By Stephen Torres
Back when I was bright-eyed youngin' in the city and my liver was still shiny and hale, I made my daily bread by working at the recently deceased MacArthur Park in Jackson Square. This was right before the dot.com belle-époque had a meeting with its maker, and times were fast and easy.
We had a pretty fun, outgoing crew at MacArthur, and one of my co-workers, Robin, tended bar part-time at some place called the Expansion up on Church and Market. Like I said, these were the days when my experience in the ways of the gin bin was still relatively little, however it would be this crusty old watering hole that would guide me into being a full-fledged pro.
The minute I walked in, I knew it was love. The place was one of the last remnants of a time gone by. (Its birth date, indeed, has been lost to the mists of time, but many claim it as one of the first taverns in town.) That it survived prohibition pretty well is common knowledge, by virtue of the warning buzzer under the bar and the backroom decorated with drunken canines. Seems they might have had a little game going on back there as well, but you didn't hear it from me.
The Expansion was a comfortable, honest, neighbourhood place that had managed to hold on while the rest of its compatriots had been pushed to the city’s outer reaches or fallen on hard times. It lacked the sticky, acrid flavour of some bars elsewhere, but it wasn't the clown convention one might find up the street or in the Marina.
The bar wasn't free from its Bukowskian moments, though. After all, it was (and is) a dive. An acquaintance told me his friend was once sitting next to boozehound who vomited on the friend's jacket and then promptly danced a merry jig upon it, laughing maniacally. On another occasion, in the early eighties, a wayward sedan pile-drove into the bar, apparently mistaking it for Fourteenth Street. The regulars flew over the bar. Then, after the dust settled, they sat back down, unscathed, to their still- frosty High Lifes.
For me, though, the Expansion was rarely that exciting. More often than not, it was just an honest bar with honest prices and good company. My bias was of course for Robin, but the rest of the crew, including Mia, Martin, and Lisa, also were swell folks who were quick with the chitchat and low on ceremony.
Even when times were hard, you could count on the Expansion. Everyman was welcome and every walk of life was there. It wasn't hard to imagine a scene from a Dashiell Hammet noir take place there, or perhaps Jack Lemmon and Lee Remmick getting toasty before things turned sour. Hell, even Winona Ryder showed up one night (I'm told she paid in full.)
Time is fickle mistress, however, and after returning to the city a year ago, I discovered the old proprietor, Richard, had sold the place and moved on. Most of the old staff were unceremoniously let go, although the lovely Mia still pours on some nights.
Some of the new staff are nice, but it seems like the fate of the place is still up in the air. In the meantime, I still stop by from time to time, grab a stiff highball at the bar, play a few hits on the jukebox, and remember the good old days…
Expansion Bar: 2124 Market, SF. (415) 863-4041