Swerving on Irving

Some bars in the Sunset are made for regulars

The stretch of Irving Street to the west of 19th Avenue is a self-contained village of pho houses, Chinese restaurants, bakeries, cafes, and bars that people return to again and again. Case in point: the Silver Spur, a dependable little watering hole that Jim, a former local, has been patronizing for 10 years. "I'll walk in and it's like the movie Groundhog Day," he says. "The same party, night after night."

He's not kidding. The Mix used to hang out here in 1993, and the formula hasn't changed. The crack of liar's dice fills the air, the wait for the pool table spans two drinks, and AC/DC must blare from the jukebox at least once before anyone can go home. The crowd always contains a mishmash of old-timers and young San Franciscans drawn by camaraderie, and, in many cases, proximity. Monica and Dwayne live within a few blocks, while Steve hails from faraway 14th Avenue. "It happens to be within stumbling distance of my apartment," he says, adding that Terry's Lodge (a bar) is on the way home, resulting in "a two-stage stumble."

Jeanine came from South San Francisco. "It's actually a shitty bar," she says. "It is, but you feel comfortable." She met her husband Zack here last year. Zack's account of that night contains one obviously dubious statement. He says Jeanine hit on him (possible), that he was drunk (of course), and that he wooed her by playing Journey's "Open Arms" on the jukebox (as if).

Or maybe he is telling the truth. After all, stranger things have happened on Irving, also home to the inimitable pool/dive/ sushi/karaoke bar known as Peko. Here, the Hurricane Roll -- an inside-out swirl of mango and salmon -- represents the pinnacle of modern sushi-making, and the sing-along includes a guy who sounds exactly like Bing Crosby, if you stand in the bathroom while he croons. David also likes to sing, and he looks suave in a brown tweed jacket, gorgeous blue tie, and crisp collar.

"As an older person, I like the old tunes," David says. "Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, those are the pieces I like. But as you can hear tonight, people are also enjoying more contemporary pieces."

As he speaks, two young guys do a number on Billy Idol's "White Wedding" -- good reason to head to the fixture that every San Francisco neighborhood needs: the Irish bar. Technically, Molly Malone's is on Lincoln, but it feels like it belongs on Irving. One young Irishman shows off his pierced tongue, while other, older Irishmen have commandeered the women's room due to a lack of available urinals. Shoshannah isn't Irish, but she does have something to say about Molly's: "It's better than the freaking bars in Russian Hill that are filled with nasty urban yuppie icky people."

Needless to say, she's from Russian Hill -- where, with her backward Slayer cap, she probably doesn't fit in.

With that, we return to Irving to visit the other fixture that every neighborhood needs: a second Irish bar. This one is called Dirty Nelly's, and its men's room contains two urinals and a toilet, the sign of a true drinking establishment.

"The Irish, you have to love them," opines Christina, an American. Eoin ("It's Gaelic for John") would probably agree, but chooses to address rumors about his countrymen's love of neighborhood pubs.

"A lot of people see the Irish as ... all we do is drink. But it's not about drinking, it's about conversation," he says. "We come, we talk to people, and if we get drunk, it's a bonus. It's a lot cheaper than the psychiatrist."

Cheers to that.

 
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