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The Geary Club

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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 and interior designers. Your guide is consummate festivarian, Eddy El Espia, who delves into the underbelly of our city's more anonymous watering holes, one by one.

[Photo: EaterWire, Flickr/Photon Fiend, Broke-Ass Stuart, Yelp/jen d. ]

Keep warm this summer, ladies! Burn the wide-collared, starched shirts, the hair gel, the three-inch inseam skirts; and head to The Geary Club. You won’t need any of that stuff here. It’s not that kind of club.

If you love a real bar with miles, liberated of portentousness, and sprayed for yuppies nightly, The Club is your object of affection. A lax night of drinks and open conversation with a pal or a stranger comes with Sam Cooke or Etta James or Van the Man on the jukebox. You get five plays for $1; 11 for $2. And it doesn’t get much more honest than that.

Stevie, a fella who told me he’s been going there for ten years, aptly described it to me as a peaceful place. Though some ten or more years ago there was an altercation between The Club's sign, the bushy tree out front and a fire. (And in this town, you know, the tree always wins.) So the only signpost for the wandering degenerate is the saloon-style swinging half door, much like the one at Toronado in the Lower Haight.

The bar seats 15 or so, running straight back along the length of its tight-walled, matchbox-shaped space. Another 15 stools line the wall to your left. A television suspended from the ceiling in the back will always have a San Francisco game on if there is one; and Niner’s games are serious parties here. June, the owner of about 30 years, and her people run a pretty tight ship behind the bar. Harriet, who has taken charge on alternate days for the past 20 years or so, is constantly refilling the fridges as beers are drunk and sassing people that suck or shouldn’t be there. Seeing Harriet in QB mode -- Queen Bitch: her words, not mine -- is a beautiful thing. But only knowing underneath it all, she’s an absolute sweetheart.

Selections of liquors and beers are what they need to be for a place like this. Personally, I’ve never gotten past drinking Bud heavies and banquet beers for $3.25 a pop. But you’ll have all the options you need if you feel like liquoring it out. And you can smoke inside, but only cigs. Harriet will whip you up a foil ashtray in no time.

Sounds like a salty heaven in the Loin. You bet. But know this. The regulars and bartenders will not like you when you walk in. You’re a foreigner that just stepped into their living room during a private party, and you weren’t invited. I know they talked shit about me for a while before I broke that seal. It just depends on how you want to be. I preferred to assimilate, which is easy if you wear a bit of humility and good spirit on your collar. If you don’t, know that they’re talking about you when they’re not talking to you. And they won’t be talking to you.

The folks that frequent The Club have more tall tales and adventures to share than Ulysses. They are honest, and the mood is very relaxed. Yeah, it’s a dive bar. But the kind you love to love once you’re in and drinking. I see myself going there for years, always coming away with something real.
Eddy El Espia

The Geary Club

768 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA