San Francisco lays claim to hundreds of bars, but only a tiny fraction of them get regular press. This new column is about the other ones, the ones untouched by mixology madness. Your guide is Citysearch editor and bar aficionado Patrick Heig, who will take a look at the city's more anonymous watering holes, one at a time. His words follow:
On a charmless alley-corner on Bush Street, between Nob Hill and Union Square, Chelsea Place sits waiting to not be a very big deal. It's a dive, so proper and well-coiffed folk stay away, but it's not dumpy enough for the true shithole aficionados to appreciate. No one I talked to seems to remember how old it is, or much care, and its affiliation with the English soccer team from which it gets its name--its one discernible characteristic--amounts to a few long-forgotten posters drooping at the corners. But it's this nothing-to-see-here quality, this exceptional unexceptionality, that is this bar's greatest amenity.
Clearly furnished with items from the Standard Dive Bar Supply Store--pot of stale coffee warming behind the bar, Jagermeister machine, smoke-stained "No Fumar" signs--Chelsea Place is not without a personal touch. Next to the ignored "No Smoking" announcement, a childish drawing of Bart Simpson on binder paper; on a back wall, drunken photos of its regulars; most impressively, a model bi-plane built from Bud Light cans hanging above the bar. The effect is not unlike that of a proud father decorating his office with reminders of his children. A business that cherishes its patrons.
Said patrons, their hunched silhouettes peered at from the street, can look like a seedy bunch, but you'll find no trouble here. Giants fans glued to the flatscreen, office workers TGIFing to a song off the internet jukebox, a sweet old Nob Hill Lady in a pillbox hat sipping a mini-bottle of Beringer; at worst, maybe a couple of deadbeat dads. And if the crowd isn't exactly welcoming, there's no "who's-this-guy?" vibe either. If anyone besides the bartenders even makes eye contact, it's to offer an almost imperceptible nod, as if to say, "Mmm-hmm. You're here."
The barkeeps are neither Tenderloin-surly nor Mission-cool--they have no missing teeth to wonder about, no neck-tattoos to covet. In fact, the pretty young bartenders--one of whom was spied at a suspected bar/brothel on a separate research trip--are downright bubbly. When all the orders have been cleared, one of the girls likes to hop up onto the sink behind the bar, her perch, and throw her head back in laughter at any joke you tell her.
Besides Anchor on tap, there's nothing special about the beer selection, and the prices aren't particularly cheap, with $3 domestics and $4 imports/drafts during happy hour--though these are thankfully too dear for both the nearby S.R.O.-dwelling alcoholics and $1 PBR-loving Academy of Art students--and the charge for and stock of liquor is standard, and pours are not particularly heavy. Also good.
There's nothing special about Chelsea Place. No one comes here to appreciate its groundbreaking design, to meet an attractive person or even to get a cheap drink.
Which is exactly what makes it special. Chelsea Place is a bar the way the basic Reebok is a shoe. Not flashy, not cool, but comfortable. A way to get you from A to B.