It also has karaoke, which you wouldn't even know until you heard some drunk fucks at the end of the bar singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" ... oh wait, those drunk fucks were my friends and I. There's no stage. The screen showing lyrics is suspended between the bathroom doors. And the only person there who can sing worth a damn is the man in charge of the karaoke book (with English and Chinese selections, by the way), with a voice like Harry Nilsson's. Everyone else seems to stumble in already drunk and high, ready to do in public what they'd normally only do alone in their car.
1155 Grant, SF. (415) 421-6730
LI PO COCKTAIL LOUNGE
Could this be the Bow Bow's older, more sophisticated, yet seedier cousin? Perhaps. It's just up Grant, casting its crimson glow onto the street. Inside, an homage to Buddha punctuates the L-shaped bar. Extra booths and a back room hide from the foyer. The usual alcohol selection shares shelves with unfamiliar liquors in small bottles with wooden tops, the ingredients written in Cantonese. The house drink is the mai tai, which is the color of roses and tastes like sweet tequila. And on the night that I visited, there on a cracked red bar stool, watching Asian television on the flat-screen TV, was the karaoke man from the Bow Bow. Coincidence? Was he following me? Or is there really some kind of connection between the bars?
916 Grant, SF. (415) 982-0072
RADIO HABANA SOCIAL CLUB
Some of the best mysteries are those hidden in plain sight. Like Radio Habana, the hush-hush restaurant-bar nestled sneakily into a corner at 22nd Street and Valencia. Radio Habana has no sign and it's particularly obscured by some new construction on Valencia. But if you keep an eye out for the intentionally skewed windowpane and the metal cockroach pinned to the door, you'll find exactly the kind of place where time stands still, where novels are written, and where stories worthy of novels are perhaps played out. The highlights? Dioramas featuring Barbie dolls, cockeyed pictures, framed homages to John Lennon and Kafka's Metamorphosis, homemade sangria, and delicious Latin-inspired food (from a quaintly small menu) served on gorgeous, long, rectangular plates.
1109 Valencia, SF. (415) 824-7659
There's nothing about the name of this bar that sounds appealing. I don't want to enter a dog's anything, much less drink in it. The consonants alone, rolling around in your mouth, taste bitter. So the mystery is, why give a place such a name? And why go here at all? Turns out this Irish bar's moniker is a version of the across-the-pond phrase dog's bollocks, which means, roughly, "the best ever" (though it does also translate as canine testicles). And though it's rumored to be overrun by Marina-type college kids and sometimes smell like urine, I found it delightful late on a weeknight: dark wood, frothy Guinness, a pool table, a large, long bar where you can chat with the friendly, attractive (though Scottish!) bartender, and small nooks for more intimate conservations.
408 Clement, SF. (415) 752-1452
It was a dark and stormy night ... no, wait, that was the Dark and Stormy cocktail I had at Le Colonial across the street after trying and failing to visit the Hidden Vine, a place so very hidden that it wasn't even open. Apparently there was "no hot water." A likely story. Surely something unseemly was going on behind those closed doors. Nothing like a wine bar in the dark to inspire criminal activity. But that would have to wait for another investigation. I was on a very particular mission and couldn't be distracted by just any old cries from the city's dark underbelly, even if it was an underbelly filled with pinot noir.
1/2 Cosmo Place (at Taylor), SF.