a niche, it is one. $7 for a whiskey, given the surroundings--sad and flameless fireplace, strings of bud light banners, infomercials on the TV, Journey on the juke--seems a bit much. There was a foosball table, which, a large handwritten sign announces, is FREE!!! Upon closer inspection, however, the table was wedged so close to the wall as to make it impossible to play; touche.
Undecided, unwilling to personally verify the brothelhood of this place, and sort of creeped out by the man napping on his backpack next to me, I made my exit mid-whiskey. Hailing a cab, I looked back at Hanaro's dark entrance to see a hunched figure moving with purpose. It cut through the flock of still-pecking lurkers, and hopped into a late-model Beamer, phone shouldered to ear with urgent matter, and screeched off: Mama-san.
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