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Noe Way 

Once the baby strollers are put up for the night, Noe Valley becomes a real bar neighborhood

Wednesday, Jun 5 2002
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Don't let the quaint dog walkers and chichi toddler-wear shops fool you: By night, Noe Valley morphs into an authentic San Francisco bar neighborhood. The definition (at least ours) of an authentic S.F. bar neighborhood can vary, but in all cases, it must include a hangout bar like Noe's, on 24th and Church, and someone there must mention a certain TV show. Here's Bubba, who claims to visit Noe's seven days a week: "I'm like Norm on Cheers: Everyone knows my name. A lot of people love the way I sing Elvis, too."

On a Saturday night, Noe's is as comfortable as an old pair of sneakers. At one end of the bar, Bubba is surrounded by an authentic peanut gallery (Joe, the guy who collects key chains; Patrick, who comes "to be a boil on the ass of life"). Ali, an authentic Sunset chick, came to escape her native 'hood. A second peanut gallery of young, burly dudes occupies the other end of the bar. Boris, their spokesman, says Noe's has it all -- "good times, nice people, nice atmosphere, cheap booze, chicks, rowdiness, drinkingness." Anything else? "Pizza next door; you can walk around the neighborhood and not get fucked with. That pretty much sums it up."

Beyond the hangout bar with Cheers reference, an authentic bar neighborhood needs an Irish pub, and Noe Valley's can be found on 24th near Vicksburg. The Dubliner is authentically dark and cramped. Regulars crack liar's dice on the tables, and the current jukebox selection ('90s club pop) is, as far as Irish pubs go, authentically bad. A glass-enclosed smoking patio includes a television and heat lamps (a nice touch). The staff is genuinely friendly, yet an Irishwoman named Melissa says the Dubliner isn't quite the real deal.

"Pubs in Ireland are much dirtier than this, and they have a little dance floor in the back," she says.

"It's not as busy as a Dublin pub would be," adds Leah, an actual Dubliner. "Usually, everybody's drunk by this time [11:30 p.m.], but otherwise it's a very nice bar."

With that settled, we head to the neighborhood macking bar, Bliss, up near Noe Street. Candles glow in the fireplace amid furrows of sand. Mellow hip hop flows from the sound system. On the couch, Krishna traces circles on Cookie's arm. While they mack, Bill snacks on the tasty pretzel mix. Nicole and Nicole know the management: "We go to the bar that we know who owns what," Nicole No. 1 says. With a pair of free drinks in front of each of them, the two are authentically hammered.

A few doors west is the neighborhood rocker bar, the Coyote Club. Its jukebox runs from the Gourds to Hayseed Dixie. Long tables could seat a dozen stinky bike messengers. Rocker bars aren't essential to an authentic S.F. bar neighborhood (nor, for that matter, are macking bars), but it must have a timeworn dive like the Peaks, on Castro near 24th.

"Day Street! Day Street!" chants Sam the bartender as we enter -- a likely sign that he's an authentic, old-school Noe hooligan who spent his formative years prowling that thoroughfare between 29th and 30th.

By 1 a.m., the crowd has thinned to a half dozen. The men's room is genuinely malodorous, and a golden retriever standing near the pool table may be the only sober customer in the house. Mike, a local since the '60s, pines for the old days. "This whole strip used to be full of blue-collar bars," he laments, "and now they're all gone except for this last vestige."

Tony identifies himself as a local journalist. "News, it's a living thing my brother," he says, before providing an authentic San Francisco kicker: "I grew up here, man, this is my neighborhood. Fuck Warren Hinckle."

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Greg Hugunin

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