According to the breathless Tearing Up the Town nightlife column that just began running in the San Francisco Examiner, Backflip is "a '60s-inspired aquatic utopia," a "discriminating school of freshwater fish," teeming with starlets, dashing guys, and "sassy S.F. celebrities."
Do they ever see sassy celebrities here?
"Nobody you'd really recognize," shrugs the bartender. "Some rock bands."
Tearing Up the Town is written by a 27-year-old Examiner staffer who signs his column Lord Martine. (That's not his real name, but co-workers insist on protecting his identity.) The column marked its debut two weeks ago in the back of the paper's Weekend section, tucked behind the outdoor column.
"Do I want to blend in or stand out?" Martine begins his first effort at town-tearing. "I lean toward the freakish and adjust the faux fur collar on my Dolce & Gabanna, slip on my Diesel shades and with one last, 'damn, I look good'...the cab honks."
Lord Martine and his Gucci-wearing "glamour posse" go on to roam the city inside a delusional bubble of tired, mid-'80s Manhattan glitz, furiously dropping names of DJs and club promoters -- as if Examiner readers represented exactly the target demographic for dancing until dawn, and the paper were the sole source in the tri-state area for such information.
That Lord Martine is in San Francisco, rather than a silly and outdated version of Manhattan, doesn't stop or even slow him down. In one club, he pauses to admire a guy twirling scarves:
"This, my friends, was AmaZing...with a capital A and an extra Zing!"
At another club, he offers these personal insights:
"I actually witnessed someone sporting a pair of acid-wash Guess jeans...ouch...this was a very painful experience for me."
Acid-wash bashing is as obvious now as it was when Michael Musto and Stephen Saban were doing it 15 years ago in New York City. But if Martine's style is a pathetic retread of things past, substance is another matter, and one daily newspapers are said to value.
So just how accurate is Lord Martine?
This column set out to see, retracing the Examiner columnist's fiery initial path through the city. Our glamour posse consisted of me and my friend Tom, both of us looking damn good in Gap and Eddie Bauer. We refuse the Diesel shades. We want to see it all. Is San Francisco nightlife as fabulous as Martine says? Will we also find ourselves running through the streets tossing confetti, hyperventilating with excitement?
After Backflip, Martine went to the Pasha restaurant and club on Broadway, next to Johnny Love's. According to Tearing Up the Town, Pasha was home to "cigar smokin', martini drinkin' supermodel look-alikes." Tonight the front room of Pasha is vacant except for one table where several people are sitting with the hostess. She leaves her conversation and ushers us into the back dining area. Two musicians are playing Indian music to a handful of people who are eating dinner. Nobody looks remotely like a supermodel. A man glides up to us and mentions there is a $15 minimum charge, even if we are just having drinks. As Martine would say, ouch.
We walk out and head across the street to the Shanghai Kelly's sports bar, for a couple of beers to clear our heads. This place is obviously off the Lord Martine radar. Customers who show a ticket stub from any sports event or rock concert get their first drink for a buck. If any members of the "glamour posse" did venture into the noisy world of ESPN, they would get their little Gucci asses kicked just on principle.
The Holy Grail of the evening is a club South of Market called 1015 Folsom. This spot is obviously high on Martine's list; he visits it twice during his column. (Either the town doesn't have squat going on in the club scene, or Martine wants to look like he's on the take.) We chant to ourselves, "1015 Folsom," over and over. But it's still too early to go there.
We stop into the Buccaneer around the corner on Polk. No DJs or promoters in sight, just drunks shooting pool. The only glamorous, sassy, juicy tidbit here is that the bartender Michelle is leaving; her last night is tomorrow. Hardly an extra Zing!
We roar down to South of Market, near the vaunted 1015 Folsom, licking our chops in anticipation of the "no-attitude club with a positive vibe," to observe "the inner city new school generation of underground club go-ers," whatever that means.
Alas, 1015 Folsom is empty. The girl taking tickets is reading Gertrude by Hermann Hesse.
To kill some time in hopes 1015 will eventually fill up, we saunter down the street into Julie's Supper Club. No DJs or promoters, but the rockabilly band dedicates a Merle Haggard song to Leslie, the bartender. Again, this isn't Martine territory. So we visit the Stud, a cologne cloud of wall-to-wall beefcake, dozens of young men dancing shoulder to shoulder under five mirror balls. I squint and try to picture Lord Martine out there in the middle of it all, Diesel shades pushed up the forehead, his faux fur sopping with Miller Genuine Draft. He might come here but wouldn't admit it. Next stop is Eleven, a bar/restaurant on 11th Street co-owned by KNBR radio personality Steve McPartland. According to Shannon the manager, frequent celebrities include ... Steve McPartland. Also, Mayor Brown is said to stop in occasionally for a cigar. Clearly, not enough to attract a Lord.
So it's back to 1015 Folsom, the lone outpost of nightlife in San Francisco, the home away from home of Lord Martine and his little friends. We meet Neil the bartender, who assures us the club is host to many celebrity regulars: Michael Irving, Cuba Gooding Jr., even "one of the guys from In Living Color, the short black one." Neil says on the weekends they get 3,000 people, but tonight will max out at maybe 300.
There's no sign of DJ David Harness, whom Martine slobbers over as "S.F.'s ruling sovereign of sound," but we are introduced to Randall the Candle, the club's janitor, who happily gives us a tour. Only two areas are open for dancing tonight, so Randall shows us the others -- a room that used to be the Patio Room, the Blue Room ("kind of a chill-out room -- the jungle kids like it"), the VIP Room ("more like a chill-out room for the Nikita crowd"), and the Main Room ("so much way better ventilation"), where a wall of subwoofers runs under the entire length of a stage.
But something's happening to us. We've seen so much empty, soulless nightlife tonight we're starting to actually think like Lord Martine. Standing there in the empty VIP Room of 1015 Folsom, while tweaked-out kids dance like idiots two stories below, we need celebrities. We gotta know, because we're nobodies in a postcard fish town that wants to be New York, and nightlife is all we have. And Randall the Candle, lowest guy on the totem pole at 1015 Folsom, lays it on us: Bill Maher from Politically Incorrect. Comedian Tom Rhodes. And then he gives us the piece of gossip that Lord Martine missed, the tidbit that makes this evening of stupid clubhopping momentarily worthwhile.
"Marisa Tomei," says Randall quietly. He manages a slight smile. "She raised a big stink at the door."
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By Jack Boulware