Ride the L Train

Gold Mirror Italian Restaurant

Despite the neon green cocktail glass and flashing orange sign, you probably won't find wild, fast times at Taraval Street's Gold Mirror Italian Restaurant. In the dining room, older couples finish dinner amid white tablecloths and tremendous chandeliers. At the bar sits Jalil, a young S.F. native who's spent plenty of time stomping around the neighborhood -- and who is gigantic enough to have made an impression. He's lying low with a female companion, while at the other end of the bar, chef/owner Giuseppe Di Grande chats with friends, looking regal in his double-breasted chef's jacket. In other words, a person can drink in peace here. But where's the action?

"Shannon Arms," says Giuseppe. "That's the one, the only bar I know." Ana the bartender cuts in. "Be careful," she adds -- and she's not kidding, because across 19th Avenue a crowd of approximately 500,000 has packed this tiny Irish bar in the heavily Irish Parkside district for an unabashedly Irish St. Patrick's Day celebration. Dollar bills, Magner's cider bottles, and pints of Guinness seem to cover every inch of the bar proper. An older fellow in checked coat and brilliant, emerald green tie shoulders through a shockingly young congregation of spiky-haired blond dudes, nose-studded bohemian chicks, skateboarders, college students, and Irish folk of all ages. Andrew, one of the latter, tries to charge new arrivals an $8 cover despite the fact that he doesn't actually work here.

"Put that in the repahrt," he says. "Yah watch me. How much have I got so far?" (Nothing.) A woman in a ruffled blue shirt takes over, greeting select male patrons with a more welcoming touch, as a band (and about half the bar) begins a chorus of "Bring Back My Bonnie." Rumors circulate of a party at Jordy's house, which sounds homey, as does a trip to Grandma's Saloon across the street. Here, one man claims that Grandma herself is present -- "She parked her walker outside" -- although the bartender denies she exists. Still, the vibe is comfortingly homespun, says Jimmy, a one-time regular who used to live in the neighborhood but now hangs his hat in New York -- though this granny has a pool table and serves Irish coffee instead of home-cooked meals (the best kind of matriarch anyone could dream up).

Then comes Fahey's, a bit farther down Taraval, where the white-haired bartender strikes a grandpa-like note when he complains that everyone ate the free corned beef and cabbage and ran. Nonetheless, a crowd of 20 is keeping him busy as Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday swoon through the narrow, immaculate space. Similarly, down at The Deuces the board-oriented (snow, surf, skate) gang of locals is giving its two bartenders plenty to do.

One young hooligan lives three houses away and came for selfish reasons: "My alcohol, my good times, and my friends." John grew up within a two-block radius and gets sentimental over shots of Jamison's before declaring his native 'hood "the best Irish neighborhood this side of Boston." J.P. digs "the flava," and then there's R.P. (no relation), who lives within a block and shares a story about the 18-foot wave he once rode: "Let me tell you, it was the best wave of my life, right? It's crowded, I'm weaving in and out of people, I get to the inside section and it starts barreling over me, and it's about to close out but I just stuck in there. I popped up afterwards and said, "Where's my board?' Half of it popped up, then the other half popped up."

That hurts.

"Yeah," he smiles. "But it was worth it."

 
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