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A Beer At...Eddie Rickenbacker's

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San Francisco lays claim to hundreds of bars, but only a tiny fraction of them get regular press. This 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:

[Photos: Jennifer Yin]

Breathing through an oxygen tank, surrounded by a cloud of cigar smoke, potato-shaped and tyrannical, he rules over the place like Jabba the Hut from a filthy loveseat next to the bar. In the 70's, he was a major player in the nightlife game--along with a young Harry Denton he ran Henry Africa's, a swinging 70's fern bar--and even thus prostrate he retains a degree of Lotharian swagger. These days, his sidekick is Mr. Higgins, a 27 lb. tabby who shares his owner's bigshot mentality, penchant for naps and indifference to health code violations, and together they run this novelty pub on Minna Street in SoMa.

Like his first bar, Eddie Rickenbacker's is named after a swashbuckling war hero; unlike his first bar, it's a terrible place to get laid. In his mind, the owner has created a smoky, martinis-at-noon, Mad Men-esque environment where men can be men and women can be whistled at. In reality, Eddie's attracts a steady stream of middle-aged, divorced men, motorcycle buffs, and curious passersby, and the few women on the premises are under the establishment's employ. Still, the $2.50 Irish coffees are a morning drinker's dream, the sprawling menu of classic pub food would be considered good in a less precious city, and there's a lot to look at.

Eddie Rickenbacker's is a sort of museum, perhaps best described as a Museum of Stuff Old Guys Are Into. There are the forty-three vintage motorcycles, many dangling above the bar from wires no thicker than a cocktail straw; the exceptionally tall can experience the thrill of a 1915 Harley Davidson's tire rubbing against one's head, the rest of us will have to wait for an earthquake for motorcycle-to-head-contact, but still, when it happens: Wow. There's a model train that runs on a track around the room, every once in a while emitting a deafening choo-choo! entirely out of proportion to its otherwise to-scale dimensions. Then there are the display cases full of historic firearms, many used by the US cavalry against the Indians, along with some odds and ends, like General Custer's epaulets, and even, at one time, a handful full of teeth Custer knocked from the mouth of his sex-slave squaw. A bit culturally insensitive, sure, but for anyone who's ever lost the rent money at Cache Creek? Priceless. Somewhat incongruous with these items are the almost canonical collection of antique Tiffany lamps--reportedly half a million dollars worth, and the owner's most prized possessions--and the aforementioned cat, which are more like Things Aunt Gloria Is Into.

I've been a bit hard on Eddie Rickenbacker's, to be sure. I was actually fascinated by the motorcycles and old guns, thoroughly enjoyed a crab sandwich and pint of Anchor I had for lunch, and any bar that chooses Edith Piaf over Lady Gaga deserves some credit. I even admired the cat, whose outre insouciance and regal demeanor I intend to emulate. Service however, needs work, as the bartenders who know their business seem rundown from carrying all the weight, while the corps of inexperienced young girls, hired for their looks and "background," must be tired of being berated by their moribund, foul-mouthed bossman. Men like him being so rare in this great city, the tendency is to regard them as a mere curiosity, like a bearded lady, although I guess those aren't so rare around here. Anyway, I say, when you come across one, don't just stare at it: shame it, make fun of it; poke it with a stick. Or, you know, post a pithy, overwritten review of his joint on the internet, and see what happens.
—Patrick Heig

· Past Editions of "A Beer At" [~ESF~]